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Friday, December 2, 2011

When Is a Ministry a Failure?

Many pastors are discouraged. Many of them are secretly looking for another profession. They may even be looking to their denominations to "promote" them out of their present ministries. Though they have cried out to God, they have not seen any results. Each Sunday is the same. Their churches shrink slowly and they are wondering just how much longer they can endure their own "failures."I have found that the problem most pastors face is not failure but how success is measured.

Success is not measured by comparison.
Each pastor's mailbox is filled with the success stories of the mega-pastors. Their churches are full, the giving is more than they know how to spend and their books are best sellers. The pastor of the shrinking church wonders why this hasn't happened to him. He knows he has prayed. He knows that he has studied the Bible. He knows that he has done the best job he knows to do. He spends much of his time making sure the air conditioning works the next Sunday. He works hard to see each one of the sick and pays special attention to those who are feeling the hurt of divorce, the loss of a loved one or the emptiness of unemployment. He knows the mega-pastor doesn't even know all of his staff, much less all of his members. He wonders why he is in this position while these others are allowed to write books and preach all over the world.

Success is not measured by desire.
Many pastors saw their ministries differently while they were in seminary. They were on a equal plain with most of the other students. They didn't see that others sermons were that much better than theirs. They saw themselves going to grow churches. They wanted desperately to baptize hundreds each year. They wanted to see new buildings erected as they led churches to be leaders in giving to missions. Their desire hasn't wained but their reality hasn't met their desires. They still want this. It just isn't happening.

Success is not measured by complaints.
I believe that each church has five people who are sent by Satan to complain. These people side up to the pastor at first and stab him in the back at the first opportunity. They complain and stir up trouble under the guise of being concerned for the church. They have been a part of running off the past three pastors and they don't feel that their work on earth is yet done. These people are rarely the ones who lead the charge. If something is said often and widely enough people will believe it is the truth. These complainers are saying it often and to as many people as possible.

So, how should a ministry be evaluated?

A ministry should be measured by calling.
Pastors are called to the ministry not to success. They are to fulfill the role rather than to be admired, become famous or write books. They are called to lead in the church where they are. They are not called to become the character and personality of a known mega-pastor. Pastors should praise the ministries of these mega-pastors but never measure their success against them.

A ministry should be measured by obedience.
It isn't desire that makes one great but obedience. Desire can mislead us to do things that we should never have done. Obedience to our Lord is all that counts. It isn't how much we have been given but what we have done with it that really counts. The Parable of the Talents should teach us that God expects us to take what we have had entrusted to us and be obedient with it.

A ministry should be measured by changed lives.
The pastor should spend some time each day alone with the Lord. He should be changed by His presence so that he can share this change with those around him. Changed lives are measured one life at a time. The pastor should never overlook the one in order to see the hundreds. Lives are not changed by mere church attendance. Many people come to church every week and are still white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones. Pastors should focus on those who are being changed by the presence of the Lord rather than the complaints of the five people who were sent to literally raise hell in their churches.

Maybe your pastor is feeling like his ministry is in vain. He has been called, faithful and is seeking the Lord in his own life. His ministry is changing folks but he may not even know it. It may be up to you to tell him that his ministry is not in vain. You have been changed!

1 Thessalonians 2:1 (NIV)  
1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.


Evert Heskes said...

I am just reading a biography of T. DE WITT TALMAGE and came across this paragraph which reminded me of your article. The paragraph goes like this "In the church at Somerville, New Jersey, where I was afterwards pastor, John Vredenburgh preached for a great many years. He felt that his ministry was a failure, and others felt so, although he was a faithful minister preaching the Gospel all the time. He died, and died amid some discouragements, and went home to God; for no one ever doubted that John Vredenburgh was a good Christian minister. A little while after his death there came a great awakening in Somerville, and one Sabbath two hundred souls stood up at the Christian altar espousing the cause of Christ, among them my own father and mother. And what was peculiar in regard to nearly all of those two hundred souls was that they dated their religious impressions from the ministry of John Vredenburgh."

I don't believe that any faithful minister of the word is ever a failure. Not everyone reaps what they sowed, but their reward is in heaven.

