by: Dr. Allen Domelle
Success in the ministry is often misrepresented. Most of the time, someone is considered a success if they build a large ministry. Sadly, a man who has built a large work is often seen as more successful than the man who has pastored a country church for many years. I believe this misrepresentation is unhealthy for those younger men who are starting out in the ministry. This definition of success in the ministry will only lead some to compromise to become a “success” and will lead others to discouragement because they have pastored a handful of people for many years.
If you were to accept the model that large churches are the measurement of a successful ministry, many in the Scriptures would not be considered the successes that they are. Noah would have been a great failure because his ministry of over 120 years only reached eight people, and those eight people were his family. Jeremiah would not be considered a success by this model for his ministry landed him in jail and he became the outcast of his country. Ezekiel should be taken out of the rolls of a successful ministry because he certainly did not build a large ministry. In fact, God told him when he was called that the people would not listen. (Ezekiel 2:3-4) There are so many other people in the Scriptures who would never be asked to preach today on the national platforms because their ministries would be considered a flop if based off this model.
So, what is the model by which a successful ministry should be measured? I believe Paul shows us that model at the end of his ministry in 2 Timothy 4:7 when he says, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” His success was that he fought the fights he was supposed to fight, he finished the course of God’s will for His life, and he kept the faith all the way to the end. This is no easy task.
Jesus also shows us one other measurement by which a successful ministry can be measured in John 15:16 when He says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” If I were to bring this verse down to one definition, it is simply that God’s measurement of a successful ministry is a ministry that has changed lives. When the fruit remains, that is a life that has been changed forever. It is not just people getting saved, but it is also seeing those lives changed and going back out and reproducing what was given to them.
What I love about God’s definition of a successful ministry is that anybody in any size church can be a success. If you are in a country church or a large metropolitan church, you can be a life-changer. The only way you are going to change lives is to use the faith. The faith is the only thing that changes lives. However, you are going to have to fight to keep running the course of the faith so that you can continue to be a life-changer.
I have grown up in the ministry, and at the writing of this article I have been in evangelism for over a quarter of a century. Throughout these years, I have studied those people who were successful. As I studied their ministries, I found eight keys that led to their success in being a life-changer.
When Paul said that he “finished his course”, he was teaching young Timothy to stick with it and not to quit. He encouraged the Christians of Galatia to stick with it in Galatians 6:9 when he said, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” He reminded Timothy that longevity was a key to success in 2 Timothy 3:13 when he said, “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.”
There is no easy way to make a difference in the lives of individuals. There are going to be days when you are going to want to quit or leave, but you are going to have to stay through the tough times if you want to have a successful ministry. Every man in history who would be considered a success stayed in the same place for two or three decades. Successful ministries are built in decades. Jumping from one ministry to the next trying to find that large ministry is not how you become successful. Just stay where you are and realize you are going to have to invest in those whom God has given you if you want to be successful.
Every person I have seen to be successful always had a great compassion for people. Jude 1:22 says, “And of some have compassion, making a difference:” You are not going to make a difference in the lives of individuals without compassion. The only way you will have compassion on people is by spending time with them. Our Saviour didn’t get compassion by camping out in His office; rather, He had compassion on people by being with them. Mark 9:36 says about Jesus, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them…” People are not going to give their heart to someone who is never available. People don’t need CEO’s as their pastor, they need a pastor or a ministry leader who is available in their time of need.
We have become so impersonal in today’s Christianity. We want to act like we are some mega-star who walks on the platform to give our message and then we walk away without ever allowing the people to touch us. This is not how you change lives. You change lives by being compassionate enough to help people through their trials and by restoring them when they have fallen. You change lives by being there for them when they need someone.
We live in times when it seems that many are always looking for the next new thing to employ in their ministries. I’m not against adding to what we already do, but there are some who change what they are doing about once a year. God warns us in Proverbs 24:21, “…meddle not with them that are given to change:” Hebrews 13:8 says about our Saviour, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” Jesus didn’t looking for the next new idea; no, He simply reproduced what He knew already worked.
There is something about knowing when you go to a place that it will be the same as it was when you left. Imagine if the prodigal son’s father had moved when the prodigal decided to come home. The young man would have never had a chance to put his life back together if his dad had moved or changed. There is a stability that is created in people when they come and see the same thing being done all the time. Stop changing everything and just do what you know has worked in the past. If you are always changing things in your ministry you will create unstable Christians. One of the identifying marks of successful ministries is that they stay the same for decades.
