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.