I enjoy and am blessed by reading your blog.


Charles Van Gorkom said...

not every ministry is pastoral. I drank your words like a thirsty man. Thank-you.

Prentis said...

I read your testimony of how you make boots. I had this thought: "This man makes boots as if each pair would be placed on the feet of Christ." God bless you.

Anthony Chia said...

Ps Prentis: I hesitated to put this up, but in the end, I decided to. May people be blessed to read this testimony of mine.

I am NOT one serving the Lord in any full-time capacity, but have got involved in a couple of ministries of my church before, and have over time given much thought over the subject of doing more in service for the Lord.

At one point in time, when I thought I had a jump in my career, and I remembered (then) I told the Lord before, I would NOT want to go into fuller time ministry, maybe even full-time ministry when I was down and out (it wouldn’t look right, that the church becomes the refuge for “failures”). I was head-hunted to be an executive director of a company aiming for public listing in a year. As I embarked on this high-flying post, I began to earnestly seek the Lord on what was to be my "ministry". I began weekend fast; starting from after Friday's dinner, I would abstain from food (only plain water) until Sunday, after church service, in time for lunch. I kept this on, for months, and I also began to attend seminars in areas I was inclined in. I was serious to find my ministry and wanting to do more.

In less than 9 months, I completed the IPO (public listing project) of the company, but the owner decided at the last moment (literally), to abort. I was deeply disappointed, I was made redundant. Despite all of this, I continued with my fast, for I had committed to fast for a year. The economy went into recession quickly, and I was down and out, and I ended up in prolonged unemployment of more than a year, despite my sending out many job applications.

My reasonable deduction from that episode of mine was that when we get serious to serve the Lord, often the Devil is NOT happy about that, and he will kick up a storm.

When I became unemployed, other issues stormed at me, and although I was no longer serving in any ministry (I was earlier involved in ministry), I continued to attend church and worshiped God; at no point, was I giving up on God, or was angry with Him, for how could I. I only knew and still know my God loved and still love me, and my response must be that I must love Him back and remain steadfast in my faith in Him.

My career never went back up; worse still, my marriage and family collapsed, and I became embroiled in a long court divorce battle over righteousness (as my Senior Pastor put it). My ex-wife filed to divorce me. I had to fight to hold onto what was reasonably mine, and also for the care and control of my 2 children.

Although I was NOT in ministry yet (apart from the previous earlier ministry works which were fruitful and recognised by the church leadership), the enemy did NOT relent, and kept at it. I am NOT saying there were no failures on my parts in all of these things that happened, but coupled with the intent of the enemy to dislodge my desire to serve the Lord, almost everything collapsed - prolonged unemployment, without income, little money, wife instituted divorce, and wanted to, I believed, take the young children away to far away Europe.

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Anthony Chia said...

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Almost everything collapsed, and I was devastated by the divorce action; I struggled with accepting that God's institution of marriage was being put asunder for my case. But one thing did NOT collapse, and that was my God. In any case, the only solid rock that I knew then, that I could cling on, was Jesus. I been through it all – laying there on the bed, but unable to go to sleep (even suicidal thought!); and the only way to get myself to sleep was to hug my Bible, and repeatedly calling the name of Jesus until I fell asleep, and I would do that for many nights. Finally, one day, my God answered me that He had accepted the marriage was no more, and since He had accepted it, I must move on (I am crying even as I am typing this out).

Even as I got pass that hurdle of accepting the marriage of 18 years was no more, still everything was in a mess – I needed serious work, had little money, and no reconciliation was possible, even mediation from church was refused by my ex-wife, and I had to fight her in court, and that went all the way to the High Court. But even as Satan was at work, God was also at work.

My seeking the Lord over the period I mentioned earlier, in which I fasted, was NOT in vain; during that time, I thought and meditated on matters before the Lord, and I dreamt with the Lord (I imagined what I would be doing with the Lord). During that time, what came to me, as the ministry that I would get involved in, would be healing. Because I was blessed of the Lord very early in my Christian life with the gift of “singing in tongue”, and it has grown full-blown over time, for I have been faithful in it, I imagined I was recognized as the “Loud One” by the Lord. And with healing coming in, I would then be a “singing healer” for the Lord. Of course, no ministry started then, rather almost all things had collapsed on me.

