Christians today may disagree about what successful ministry is. Some will measure success in terms of numbers. If a church, or minister, has an ever growing number of people attending their services or following them then they feel they have a successful ministry. Other believers do not measure success in terms of quantity, they measure it in terms of quality. For them, success is determined by the soundness of what is produced. In the context of the local church this will likely be the quality of the disciple that is produced. Mega churches may identify with the first group cited above because they have large numbers of people in their churches. Smaller churches may see themselves as part of the latter group. They do not have large numbers of people, but this allows them to give more individualized attention to their converts, and so produce quality disciples who are truly rooted and growing in the faith. There are elements of truth in both of these measures of success. The church should be reaching more and more people (we have been called to share the good news with all of the people of the world). However, the accumulation of converts is not the only task that is to take place. The church is to nurture disciples, people who are diligent followers of Jesus (Matt. 28:19). There are some churches that are able to excel in both of these areas, they can reach and disciple large numbers of people.
Whichever measure of success one leans toward it is clear that it will not happen unless some things are in place. We need God’s call, His grace, and His power. Without these things we will accomplish very little. But there are also some investments that we as human beings need to make. I have chosen four for us to consider: focus, faithfulness, friends, and finances. These are essentials for successful ministry. I believe that Scripture highlights their importance. In the remainder of this article we will take a closer look at each of these four essentials.
In order for there to be progress in ministry there needs to be some intentionality, that is, some effort needs to be exerted. But if intentionality and effort are to yield fruit the minister, or ministry, must know where they are going. They must know what it is that they are trying to achieve. Once this has been identified then appropriate efforts can be made to pursue the goal. Stated differently, there needs to be focus. An athlete can run in a race, he or she may even run fast, but if they do not stay on the track and cross the finish line before others, they will not accomplish the goal for which they are running the race.
Jesus had focus, He knew that He had been sent and He knew that He had a mission. There are a number of Scriptures which indicate this. He spoke repeatedly of being sent by His Father (John 5:37; 6:37-39; 8:16, 18). He also knew why he had been sent, He had been sent to do, not his own will, but the will of the one who sent Him (John 6:38). He articulated this when He read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19). His mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Part of doing this involved bravely facing what was ahead and going to Jerusalem. Luke tells us of His determination to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). Near the end of His earthly life Jesus once again surrendered Himself to God’s will. As He faced His suffering He prayed “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV). He was focused on what He had been sent to do. Though suffering played a great part in His ministry there was also joy that was set before Him; this, too, motived Him to endure the suffering of the cross (Heb. 12:2).
The apostle Paul also had focus in his ministry. He knew what he had been called to do. The Lord told him when He confronted him on the Damascus road (Acts 26:15-18). Paul also articulated his mission at other times. For example, in Titus 1:1 he said that his purpose included furthering the faith of the elect, a faith that motivates one to godliness. Paul gave his attention to the task that he had been given to do. Speaking to the elders of the church of Ephesus Paul spoke about completing the task he had been given, which was to testify to God’s grace (Acts 20:24). Because of his focus he pursued his goals with passion; he pressed on to take hold of that for which Christ had taken hold of him (Phil. 3:12-14). As a result he accomplished many great things for the Kingdom of God.
God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 Thess. 5:23-24) and He expects His servants to be faithful as well. As His sons and daughters we are to model this characteristic of God to the world around us. Faithfulness is an essential quality for one who is engaged in ministry. There must be a godly consistency in the life of the servant of God. This includes faithfulness in prayer, in the study of Scripture, and in the exercise of the ministry that the Lord has entrusted to the individual. Faithfulness is a quality that the Lord values. This truth is affirmed in a number of places in Scripture. It was a characteristic that was found in the lives of many of the great people in Scripture. It was evident in the life of Moses (Heb. 3:5), and in the life of Jesus (Heb. 3:6). It is a quality that the Holy Spirit seeks to cultivate in the life of each Christian (Gal. 5:22). Paul made mention of his own faithfulness. In 2 Timothy 4 he wrote about fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). He also held out faithfulness as a requirement for all who have been entrusted with a ministry from the Lord (1 Cor. 4:2). Paul practiced what he preached! Whether in good circumstances or challenging ones he remained consistent in his commitment to, and practice of, ministry. His circumstances did not determine his faithfulness. The same should be the case for each of us today.
