The older I get, the more I think about where all I’ve been over the course of my life and ministry and what all I’ve done – or not done – and if I’ve done it well. I always seriously think about it, often wonder, sometimes agonize over it.
I guess everyone does that at some time to some degree.
I keep telling everyone “I know I’m at least well into in the second half of my life, maybe the fourth quarter, maybe the ninth inning, maybe the bottom of the ninth, maybe even the final ‘two-minute drill.’” We never know.
What I do know is that I don’t want to end up ‘being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ [2 Peter 1.8]. I so want to finish well like Peter encourages: “For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 1.11].
So whether I think about my service for Christ in terms of:
- “…he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work” [2 Timothy 2.20-21
- “…So whether we are at home [in the body] or away [with Christ], we make it our aim to please Him” [2 Corinthians 5.6-10]
- “…bear fruit…more fruit…much fruit…” [John 15.1-8]
it all comes down to this measurement:
“SUCCESS” vs. “EFFECTIVENESS”
1 Corinthians 4.1-5 HCSB: A person should consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and managers of God’s mysteries. 2 In this regard, it is expected of managers that each one of them be found faithful. 3 It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. 4 For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord. 5 Therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each one from God.
I learned decades ago that I couldn’t and shouldn’t measure my life and ministry by the commonly accepted or trending metrics of ‘success,’ mainly because:
 That responsibility is not within my aegis: “The One who evaluates me is the Lord…therefore don’t judge anything prematurely, before the Lord comes, who will both bring to light what is hidden in darkness and reveal the intentions of the hearts. And then praise will come to each from God.”
 I’m not a worthy judge or evaluator of my own ministry: “I don’t even evaluate myself.”
 I’ll have to know what measurement to use to evaluate by: “It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court.” It is fruitless, futile, and frustrating to either search for or submit to anyone else’s metrics of ‘success.’ The best we can do is waste our time and seasons of our lives and ministries trying to attain and measure up by series of trial and error.
 I couldn’t find much of what is usually called ‘success’ anyway to even measure.
Who determines what ‘success’ is, anyway? Who has the authority and right to tell me what measure to use and when I have attained it? ‘Success’ always ends up being a comparison with someone else or the ministry of another. And God Himself is the only One who is deservedly credited with any ‘success’ that comes from any of our ministries.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” [1 Corinthians 3.5-9].
And, in the end:
- “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” [Romans 14.10-12].
- And “…each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done…” [1 Corinthians 3.13].
- And “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” [2 Corinthians 5.10].
Anyone who’s been in the ministry, and especially pastoral ministry, has had plenty of ‘evaluations’ from others. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for fifty years, so I’ve had my fair share. Some have been sincere and well-intentioned, and I received and learned from them. Others, not so much. Several years back, I experienced one of my most memorable ‘evaluations.’ During one such episode, I was essentially put on trial to examine and evaluate my pastoral ‘success’ in one of the churches I have pastored. In response, I had delivered a message in which I referenced Paul’s 1 Corinthians 4.1-5 testimony quoted above. It was not a ‘defense’ per se, just an explanation, a testimony. At the end of the message, after everyone else had left to go home, I was accosted by a much younger ministry partner – and a novice at that – who screamed at me for half an hour, reminding me of all ways I had failed in that church. Toward the end of his diatribe, he summed up my ministry by saying: “You can’t preach, you can’t lead, and you can’t relate to people.” Then, as he turned to walk back up the aisle to leave, he turned and jabbed his finger to point at me, and delivered his final volley by saying, “I have come to the conclusion you are unfit for the ministry.” Well, for one who had given my entire life to ministry to Christ and to others, and all in the ways in which he had just told me I had failed, I did at least take note of that evaluation. I really don’t want that to be the case. But, the only answer I gave him was to calmly reply: “Well, I know that’s your evaluation of me. You’ve told me that before. But, as I said in my message this morning, your evaluation doesn’t count. Christ Himself will determine that, both now and at the Last Day.”
So, rather than constantly evaluate my ministry by the commonly accepted and ever-changing metrics of ‘success,’ I learned to evaluate my service to Christ in terms of ‘effectiveness.’ ‘Effective’ simply means that I accomplished what I have been given to do. And the bottom line of an ‘effective’ ministry is: “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” [1 Corinthians 4.2]. “Do whatever He tells you” [John 2.5]. If I faithfully obey and fulfill the assignment my Lord and Master gives me to do and tells me to do in that time and place, then I have been ‘effective’ … regardless of the visible results of my labors, the evaluations of anyone else, or how it may compare with someone else’s service.
My call, assignment, responsibility is to serve and please Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 5.9] by proclaiming the Word of God into all the ministry opportunities God is pleased to lead me into. That includes, first of all, my own example of character and conduct, all those that are public and in the church body, as well as in my personal relationships and one-on-one encounters. If I do that, the ‘effectiveness’ is not from me…it is from God. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” [John 6.63]. Jesus Christ Himself – through the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit – is the Great Effector through us as we speak the words God has ordained to be effective.
If I faithfully live by, speak, and proclaim the words that God gives me in His Word, then I cannot fail. I must succeed. Because God always succeeds through His Word. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” [Isaiah 55.10-11].
So, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” [Acts 5.20]. Jesus Christ Himself will be speaking through you.
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” [Joshua 1.8].
All I have to say is that you have been effective successfully. You have always been an example to me of what a Godly man should be. No matter what time of life you are in, I know that in the end, He will be pleased with your service. I’m so thankful for you being there for my family whenever we needed you.
Debbie, please forgive me for this delayed response to your kind comment. I read and was encouraged by it when you first posted it, but have been caught up in all the activities going on in the meantime. But I do want to thank you and your family for all the love we’ve shared for the past 40+ years since first coming to Lexington and to our church. It has been my privilege and joy to know and minister to you all – and be encouraged and ministered to by you all in return. Knowing and sharing so many experiences with you all has enriched my life. I will always treasure the love and friendship of the whole Fields ‘clan.’ Grace to you!