A Purpose for All Ministries

by Dennis Smith
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In this article I want to challenge the reader to take another look at a very important subject:  What is success in church ministry?  I will consider what we base our criteria for success on and then I will then address the criteria for success that we find in the Bible?


The Culture

When one lives in any culture it is easy to be influenced by the standards of success of that culture.  This is certainly true for those of us who live in a western, capitalistic culture.  I personally am not against the western culture in which I live.   I have worked in both denominational and non-denominational employment in this culture.  Reflecting on criteria for success, I have discovered that many times we judge denominational ministerial success by many of the same standards found in the business world.


In the business world higher production, bigger operations, becoming a chief executive officer, larger organizations and staffs are usually criteria for success.  The ultimate goal is larger profits every year.  Bigger, better, faster, and higher position in the organization; these are touted as success.


I have served in ministerial positions in my denomination for some 25 years.  During these years of ministry I have found that our church philosophy of success has encouraged us to believe that higher production (more baptisms), bigger operations (larger, and more modern church facilities), larger organizations and staffs (senior pastor of large multi-staff congregation), or becoming a CEO (conference president) are the criteria for success in ministry.  


Promotion of Success Criteria

This criterion for success is upheld many times, though perhaps not consciously, by bringing to ministerial meetings highly successful pastors to show the attendees how to grow a bigger church, raise more dollars, etc.  In short, the message is that this is what success is and how to achieve it.  After such meetings one can come away feeling a bit overwhelmed and a little defeated.  After all, it has just been demonstrated what success really is.  If our church hasn’t become a “super” church with multi-staff after several years of ministry then the pastor must be a failure.  If it is God’s will that every church grow phenomenally every year and spawn new congregations at least every couple years, and that doesn’t happen in one’s district, it is easy to conclude that God doesn’t appear to be able to bless that ministry.   The logic continues thus: if the pastor were closer to God and more connected to Him, then his church would grow phenomenally.  The conclusion then is, if phenomenal growth is not happening then he must not be in right relationship with God and there must be something wrong with him as a Christian pastor.



Now don’t get me wrong.  I believe in the gospel commission.  There is a world to win for Christ.  The book of Acts is filled with accounts of thousands responding to the preaching of the gospel.  So the concept of success I am putting forth in this article could be easily misunderstood.  I hope not.  I will also warn you, this article could be used as an excuse for little visible results in ministry  when the actual cause could be a poor work ethic or an unwillingness to improve one’s ministerial skills.


Another Look at Success Criteria

When we read the book of Acts we discover that there are certain individuals that God chose to use in a more dramatic way than others.  When we consider the remaining eleven disciples, we find that Peter, James and John are the ones mentioned.  Peter and John even more than James.  We read where God used Peter and John in some dramatic ways in the advancement of the gospel.  I am sure the other eight disciples were faithfully serving their Lord.  However, since it appears that they were not used in such dramatic ways does it mean that they were less successful in their service for the Lord?  I don’t think so.  Instead, I believe each disciple had a purpose in God’s plan for the advancement of the Gospel.  As they fulfilled that plan they were successfully ministering for their Lord. 


In the area of soul winning it would appear to the human eye that perhaps Peter and John were doing more for the Lord than the other nine disciples.  I am sure Peter saw thousands accept Christ as the result of his ministry.  Three thousand were baptized following his Pentecost sermon.  We don’t read of James having such phenomenal success in soul winning.  However, we do read of him mediating a very important meeting dealing with an issue that could have divided the early church (Acts 15).  It appears that God did not call Peter, John or Paul to be such a mediator in this crisis situation.  This mediating function was James’ mission from God, and not the mission of the other disciples.


When we consider Paul’s ministry it would seem that he influenced more people to accept Christ than any of the other original eleven disciples.  He took the gospel to the then known world.   Churches were raised in many countries as a result of Paul’s ministry.   Does this mean that he was more successful than the others?  No.  He was simply fulfilling the ministry God called him to do.  A ministry different from the ministry God had called the other eleven to perform.


We see the same varied ministries in the lives of the original seven deacons.  Philip was called to be an evangelist.  We read of some of his service for the Lord in Acts chapters eight and twenty one.  Stephen became a marvelous expounder of God’s word.  God performed “great wonders and miracles among the people” through Stephen (Acts 6:8).  We don’t read of such a marvelous ministry being done by the other deacons.  Does this mean that Stephen and Philip were more successful than the other five deacons?  Again I say no.  Each deacon was called to do a specific ministry and as long as they were fulfilling the purpose God called them to fulfill, they were a success.  Yet in the eyes of man, some appeared to be more successful than others.


Body Analogy

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian believers uses the analogy of the human body to describe the various functions of the members of the church.  Each member and organ of the human body has a function.  Some functions are more visible to the human eye than others.  The results of some functions are more readily seen.  Some members of the body are considered less significant that other members.  The heart would be considered more important by most than the appendix.  The important point is that each member and organ has a function whether seen or not, and whether considered important or not.  In the human body it is somewhat easy to see the purpose of each member and judge if that member is successfully functioning.


In the spiritual body of Christ, (the church) it is much more difficult to make an assessment of success.  It all depends on our criteria for success, which brings us back to the beginning of this article.  If we decide that success means that a pastor baptizes fifty people every year and his church grows by one hundred percent each year, and the tithe increases by one hundred percent each year, and that his church spawns a new congregation every three years, then if that is not happening that pastor is not successful in our eyes.  However, what if God does not call each pastor to do the exact same kind of ministry as every other pastor?  What if God calls some to be a Peter, another a John, another a James, another a Paul, and another a Bartholomew?  I think the point is clear.  We are not all called to be a Peter or Paul. 


