How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.
Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)
They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.
So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?” Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.