What does it mean to be successful in the ministry?

imagesThis morning I started re-reading “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent and Barbara Hughes.  In the first two chapters of this book, Kent shares his experience with ministry burnout.  Anyone who has been in the ministry for more than a couple of years can relate to what Hughes writes about the turmoil that enters into the soul of the Pastor/Minister who buys into a worldly definition of success in the ministry.  The sad truth is that we have made success in the ministry everything but what God says that it should be.  We have made it about numbers — we sometimes jokingly call this the nickels and noses syndrome— but God has defines success in less quantifiable but far more important terms.  In God’s economy success is more about things such as faithfulness, service, and holiness for more than how many people we had in Sunday School last week.
Every Pastor who has been in the ministry for more than six months knows that we have a tendency to do this, but we give very little attention to why this is such a trap.  Let me give you three reasons I believe that we tend to fall into the trap of defining ministry success in such worldly terms:
1.) We still struggle with sinful pride.
No Pastor ever likes to admit it, but we all struggle with sinful pride.  If you don’t believe this just go to a Pastors conference and listen to the conversation around the dinner tables.  We love to try to find comparisons between ourselves and other Pastors that make us look good.  Numbers prove to be very tempting in these kinds of discussions.  Believe it or not, I have even heard Pastors brag that their church wasn’t declining as fast as someone else’s.  The best thing we could do it to simply acknowledge that this is a problem, confess it as sin, and then war against it when it rears it’s ugly head.  But what we usually do is to try to mask it in false humility or spirituality.
2.) We live in a fallen world.
We live in a fallen world where the true qualities that define ministry success are not highly esteemed.  The world exalts leaders but seldom acknowledges servants.  The world exalts in things that are large but misses that sometimes small things make the greatest impact.  But in the Kingdom of God the very attitudes and qualities that the world sees as insignificant are actually considered blessed (see Matthew 5:1-11).  The world creeps into the church in a million different ways and one of the most significant is in the ways we define success.  The answer, of course, is to dig deeper into the word of God and allow it to form our definition of success rather than the world.
3.) Satan influences the way we think.
One of Satan’s greatest tools against us is to simply get us to think in a manner that is contrary to the character and will of God.  This is what he did to Eve in the garden of Eden and it is what he continues to do to Pastors this very day.  By getting us to define success in ministry in a worldly way Satan draws our focus away from the things that are really important and onto the things that we have little or no control over.  He gets us chasing numbers and spending all of our time on the the things that produce the least amount of true spiritual fruit.  By chasing after world success we end up being failures in the things that are really important.
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Review of Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart

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J.D Greear, Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to know for Sure You Are Saved, (Nashville:Broadman & Holman, 2013)

The title of J.D. Greear’s new book, “Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart” is sure to stir up a great deal of controversy.  Even in the preface of the book, Dr. Paige Patterson confesses that he does not “like the title of the book” but reassures the reader that “J.D Greear makes it clear that he has no objection to anyone receiving the Lord … The title itself is not meant to prevent anyone from calling on the Lord.  It is rather a genuine admonition for everyone to seek and trust the Lord Jesus.”  Before rejecting this book outright, however, I would like to encourage every Pastor and lay person to take a serious look at the Biblical argument Greear has laid out in this book.  In my opinion, this book may be one of the most valuable resources on the market for the church today.

In a simple, straightforward, manner Greear tackles one of the most pressing issues facing American evangelicalism today— the assurance of salvation. Specifically, Greear sets out to tackle two problems related to this issue.  First, he wants to answer the questions, “How can anyone know, beyond all doubt, that they are saved?”  Second, he deals with those who he refers to as “ the falsely assured,” or people who have prayer a sinner’s prayer but have never experienced genuine conversion.  Both of these issues are pressing problems in the modern evangelical church.

The basic thesis of this book is that “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from: salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.” (p.5)  Greear points to a 2011 Barna study showing that while nearly half of all adults in America have prayed a sinner’s prayer and as a result believe they are going to heaven, many have never shown any fruits of repentance or a changed life.  He suggests that part of the problem is the way that evangelicals speak about the gospel.  Specifically the way we couch the response to the gospel in phrases such as “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior,” or “give your heart to Jesus.”  He writes, “These phrases may not be wrong in themselves, but the Bible never tells us, specifically, to seek salvation in those ways.  The biblical summation of a saving response towards Christ is “repentance” and “belief” in the gospel.” (p.7) He goes on to say, “Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ.  You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer.  But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture.  The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake.  The real stuff— that stuff that matters— is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak.  The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.” (p.8)

In the remaining chapters of the book, Greear lays out a thoroughly Biblical approach to the issue of assurance.  In chapter 2 he answers the questions “Does God even want us to have assurance?”  He demonstrates that the key to confidence in this life is our assurance of new life in Christ and the resurrection.  In chapter 3, he lays out a clear and well-presented explanation of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.   Greear’s ability to make the nuances of the gospel clear and understandable makes this chapter of particular importance.  Laymen and theologians alike will gain from reading this chapter of the book.   In chapters 4 and 5, he lays out Biblical and practical explanations of what it means to “believe” and “repent” leaving know doubt in our minds as to what the responses to the gospel entail.  In chapter 6, Greear takes on a subject of eternal security and specifically the Biblical warnings about losing our salvation.  This chapter will be particularly helpful to balance the popular misunderstandings of “eternal security” that have contributed to the problem.  Chapter 7, deals with the practical evidence or fruit of conversion that should be produced in the life of the believer.  Finally, in chapter 8, Greear tackles the problem of “continued doubt.”

As a Pastor this book has made me think deeply about how I present the gospel in my personal evangelism and preaching.  Specifically, it has forced me to think about the terminology and phrases that I use in calling people to respond to the gospel.  I can think of several instances in the past when I have ministered to people who struggled with the very concerns and issues that Greear talks about in the book.  The book is written in such simple easy language that nearly anyone is going to be able to understand its essential message.  I can see it being used as a small group study in the church or with individual believers in the church.

 

HERE IS THE LINK TO A FOLLOW UP POST THAT I DID ON THIS REVIEW ENTITLED:

How much do you have to repent in order to be sure?