4. Walk with God
Every Christian who has been highly successful has always had a walk with God. Psalm 91:1 says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” How can God use you to change lives if you are not spending time with the Life-Changer? If you want your ministry to be successful, you are going to have to guard your personal time with God. You are going to have to daily spend time studying the Word of God. You are going to have to have a prayer life along with a prayer time. You won’t make a difference in the lives of individuals without a personal time with God. Jesus reminded us of this in Matthew 17:21 when He says, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” You can have the best graphics department in your church, the newest and best technological advances to help you connect with people, but it is a walk with God in the Scriptures and prayer that will make the difference in the lives of individuals. You will never find success in the ministry without a walk with God.
5. Soul winning
Every person whom God has used in a mighty way has been a personal soul winner. The church, in the Book of Acts, turned the world upside down by reaching the souls of men. Jesus’ ministry was all about reaching the lost. Luke 19:10 reminds us, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Sitting in an office will never change a life, but going to the lost and reaching them is where the beginning of a successful ministry is found. When I listen or read about men in the past whom God used mightily, every one of them was a personal soul winner. They all had a passion for the souls of men that drove them each week to reach the lost. You can desire the large conference platforms, but the best platform on which you can stand is the front porch with the Scriptures opened telling someone about Jesus Christ. That is where lives are truly changed.
I’m afraid that we have forgotten that there is a literal Hell with a literal fire. Three times in Mark 9 it says, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” I’m afraid we’ve forgotten the cry of the rich man in Hell when he said, “…Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”(Luke 19:24) Hell is a real place. What better motivator can a person have to be a personal soul winner than to realize that people will go to Hell if you don’t reach them? You can throw your desires of a successful ministry in the trash can if you are not a personal soul winner. Instead of criticizing those who are leading people to Christ, why not get yourself out to the lost and reach them yourself? Successful ministries are always going to be soul-winning ministries.
One thing that was important to Job was his integrity. When others attacked and criticized him, the one thing which he held onto was his integrity. He said in Job 27:5, “…till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.” Job’s integrity was one of the reasons God used him. When I look at those who were successful in their ministries, one thing that was very important to them was their integrity. Their word was important to them. If you want your ministry to make in impact on others, you need to be a person of integrity. You need to be a person who is honest and who lives a pure life. Live your life in such a manner that you would not allow yourself to be put in any situation where you could lose your integrity. Don’t allow yourself to be alone with the opposite gender. Keep your marriage strong. Always keep your word. Be a person who treats everyone the same. This is an important key to a successful ministry.
Part of the reason Paul was able to finish his course was because he kept going in the right direction. Friend, your direction will dictate your destination. You cannot run with the modern day Balaam’s who think the end justifies the means and keep your direction right. Those who have enjoyed successful ministries didn’t change direction midstream. They started walking down the old paths and they walked those paths to their death. They were not critical of the old paths; they embraced them. They didn’t criticize those from the past who championed the old paths; instead, they held them as role models for a younger generation. Every person who has changed their direction has always ruined the next generation. Those who stayed the course to the end were those who not only changed their generation, but they also influenced and impacted the next generation.
Who you choose to be your friend will ultimately determine the success of your ministry. We must never forget the example of Amnon who had a friend he shouldn’t have had, and that friend destroyed his potential. Proverbs 27:17 shows us what type of friends we should have when it says, “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” Solomon controlled his bad associations while he was young, but they changed him when he got old. 1 Kings 11:4 says, “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.”
You are only as strong as your weakest friend. You can run with the Demas’ who love the world more than God, but one day you will yoke up with them. People commonly try to defend their weak associations by saying that they are their friend, and that they are always going to be a friend to their friends. That is fine to say, but that is not scriptural. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” You are not to continue to be closely associated with those who are walking disorderly in the faith. Yes, they may still be your friend, but they need to be a distant friend. Using friendship as an excuse to justify associating with a disorderly brother is absolutely wrong. If you are going to experience a successful ministry, you are going to have to keep a close watch on whether you should stay close to certain friends.
These eight keys are imperative to continually being a life-changer. At the end of life, if these eight things have been adhered to, God will have surely used you mightily as a life-changer. These eight things are not just for preachers, but they are for every Christian to follow who wants God to use them mightily in their lives.