The Subtle Difference Between a Success Mindset and a Fruitfulness Mindset in Ministry

Do you aim at success or fruitfulness in your ministry? It’s often hard to tell the difference because they look so similar on the outside.

One way to tell which side you’re on is to analyze the questions you ask – either in your own mind, or of others – after a church function. Here is a baker’s dozen of such questions. Which do you ask more often?

1. Success: “How many people came?” Fruitfulness: “How many people were converted?”

2. Success: “How many people did I impress?” Fruitfulness: “How many people did I impact?”

3. Success: “How many people signed up to serve?” Fruitfulness: “How many people signed up to serve?”

4. Success: “To what degree are my volunteers carrying out my directions?” Fruitfulness: “To what degree are my volunteers directing people toward Jesus?”

5. Success: “How many visitors came to the church website today?” Fruitfulness: “How many unchurched people visited our service on Sunday because they saw our website?”

6. Success: “How nuanced was my theology in point two of my sermon?” Fruitfulness: “Did I speak the truth in love, or like a banging gong, in point two of my sermon?”

7. Success: “How well did that segment of the worship service go?” Fruitfulness: “How well did we worship during that segment of the service?”

8. Success: “How did I do?” Fruitfulness: “Were you edified?”

9. Success: “Did we nail that transition between songs?” Fruitfulness: “Did we carry our Godward focus from the first song to the second?”

10. Success: “How well did I prepare?” Fruitfulness: “How well did I pray?”

11. Success: “Did I prove my point in that counseling session?” Fruitfulness: “Did he repent in that counseling session?”

12. Success: “How loudly did they sing?” Fruitfulness: “How genuinely did they sing?”

13. Success: “How many people follow me on Twitter?” Fruitfulness: “How many of my followers are regularly blessed by my Tweets?

You may be thinking, “But, Eric, he won’t repent unless you prove your point. They can’t serve unless they sign up. They can’t be converted unless they come.”

Those points are often true, but not always.

But the more important observation you’ve identified is that the success side of things represents the means, and the fruitfulness side represents the goal. And to focus on means is the essence of idolatry. As Keller is famous for saying, idolatry is to make good things ultimate things.

The success mindset makes good things in ministry ultimate things. It turns what should be only means into the results. It doesn’t take the step toward the spiritual effect.

Pastors with a fruitful mindset aim for many of the statements dubbed “the successful mindset” above. They don’t want less than what success oriented pastors want. They want more. For example, in #10 above, fruitful minded pastors want to hear a joyful noise when their congregation sings. But they want that joyful noise being made to the Lord, not the band.

Which brings us to another difference.

The success mindset asks self-centered questions about one’s own work. The fruitfulness mindset asks questions that focus on God’s work in others. The pastor who aims for success gets glory for himself, but the pastor who aims for fruitfulness gives glory to God.

It’s not only a subtle difference, it’s a “settle” difference. The success mindset settles for external results and personal glory instead of striving for spiritual results and God’s glory.

The new creation that Jesus ushered in through his death and resurrection is an unseen, spiritual creation. Don’t settle for results you can see.

(Image credit)


  1. I love this post, thanks for sharing it! I’d restate #1 to follow your logic through all the way.

    Success: “How many people came?” OR “How many people were converted?”
    Fruitfulness: “How many disciples were made?”

    Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not converts. “Disciples” are disciple-making slaves of Christ. “Converts” are card-signers good for padding your stats.

  2. I agree with your comments after the 13 questions, but I would respectfully suggest that some of the questions of the faithful that you put forward are still success oriented. If only one were converted should we not rejoice? If none were converted but some were one step closer to Christ and we were just a link in that chain shouldn’t we rejoice? It is not a matter of how many “I” impact or seeing the volunteers as “my” volunteers. Perhaps God has a purpose in no one signing up to serve in that thing that needs people to sign up. What if someone visits our website and then goes to someone else’s church where the Gospel is preached? What if the website is the only type of church they can attend? Faithfulness may be continuing to serve even when you do not know the answer to the questions about who or how many were impacted.
    Thank you for the encouragement to push for results that cannot be seen. I’m just not sure that all your questions get us there. And I am even more sure that I might be wrong about that.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ken. I think you misread my article though. In your comment, you talk about “faithfulness” and in my post, I talk about “fruitfulness.” My article is not about the faithfulness of the pastor – which is paramount – but about the results of a faithful pastor’s ministry.

      So when you say that some of my questions are still “success oriented,” you touch on the reason why I titled the post the way I did. It’s a subtle difference. The nature of fruit is that it is visible – although there is growth that happens that is invisible. But, what I’m trying to point out is that a success oriented mindset looks for results that Paul would call kata sarka – according to the flesh. Meanwhile, someone who wants fruit will be hoping for the kind of results that only the Spirit can accomplish – but results that are accomplished by means of a pastor who aims for results, not mere faithfulness.

      I hope that clarifies things. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!

  3. Dante Spencer says:

    There is some good stuff here. I would expose one, though, as still off the mark.

    Fruitfulness: “To what degree are my volunteers directing people toward Jesus?”

    Instead, “To what degree are Christ’s sheep directing people to the Shepherd?”

    Christians should not be thought of as ‘volunteers’ and the sheep are never ‘my’.


  1. […] couple of helpful posts from the last few days. Eric McKiddie contrasts some examples that show whether a pastors (or churches or Christians) are va…. A sample: 2. Success: “How many people did I impress?” Fruitfulness: “How many people did I […]

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