For the last year, IBC Bonn has been slowly studying the Gospel of Matthew in our Sunday morning worship. A few weeks ago a truth hit me with the kind of force that only God can produce: In the Kingdom of Heaven "success" is not the same as "results."
Let me say that differently, success does not always look the way we think it should or want it to. In ministry -- as in business -- it's all too easy to look at the results of our efforts and find our worth or value in those things.
A growing church is uncritically deemed to be a ministry success.
A ministry that meets its ministry goals is considered successful.
A Bible study that has a steady growth is understood to be the gold standard of success.
But 2020 has challenged these assumptions. The pandemic forced us to reconsider everything. "What does it even mean to be the church anymore?" became a pressing question, even before we get to the issue of results.
But as I have been preaching through Matthew, it struck me anew that the Bible undermines these assumptions as well. The Bible blows these markers of "success" out of the water even before we think about the effects of the Covid epoch.
Consider for a moment Matthew 9:36-38:
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (ESV)
Jesus begins by urging His disciples to pray for workers to meet the needs of the moment. Unknown to them, they themselves will be the answer to this prayer, for the very next verse (Matt. 10:1) begins the Mission Discourse: Jesus is about to send them out into the harvest.
But throughout chapter 10's mission pep talk, Jesus makes it clear that they will suffer. Their Gospel message will divide people. They will be rejected and be persecuted.
Let this sink in: Jesus sent them out and taught them how to lose gracefully. In preparing them for the mission, He taught them what to do when they are rejected.
Clearly, success does not always look like we think it should. Success is not huge crowds, its obedience. The success of the 12 was not in the results they got, it was in the act of obedience, it was in the act of faithfulness to the task they had been given.
It’s God’s harvest, and we are His laborers.
God knows what needs to be done, and He knows what He’s calling us to do.
If we’re obedient and are good stewards of the ministry that God has given us, if we are using our spiritual gifts and our talents, then we can trust that success is not the same as results.
Success is obedience to the calling that God has given.