I believe God calls each pastor to fulfill a specific mission in his ministry.  I also believe the New Testament clearly illustrates this through the ministries of the various individuals mentioned.  What that mission is will become clearer as the years of ministry pass.  I think the results of each pastor may vary widely.  The important thing is that pastors keep close to God, continue to be filled with the Spirit, yield to the Spirit’s leading, and do their best to serve God faithfully where they are.


I think Paul’s difficult section of scripture on the potter and the clay gives us some insights on this (Romans 9:20-21).  I don’t bring up this text to lead into a discussion on predestination.  I bring it up rather to point out the lesson that God creates different vessels for different uses.  He created and called a Paul, a Peter and a John to do what we would deem “very successful” ministry.  The corollary is that God then also created and called the other disciples to a ministry that we might consider less successful.  Yet in God’s sight all the disciples were very successful if they simply fulfilled the purpose for which they were called.


A Case Study

In a little book entitled, They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman, gives brief life sketches of men and women over the past couple centuries, and their experience in finding God’s mission for them in their life.  One individual, Samuel Logan Brengle, clearly illustrates the premise of this article.  He accepted Christ at a young age and became a circuit preacher in the Northwestern Indiana Methodist Conference. After two years he attended a seminary in Boston.


Brengle’s “ambition was to be a great preacher, and he sought the power of the Holy Spirit to that end.  He rationalized that a great preacher would do more for the glory of God than one who was mediocre.  Finally, in utter desperation, he prayed, ‘Lord, I want to be an eloquent preacher, but if by stammering and stuttering I can bring greater glory to Thee than by eloquence, then let me stammer and stutter’”.  They Found the Secret, p.26.


As Brengle continued to seek a closer experience with his Lord, God led him to better understand the grace of Christ.  Through God’s leading, he experience the Spirit’s infilling.  He describes his experience with the words: “It was an unutterable revelation.  It was a heaven of love that came into my heart.  My soul melted like wax before fire.  I sobbed and sobbed.  I loathed myself that I had ever sinned against Him or doubted Him or lived for myself and not for His glory.  Every ambition for self was now gone.  The pure flame of love burned it like a blazing fire would burn a moth.” Ibid. p.29


 In time the euphoria of his initial Spirit infilling subsided.  Brengle wrote: “In time, God withdrew something of the tremendous emotional feelings.  He taught me I had to live by my faith and not by my emotions….He showed me that I must learn to trust Him, to have confidence in His unfailing love and devotion, regardless of how I felt.” Ibid. p.29-30


Edman describes Brengle’s experience as follows.  “And what resulted from the continuance of that crisis experience of cleansing and in filling of God’s Spirit?  Brengle’s preaching changed perceptibly.  Before this he had preached for human appreciation, now alone for the exaltation of the Savior.  He preached to disturb and not to please.  The reaction of his audiences was conviction of sin rather than commendation of the preacher.” Ibid. p.30


Brengle was also led by God into a totally different direction of ministry.  “…the deliverance from pride and ambition for ecclesiastical promotion led him into untrodden pathways of service.  From the preferment and security of Methodism he was called into the ranks of the Salvation Army when that organization was little known and not highly regarded.” Ibid. p.30.  In the eyes of man such a move would be considered a real demotion in his ministerial service for God.


Brengle’s pride having been subdued, God led him to appointments with the Salvation Army that were in small places and new works.  None of these assignments compared to what he could have had if he had stayed serving God as a Methodist minister.  Edman describes one of Brengle’s experiences with the words: “When stationed in Danbury, Connecticut, he led a little contingent of faithful ones, consisting of a lame lieutenant, a big Negro, and a little hunchbacked girl, to a street meeting to the tune of ‘We’re the Army that Shall Conquer!’.  Suddenly he came abreast of a large and imposing Methodist church and for a moment red hot were the thoughts that burned through his soul, Fool, you might have been a pastor of a great church like that!  But the sting was only for a moment, for the Sanctifier steadied the soldier to obey His orders.” Ibid. p.31


God blessed Brengle’s ministry in the Salvation Army.  He was a blessing to all those he ministered to and he also authored a collection of articles entitled, Helps to Holiness.  To the casual observer one might conclude that his life of ministry was a failure compared to some of his previous Methodist colleagues who went on to pastor large congregations and were promoted to administrative positions in the Methodist organization.  However, in God’s sight Brengle was a success.  He had fulfilled the purpose for which God had called him.


Application to Ministry Today

Could it be that God has called some to perform what we consider “very successful” ministries?  While on the other hand, could it be that He has called others to perform “less successful” ministries in the eyes of man.  If this is true, then “super successful” pastor and “less successful” pastor by our criteria may both be “equally successful” according to God’s criteria of success for them.  If they have done their best to fulfill the mission God has placed before them then they are successful.


Room for Improvement

Please do not take this article as an excuse to be lazy.  God wants us to seek to constantly improve in our service for Him.  We should be growing in grace and effectiveness in our ministry for God.  This was Paul’s experience (Acts 9:22).  God may through a fellow pastor bring to our attention an approach to ministry He wants us to incorporate in our service for Him.  We must never let pride keep us from considering new ideas and methods.


Personal Criteria for Success

I believe the criteria for success on a personal level is simple.  We must constantly maintain a meaningful study and prayer life: daily renewing our commitment to Christ. We must seek the baptism of God’s Spirit every day with a willingness to yield to His leading personally and professionally.  Our goal must be the same experience Paul had: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).  Then no matter how we are judged by man’s criteria we will be a success by God’s standard.  We will be fulfilling the mission He has called us to do.  Remember, every ministry has a purpose.  We are successful when we fulfill that purpose.