How do you measure success in Christian ministry? Does it have to do with popularity? Is it measured by the number of people who listened to you preach yesterday the number of people who download your podcast or the number of people who read your blog?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then what happens when there weren’t as many people listening, downloading or reading this week as last week? What happens when a new ministry seems to be taking over and growing in popularity? What happens when you and your church are no longer what everyone is talking about?
Is that failure?
One day (read about it in John 3) John the Baptist’s disciples came to him with a concern. They had noticed that Jesus was drawing bigger crowds than John. Did John realise what was happening? Were these disciples concerned that their leader was becoming a has-been, his popularity overtaken by that of this man he had spoken about? Was that how it was meant to be? John was there first and if it wasn’t for him, would anyone have noticed Jesus?
It didn’t bother John. He knew his place – someone sent to prepare the way – and he knew that God had allocated his place. Hence his comment about the sovereignty of God in verse 27. The sphere and scope of ministry are under the sovereignty of God.
Such was the uniqueness of John’s situation as forerunner to the Messiah that for John to have been envious of the Messiah’s success would have been complete folly. There is only one Messiah and it wasn’t John (and it is not you, either).
But God’s sovereignty in allocating ministry opportunity must say something to the rest of us who are neither the Messiah nor are we John the Baptist but who sometimes hanker after success or popularity.
- Don’t devalue the place God has put you or the work God has given you.
- Don’t envy those whom God has put in other places and to whom he has entrusted other work.
It’s tempting to think of success in terms of large crowds, great influence, upward mobility on some ministry ladder.
But what if it was simply to be faithful to what God has given you to do?
His only righteousness I show,
his saving truth proclaim;
’tis all my business here below
to cry, “Behold the Lamb!”