If a person is going to be a good athlete, musician, or writer he or she must exercise themselves in the task. Stated differently, they must constantly be engaged in their work; they must practice. Each one needs to put in the time and effort necessary in order to improve their skills and their effectiveness in what they are doing. The same holds true for the minister of God. Time in ministry does not in and of itself make us more effective. We need to exercise ourselves in the work, whatever that work may be. It is the consistent practice of ministry, faithfulness to the task, that pleases God, helps us grow as ministers, and yields results. Let us diligently and prayerfully continue in the work.
Ministry is not supposed to be a solo endeavor. While there may be seasons when one works alone that is not to be the norm. Sometimes we think that great servants of God in the biblical texts worked alone but this was not really the case. The original apostles, who were chosen by Jesus in Mark 3, were together as a group. They worked as a group in the distribution of the bread and the fish (Mark 8:6; Luke 9:16). When Jesus sent these men out in ministry they were sent out in groups of two (Mark 6:7). The seventy-two that Jesus sent out were also sent out in groups of two (Luke 10:1). We trust that the Lord is also involved in the ministerial partnerships that we have today.
The apostle Paul traveled in ministry with a number of people. He traveled with Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13), with Silas and Timothy (Acts 16), and on occasion Luke traveled with him (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15). In addition he had a number of other co-workers, such as Titus (see book of Titus), Philemon (see book of Philemon) and Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3).
As ministers today we also need people that we can work with. No hierarchical chain of command need be in place, in fact, it is probably better if that is not the guiding principle of the ministry. While structures have the place, at times it is better if ministry can be done on the basis of relationship. Paul, who was an apostle, had co-workers, we in the twenty-first century church need them too. If you are in ministry and do not have others to share the work with pray that the Lord would send them your way and that your eyes would be open to recognize them!
Ministry typically requires finances. At bare minimum the minister needs support. In addition, the ministry that he or she labors in also requires financial resources. This is true whether it is a missionary endeavor, a local church, or some other type of ministry. Finances for supplies and the resources that the ministry provides are necessary. Financing ministry is not just a good idea, it is a biblical idea.
As the gospels make clear Jesus carried on an itinerant ministry, He traveled around preaching, teaching, and healing (Matt. 4:23). During this time He was also conducting the “school of the apostles” as He trained the Twelve. While at times He was the recipient of hospitality (Luke 7:36). I am sure that at other times He and his disciples had to take care of their own needs. We know for example that the apostles had a money bag (John 12:6). One gospel account also tells us that some women gave support to Jesus and the Twelve (Luke 8:3).
The apostle Paul also received support, he makes mention of it in the New Testament (Phil. 4:14-18). He did physical labor when he needed to (he was thus at times bi-vocational) but it was obviously more beneficial to the cause of Christ if Paul could devote more time to the ministry. Financial support from fellow Christians made it possible for him to devote a significant part of his life to preaching the gospel.
The apostle was not the only minister who could rightfully receive support. Paul said that those who preach the gospel should make their living from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), he also seems to indicate that elders are entitled to support (1 Tim. 5:17). He even cites two Scriptures to support this truth, one citation comes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and the other comes from Luke 10:7 (1 Tim. 5:18).
Profitable ministry does not just happen. God must be involved, as He is the one who makes things grow (1 Cor. 3:6) be we must be engaged as well. Focus, faithfulness, friends, and finances will go a long way in helping us to carry on productive ministry and fulfill the ministries that the Lord has entrusted to us. We must each do our part, but our part alone is not enough, we need the help of others. We need the personal support of friends, to encourage and pray for us, and we also need financial support (which may come from them or others). Other ministers can also help us to stay focused and can encourage us to be faithful. If we are laboring without one of these vital elements, may the Lord supply us with what we need. He does want His mission in the world to succeed!
John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.