How do you define success? Specifically, how would you define “success” in ministry? Is it having a large congregation? Is it being a sought after speaker? The number of baptisms you have performed? And does your definition match God’s definition of success?

There are many names of people in Scripture who God declared to be successful, that the world (and I dare say much of the church) would say had failed. Take Noah for instance. The man preached for over 100 years, and the only converts he had to show for it were his wife and kids. Or the prophet Elijah, who as a reward for preaching the truth had a price on his head! Or Jeremiah, whose message was greeted with such hostility, they threw him in a cistern to die.
And then there was Isaiah, whose commission from God was as follows:
“Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered,
“Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant,
Houses are without people
And the land is utterly desolate, (Isaiah 6:10, 11 NASB)

Why did these men do these things if they were doomed to fail? Because God doesn’t measure success the way man does. God measures success as faithful obedience in a relationship with Him. It has never been about how well we do a thing. It is based on having a right standing with God. When that happens, spiritual fruit will follow.

Having that kind of focus will keep us from burning out when the world doesn’t beat a path to our door, fall to their knees, and ask what they must do to be saved. Jesus told the disciples this same thing.

And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20 NASB)

If we get too focused on what we are doing instead of who we are doing it for, we are setting ourselves up for failure, even though the world may call us a success. Jesus knew this and redirected the disciples’ rejoicing to something of eternal significance — that their names were written in heaven.

Paul admonished Timothy to make full proof of his ministry. He didn’t tell him to market the church, or raise outside support. He was to preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). Put in simpler terms, that means to preach the Word when people want to hear it and when people don’t want to hear it. Preach when it is easy and when it is hard. And if you spend your live faithfully giving spiritual food to His sheep, the Good Shepherd will reward you on the last day.

Just be diligent to deepen your walk with God, and the rest will follow. Paul’s charge to Timothy sums it up well.
Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16 NASB)