Reject a Culturally Imposed Definition of Success.


I was recently asked by to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of rejecting a culturally imposed definition of success.

(The following is an excerpt from my book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’)

“The western church defines success almost exclusively by numbers, i.e. how many were in attendance, and how much was in the offering?

There were times when I didn’t look forward to hanging out with pastors because I knew that eventually someone was going to ask me, “So…how are things going at your church?” This question is usually the way one pastor finds out if they are more or less successful than another pastor.

If my church was growing (which was seldom) then I didn’t mind answering their question. If my church was not growing (which was often), I asked to be excused, said something about the stomach flu, and ran out the door.

Seriously, it didn’t matter how many good things were happening in my church, I didn’t really feel successful if my church was in decline or had plateaued for a long period of time. Someone could have been raised from the dead and I’d be thinking, “That’s nice, but that church down the street, the one that is bigger than us, they’re more successful than we are.”

I like to challenge pastors to sit down with their leaders and discover ways to define success in their church that have very little to do with size or numbers.

There’s a difference between wanting to have success and needing to have success in order to feel good about yourself and your church. We need to detach from the need to be thought of as successful.”

Rather than asking questions like, “How large is my church?”, try answering questions such as:

Am I being faithful to my family?

Am I being faithful to my call?

Is my church healthy?

How will I determine if my church is healthy? (This is a topic I will be dealing with in a later post.)

What percentage of my church is involved in some sort of ministry?

Do my people seem to be growing in their relationship with Jesus?

Is there joy when my people gather?

Are my people inviting new people to church or other related events?

What are we doing to reach new people?

Are my people generous with their time, money, and gifts?

Can you think of any other questions?

I know you’ve been told, “All healthy things grow and reproduce.”, but this isn’t always true. I work with many healthy churches that are small, that are not growing, that have plateaued. My experience has been that you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing and you can have a unhealthy church that is growing.

When you talk to pastors in countries that have not been affected by our western brand of Christianity you soon discover that they are not very concerned with numbers like we are.

It’s important that we are able to recognize what are culturally imposed expectations for us as pastors and for our churches, and what are Biblically imposed expectations. These can be, and often are, different.