Success in Ministry?

What should be the goal of ministry? Success?  Productivity?  An increasing “platform”?

I’d argue that the goal of ministry is to produce fruit worthy of the Gospel (Col. 1.10). So how to be fruitful in ministry? We bear fruit when we abide in the Vine (John 15.4-5). We abide in Jesus when we learn how to better listen to his voice, to trust his ways.

But we can’t help but wonder how we’re doing! Sometimes we’re like the former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch.  We wander around asking everyone (sometimes not verbally but in other ways…) “How am I doing?” We’re begging people to judge us.

But the reality of serving in a church is that others are judging your performance. Some churches make this clear in formal performance reviews; others review you as they shake hands on the way out of church or grab you at the church dinner or send you that text or email. We can say “God is my boss” but the church board has a responsibility to hold you accountable for your job. Some days it feels like you have as many bosses as members!

In 1995 I wrote this in a journal: “Concentrate on serving others, rather than pleasing others. Trying to reset my very intuitive antennae [there’s the self-knowledge] from ‘Are others happy?’ to serving their needs (which may not make them happy!)”

It may not make them happy and it may not make you happy either!

If you tend to be self-confident and can brush off criticism easily, maybe you need to concentrate more on serving others (not yourself!). But if you are a people-pleaser (as I tend to be), keep your ear attuned to your Heavenly Father’s voice  and play to the Audience of One.

I had no idea this phrase, “the Audience of One” was so widely used until I googled it trying to find its true source! I first read about it in Os Guinness’s book, The Call,Most of us, whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have” (p.73). Jesus’s life was lived in constant communication with his Heavenly Father (John 5.19). He understood people but didn’t live for their approval (John 2.24-25).

As you think about being fruitful in ministry, which approach –concentration on serving others or paying attention to the Audience of One — would help you most? When is it hardest for you to serve others? What practical thing could you do to play to an Audience of One?


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