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Defining “Success” in Ministry

Defining success in ministry is a tricky thing.  Shall we use numbers?  Jesus doesn’t care about numbers; He cares about changed lives.  Great, shall we look at how lives have changed?  Now wait a minute, Jesus doesn’t care about outward appearance; He looks on the heart!  Fabulous, let’s judge by our fruit, things like, are we making disciples?  Yes, that’s good… wait, are you counting again?

success-479568_1280I’ve been privy to a number of fantastic conversations lately among ministers about these very things.  Is growth quantitative or something we “just know” is happening?  Are there tangible markers of success in a church, home or discipleship setting when it comes to faith formation?  How about in family ministry or intergenerational ministry; how can we know when we are really reaching the home or connecting the church?

The reality is, only God can see the heart.  The truth of the matter is numbers and quantities can be deceiving.  The fact remains that the work of ministry is steeped in the boundaries of faith, and faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.

I’m not saying there aren’t some tangible things we can look at and say, “I can see growth there” but in ministry and in the home, we can’t always be looking for the quantitative measures.  We need to be attuned to the less measurable moments and we must celebrate them with great fanfare and genuine excitement if we wish them to be replicated in the future.

Moments like this…

 This past Sunday we joined Big church (which we do from time to time) and during P&W we had a man in our church that is very sick go to the altar. None of the adults moved to pray with him except for me BUT in a minute I saw a little hand join mine on this brother’s back and soon another and another. They bowed their heads and were sincerely praying for Mr. Jim. My little kids left their pews when no one else moved to pray for this man. Days like this make it all worth while!!! I encourage everyone here, keep doing what you are doing even when it gets overwhelming! God Bless all of you! – Amy Bryant, TN

And this…

Thank you to all the amazing volunteers today. It was a glorious day. We had a youth group with 30 members from Indianapolis today. They were amazing. We served 278 meals of a wonderful meal of baked chicken, green beans and corn. We made some great friends today. They want to try to replicate the meal at their church. Amazing what God does. The most amazing thing today was when Patrick asked if anyone wanted to pray and an eleven year old young man from this group volunteered to pray. He prayed the most amazingly appropriate and heartfelt prayer that I think I have ever heard. God was definitely in the house today. What a blessing and glorious day it was! – Adele McKinney, KY

And this…

One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted. When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves. – John, Israel

You see, these moments, while we can’t put them on a spreadsheet or add them to our checklist, these moments are what form us and mold us and shape us into followers of Christ.  These are the things that show success in the kingdom of God; lives changed, hearts transformed, the body serving as one, the church loving the world, and homes filled with the Spirit.

It reminds me of this amazing quote by Teddy Roosevelt about the “doers” in this world.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

We are called to be doers of the word, not merely hearers only.  That means at times, we will fail.  We will not succeed…at least on paper.  But friends, if we are sharing the light of Christ and the warmth of His love with our children, our community, our church, our neighbors then, no matter the measure, we can know we have succeeded. 

Celebrate the moments.  Do not grow weary in doing good, for in due time, you will reap a harvest.  Encourage one another all the more as you see the day of the Lord drawing near.  And rejoice, again I say it…rejoice!

I’d love to see this post filled up with comments full of your moments.  I don’t think  we do enough celebrating in the church today and we of all people have the most to celebrate!  So, if you have a moment to share, a time where you could sit back and say, “Wow, God, now that was ALL you!  Thank you for showing up!”, will you take the time to share it here?  Because I believe, the more we share, the more excited we will be, and the more “success” will happen all of the body of Christ!

For more information about practical discipleship in the home or transitioning to a more family-focused ministry at your church, go to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page.

About the author

familyChristina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partneringsmallbadge with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at

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