Redefining Success

Recently, an artist from a very successful worship group parted ways with them. I am intentionally leaving the names out because I want to focus on the substance; I don’t want this to just be another gossipy type of article. What caught my attention in the story were two quotes that were posted on this person’s Instagram account, which I will share with you now.

“This platform of success I enjoy is a blessing that is both gifted to me and shared with YOU, my faith community, family, friends, supporters and fellow artists. I sincerely apologize for the impact of my behavior and that it has offended many people on the platform we share together.”

“Years ago, when I dreamt of all I would accomplish one day, I didn’t account for the pressure and opinions that would come with it. It’s important for everyone to step back and refocus.”

There is one word I want you to pay attention to in this post, and that word is success. My question is how are we as Christians measuring success and how does this align with God’s view of success? Could it be possible we are falling victim to the same trapping of success that those who don’t know Jesus are falling victim to? Here are four ways all Christians must redefine success.

1. Success Is Not Measured by Things

In Matthew 4, when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, one temptation he offered him was the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, in exchange for his worship. In the world’s eyes, this is the measurement of success. How big is your kingdom and how much splendor do you have? They typically measure this splendor by accomplishments. For musicians, they measure it in Grammy’s, Dove Awards, record sales, maybe even venues you played in. By the way, these are magnificent accomplishments, and while they validate you in the world’s eyes, maybe that is the problem.

Could it be we are seeking validation from the wrong place and measuring it by the wrong standards? Consider Jesus’ response to Satan, after his offer of the kingdoms of the world for his worship.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).

It is safe to say God has a different measure of success and it is more than your wall of awards and achievements.

2. Success Is about Who, Not What

For so long, we have used a worldly standard to measure success. Pastors measure their success by the size of their congregation, and they often use that as the lead-in when they talk about their church. How many times have you heard a pastor say, “I am pastor of 20,000 member XYZ church.” That is using a worldly standard. 

Artists measure success by record sales, authors by book sales, social media influencers by views and subscribers. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with these measurements, but they don’t define success in God’s eyes. Success is about who, not what. It is not about how many records you sold, but how many lives have you changed for the kingdom. It is not about how many people are in the church, but are you helping those people become disciples or are you just filling seats? Sold out buildings may be good for the kingdoms of this world, but that does not automatically translate to good for the kingdom of heaven. 

When we measure success by anything other than lives changed, then we become no different from people in the world, and we can easily fall into the temptation of running after more success. I am not saying don’t track these things. I am saying don’t use them as your validation of success. Care more about changed lives than units sold. No matter how many books you sell, records people buy, or people show up in your building, those won’t be the things we offer to God when we stand before him on that day. The lives we help change for the kingdom will.

3. Success Is about Inputs, Not Outputs

There is a tendency to measure the success of the activity by the result the activity produces. I get it because that makes sense. However, that is not how God measures success. Listen to these words.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

If you read verse 22 by itself, there are people rattling off a list of things they accomplished. Prophesying, driving out demons and even performing many miracles in Jesus’ name. If success is solely defined by what you do, then clearly these people are successful. And yet Jesus sends them away, even calling them evildoers.

When you look at these verses, you see God measures success by one major factor. Did you do what he asked you to do? God never judges us by the results which is an output. God judges us by our obedience which is an input. Our responsibility is to do what God has asked us to do, to the best of our ability, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and leave the results to him. 

It could be the pastor with the small church who is making disciples and helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus is more successful than the church down the street that is using every marketing trick in the book to get people into their building. Jesus told us to make disciples. He never told us to fill buildings. Again, there is nothing wrong with a full building, but if the endgame is not about making disciples, then it really doesn’t matter. In that instance, we become no different from the ones standing before Jesus in Matthew 7.

4. Success Is Not Complete unless You Finish Well

In the quote earlier by the artist, they mentioned the platform of success they enjoy. This is another way we become victim to the trappings of success. Success in not about how you start or even how far you get along the way. You are unsuccessful if you don’t finish well. Paul said this:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Success is all about finishing well. Think of Jesus’ life for a moment. He performed many miracles and at points had great crowds following him, which by today’s standards would make him highly successful. However, what made Jesus’ ministry on earth a success was he completed his mission, which was the cross. Had Jesus done all the things he did, but never went to the cross, he would not have been a success because he did not finish the course and fulfill the plan of the Father. As you think about success, note it doesn’t happen at the halfway point – it happens at the finish line. In recent memory, just think of those who’s lifetime of work was all but washed away because they didn’t finish well.

Final Thoughts

Whatever you are striving for today, please examine your heart. I am talking to myself as well. Don’t be driven by numbers alone. While they are important, affecting people’s lives is far greater. Most importantly, make sure you are doing what God wants you to do and do that until you breathe your last breath. 

You don’t win the race because you start, you win because you finish. My prayer is we would all find contentment in accomplishing God’s will for our lives, not for any amount of fame or fortune in this life which will all pass away, anyway. Let it be for his glory and his kingdom, which will last forever. Doing his will, his way, for his kingdom, and for his glory that sounds a lot like success to me.

Clarence L. Haynes Jr.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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