I think all people want to be successful in life. As far as I know, no one wants to be a failure or feel defeated. Some people work hard, some spend lots of money on education, and some others have strict schedule for their education and work. Everybody wants to be successful, but what is success? To have a good education? To graduate from one of the best universities of the country? To find a good job? To achieve a great career?
What is success if you are a minister? Find a good position in a church? Be the lead pastor of a church? Have a large congregation or a higher attendance rate every Sunday? Have a good youth group? Have a strong worship team? Have a larger building for your church?
Sometimes we look at the results to determine who has a successful ministry. Did the number of church members grow compared to last year? Did the church receive more offerings and donations compared to last year? Have there been more healings, prophecies, and miracles in the church compared to last year? Are all those the definitions of successful servants?
Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23 (NIV), “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” They had a nice ministry with good results, but Jesus never knew them. So how does the Bible define success?
In the Bible, some prophet’s ministry did not have a good ending, but they obeyed God and did whatever the Lord asked them to do. For example, Jeremiah preached repentance for about 40 years and no one listened to him; Ezekiel also preached for about 40 years, but not even one repented and Israel went to captivity. If we look from a human eye at John the Baptist’s life and his ministry in the New Testament, we can say that he was the greatest failure. He did not have a family or a job, wore rough clothes, and ate disgusting food. All of his disciples left him to follow Jesus. Although he baptized Jesus, when he was in jail he doubted about Him. Finally, John became the victim of a conspiracy and was beheaded. John was a failure, but Jesus said about him: “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”(Matthew 11:11)
Although the ministry of John the Baptist did not have a good ending nor results, he was successful in his ministry. He knew who he was, he knew who sent him, he knew what he had to do and say, and most of all, he was obedient.
I don’t think that the result of a ministry determines its success. If you know your spiritual gifts, your ministry is following your calling, and if you are in relationship with the Holy Spirit and obey His will, you are a successful servant regardless of the result of your ministry.