As a semi-regular preacher/teacher and regular writer on this blog and other websites, from time to time I will receive encouraging, and not so encouraging, feedback about my abilities in ministry.
Everyone in ministry faces the temptation to let positive feedback fuel pride and negative feedback linger in their minds for weeks, months, or years to come. I personally receive much more positive feedback for what I do, which probably speaks to people trying to encourage a young(er) minister more than anything else. (I’m also a guest a lot, and people won’t criticize the guest as often as their own pastor.)
In my few years of gospel ministry, I have seen the vital need to handle ministry ‘success’ for God’s glory. I have found the eight points below invaluable in my efforts to do just that.
1. Remember your identity in Christ.
Ultimately, we must remember who we are in Christ: justified sinners and unworthy servants. Jesus’ words in Luke 17:10 should humble us with this reality: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”
2. Remember God’s grace to you.
The apostle Paul models this perfectly in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” We must not forget to rejoice that our name is written in heaven, not in ‘success’. This helps us keep first things first (1 Corinthians 15:3) and remember that we could still be in our sins deserving God’s judgment.
3. Thank God for the gifts he has given you.
All we can offer God comes from God’s gracious hand (as the last point mentions). Our skills and abilities are only ours because God graciously gives them for the building up of His church. Humbly thank God for your gifts and ask for help stewarding them wisely.
4. Ask God to bear fruit through your work.
My preaching professor in seminary, Dr. Greg Scharf, suggested when people commend preachers after a sermon, to kindly thank them and say, “I pray it will bear fruit.” Your skills or knowledge as a minister do not bear spiritual fruit. God bears fruit through His Word and Spirit—you are a servant God graciously decides to use. Pray accordingly.
5. Remember your goal of being faithful.
Faithful ministry should be fruitful because God’s Word never returns void, but it doesn’t mean success will be measured with worldly standards. God doesn’t measure success the same way the world does. God values faithfulness to Him above all.
6. Encourage others to use their gifts.
If people comment on your ministry skills, point back to God’s gracious gift to you and your need for prayer to graciously steward them. Ask others what their gifts may be and encourage them to use their gifts to serve others for God’s glory (1 Peter 4:10-11).
7. Ask for prayer to steward your gifts wisely.
This has two-fold reasoning behind it: First, because you need prayer and the reminder to stay both humble and God-dependent. After all, greater kingdom responsibilities will receive stricter judgment (James 3:1). Secondly, it teaches those you are talking to about the realities of gospel ministry and that God is the One who does the work. We must never lose sight of that, lest our pride steal for ourselves the glory God alone deserves.
8. Give your team credit.
Whether it be your spouse, the AV team, musicians, pastors, leaders, or whoever helps you in ministry, don’t forget to give them due credit and “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). If it seems cheesy like an athlete in a post-game interview, remember it’s actually true, and a truth people prone to pride need.
May the Lord use these truths to humble, encourage, and lift your eyes to the greatness of our God, so that when you leave this earth you will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).