The vast majority of what a pastor does on a weekly basis is not measurable. Because he cannot see immediately how a sermon has affected those listening, there is always the added challenge of being content with preaching the Word in complete obedience to Jesus. When there is numerical growth or obvious spiritual maturity taking place it is easy to assume your efforts are being blessed by God. However, when these measurable marks are not seen a pastor’s resolve is tested as to whether he will find the same joy in obedience, or if frustration will set in for a lack of perceptible success.
Timothy Keller clarifies the struggle pastors face in a world where numbers are everything in his article, “Hypocritical Leadership.”
Perhaps the greatest dilemma of the pastor – or any Christian leader – is the danger of hypocrisy. By this I mean that, unlike other professionals, we as ministers are expected to proclaim God’s goodness and to provide encouragement at all times. We are always pointing people toward God in one way or another, in order to show them his worth and beauty. That’s the essence of our ministry. But seldom will our hearts be in a condition to say such a thing with complete integrity, since our own hearts are often in need of encouragement, gospel centeredness, and genuine gladness. Thus, we have two choices: either we have to guard our hearts continually in order to practice what we are preaching, or we live bifurcated lives of outward ministry and inward gloominess.
In this way, the ministry will make you a far better or a far worse Christian than you would have been otherwise. But it will not leave you where you were! And it will put enormous pressure on your integrity and character. The key problem will be preaching the gospel while not believing the gospel. As ministers, we must be willing to admit that ministerial success often becomes the real basis for our joy and significance, much more so than the love and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ. Ministry success often becomes what we look to in order to measure our worth to others and our confidence before God. In other words, we look to ministry success to be for us what only Christ can be. All ministers who know themselves will be fighting this all their lives. It is the reason for jealousy, for comparing ourselves to other ministers, for needing to control people and programs in the church, and for feeling defensive toward criticism. At one level we believe the gospel that we are saved by grace not works, but at a deeper level we don’t believe it much at all. We are still trying to create our own righteousness through spiritual performance, albeit one that is sanctioned by our call to ministry.
As a pastor who is currently out of the pulpit and “on his back” medically for a few weeks, one of the things I am being reminded of is that life is not all about what many consider ministry “success”, but our relationship with the Lord. I really do believe that — but as Keller says, I also believe that thoughtful men will fight this tension all their lives. A good word; thanks for posting, Bob!
Thanks Shawn! I worked in retail for 13 years prior to vocational ministry, so I continually struggle with “beating” last years numbers. Some days it is all about ministry, while others seem to be “where are all the people!”
By the way, I have been praying for you.