Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cynic. And I’m definitely not a pastor-basher. I have a great admiration for pastors and what they (we) do. Pastors may be the hardest-working, most undervalued members of our society. And that goes double for Small Church pastors.
Pastors bring enormous blessings to the churches, communities, and the individuals and families in them. The moral support, emotional well-being, social and economic stability and spiritual sustenance pastors bring to the communities they serve is of immeasurable value.
But that pastoral value reinforces the point of my question. Why are we so dismissive of our own worth? And why do we keep trying to define our success in other ways, instead?
We tell people in our churches that God is interested in them for who they are, not for what they do. We tell them it doesn’t matter how much money they earn, how big their business is, what other people think of them, etc. We show them from scripture that the numbers our society uses to define our self-worth have nothing to do with how God sees our self-worth. And we’re correct to do so.
Then we go home from church depressed because, after giving people that message, all we can think about is how few people were in church today to hear us say it.
Really!? Are we that irony-impaired?
What’s Wrong With Me?
I’m making this criticism from the inside-out. I know this is how a lot of pastors feel – especially Small Church pastors – because I felt the same way for a long time. I spent so many years beating myself up for an external lack of success that I ended up in a counselors office, burned out, depressed and angry.
“What’s wrong with me?” I cried. “How did I get to this sorry state and how do I get out of it?” Then, after pouring my life story out to this counselor (an ex-pastor, himself) I asked him the real questions that had led me to his office. “Why can’t I be a successful pastor? Why won’t my church grow? And how do I fix it?”
My counselor gave me several compassionate and helpful words of advice in response to my questions that day. But I only remember one statement. And it didn’t feel kind, compassionate or helpful when he said it.
“You need to redefine success.”
When he told me that, I wanted to punch him in the nose.
You see, I thought redefining success was counselor-speak for dropping the bar, lowering my standards and settling for less. In other words, being OK with failure. And that is something I am simply not built for.
But that wasn’t what he meant. Since then, I’ve come to learn what redefining success really means – so his nose is safe.
What is Redefining Success?
On one side of our lives, people have numerical goals we want to reach. How much money we want to make, job promotions we hope to achieve and, for pastors, how big we want our church to be.
On the other side, completely unrelated to our numerical goals, are the things that actually matter. The things we tell our congregations they should be concentrating on. The things we refuse to take our own, or God’s, advice about.
Family. Faith. Health. Emotional contentment. Serving others. Loving and worshiping Jesus. (Oh yeah, that stuff.)
Redefining success doesn’t mean lowering our standards on the things that don’t matter. It means realizing that they truly don’t matter. And it means raising our standards on the things that do matter. It means shifting our focus.
For Small Church pastors, it probably looks as simple as this…
Serve the people currently in our church with passion, joy and wisdom. Lead them into worship, hope and health. Equip them to have an outward-focused faith, raising their families in Christ, living with integrity and sharing Jesus’ love with their community.
Let’s do that well, no matter how many (or how few) people attend our church. That’s not only a healthy redefinition of success in ministry, it’s the original definition of success in ministry.
So what do you think? Are you trapped in a false definition of success? What will you do to redefine success for yourself and your ministry?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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