Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Defining 'success' can be difficult

I once saw a sign that said:





Guaranteed success, right?

But how do you know what “success” is? Most of us are pursuing it in one way or another, and I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. For one thing, I’m getting sort of close to the age when some guys seem to start having mid-life crises. (I’m in mid-life if I assume that I’ll live to be 94 and if I’m only thinking about “earthly” life, but still ...) Since I’d like to avoid changing wives, buying a Harley, or getting a tattoo, I prefer to be pro-active as I think about this “success” stuff.

The “business” I’m in happens to be professional Christian ministry. I go to work every day at a building called a church which houses the meetings of people called the “church” who are part of a much larger group called the church, Christ’s universal body made up of Christ’s people everywhere and at all times and in all places. Seems to me that anyone who is part of that group is deeply “successful.”

But you know as well as I do that if I go to a ministry conference somewhere and a clergy compadre asks me over coffee, “So how’s your church doing?” he’s not asking about Christ’s universal church. If he’s a genuine friend or genuinely interested, it’s a level question; if he’s a clergy climber who’s rarely been in any church over 18 months and who would preach scorching sermons against members who leave marriages for prettier wives as often as he leaves smaller churches for glitzier ones, he just wants to assure himself that it’s smaller than “his.” Whatever the character of the questioner, he probably wants to know if the church is “growing” or “declining”— by which he almost certainly means in numerical membership. Built anything lately? Added a service or three to make sure that “traditional” and “contemporary” or just “confused” worshipers never have to worship with each other but in the “style” they prefer?

“How’s your church doing?”

Well, I think we’re doing really well, thanks, and growing. But we pastoral types need to remember that “our” churches aren’t “ours.” Truly “successful” pastors remind themselves often that God’s Kingdom and their kingdoms aren’t the same thing and that, although “successful” folks are always ready to learn, real “growth” is not all wrapped up in going to the right seminars, following the latest church growth guru, and punching the right buttons.

I’ve been blessed by many “successful” ministers. They loved God. They loved God’s people. They experienced genuine church growth. Sometimes larger. Also deeper. They worked hard but with joy and the right kind of contentment and were able to relax at the end of a day, enjoy a sunset, and realize that the only real growth that lasts and matters is the kind empowered by the God who gives us sunsets.

I hope God calls that success. If he does, that’s what I want!

What about you? What does “success” mean to you? And, while your head’s hurting anyway, have a go at this question: What do you think “success” means for your church?

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at

[email protected]

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