I voluntarily bring myself to the ministry of others, even to the ministry of Inner Healing and Deliverance, for I was living too long under oppressive atmosphere of my marriage, according to the Deliverance Minister. When one is in the pit, one must resolve to help oneself, otherwise, almost no one can help. Of course, without God, our fight against the enemy is far too difficult. As I resolved to pick myself up, and humbled myself to voluntarily seek ministry so that I could be a lot more whole, to wage war against the enemy and to tackle the court battle, the Lord came in to help. Without the Lord’s help I could never make it. One of problem with a person in the pit, is that he is feeling so defeated, to fight, and to better his life; he needs help from men, and from God. There were disappointments with men (even pastors), but there were also those who sincerely had interceded for me, and for whom I greatly appreciate it. God’s help was and is the key, and is the sustainer.

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Anthony Chia said...

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Not only God provided the answer that He had accepted the marriage broke-down, and so, I too, should accept it and move on (with that answer, no more struggle, spinning, and re-spinning over the issue), He began to use me, granting me words of knowledge on people who were sick or unwell, and used me to pray for the sick, and those in distress. The Senior Pastor began to allow me to release words of knowledge (and sometimes prophecy) in services, and progressively, the church re-entered into a heightened season of move and operation of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) once had experienced on a similar scale before, many years back when I was a young Christian then. During this time, I was embroiled in the legal battle, my ex-spouse had brought on. The Senior Pastor and a few pastors knew my situation, but most of the rest of the church knew NOT, that the Lord began my ministry in midst of great adversity that I faced. The ministry was so open, that in a service, I could be seen letting my Senior Pastor know that I have words of knowledge, and I proceeded to release the words to the congregation through the mike, and the next moment, with people responding to the words having come forth to the front of the sanctuary, and I prayed, and some experienced the touch of the Spirit, some slain, and some healed. It first happened about 4 years ago, and it gathered momentum for some time. I functioned like a “pro”, and many people soon thought I was entering into full-time ministry with the church, some even thought I already joined; but I was only a “down and out” man used of, by the Lord.

Whatever the motives of the Lord, which could be several, one thing was clear: Because the Lord used a “devastated” man, I was sustained, and I began to work my way out of the doldrum. I began to work for a friend at fraction of the high pay I used to draw (and I am still working there) when I was the executive director of the company that had wanted to go IPO. The court matter was such a chore, and draining, but I gritted my teeth and continued on. When I was serving, I was just like a pastor, and people would called me that, although I had often corrected them so that I would NOT be accused of holding myself out, to be a pastor of the church. One more elderly lady in church even asked me if I was a watchman, since there was no “sound and picture” so long that I was in church, and all of a sudden I moved with powerful anointing and with blessing by the church leadership.

How the Lord used us in ministry sometimes just does NOT coincide with how we think He could position us. I was serving him, like being a Home Cell group leader, when I was relatively ok in life; and when I thought I could serve him more when I had opportunity to be at a high point of a career, I fell flat on my face; then in my most difficult season of my life, He came round “doing this and doing that”, letting me serve as an Altar Minister for the church services. I am no full-time clergyman, pastor or minister, like Ps Prentis is, and my talking of ministry sounded so out of place, relative to those of full-timers, yet, my heart and soul is NOT so much on my secular career anymore, although I will do my part for my employer (my friend). I could have joined the church at the peak of my “little ministry” but I did NOT.

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Anthony Chia said...

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It is looking like I would be hardly be functioning as I used to, in the last 4 years, now that there is a change in the church leadership, with my long-time Senior Pastor leaving the church on retirement (mandated). The new man in charge appeared to be tapering out my ministry (I don’t know how else to put it – for there is no great interest in wanting to continue with what is in practice). In a sense, there is similarity in a full-time minister’s ministry and a part-timer one, like mine; a full-timer alternative could include switching out of the church and taking up a secular job, and I could switch out of my “little ministry”, and take up a hobby to spend away the time, instead of being there, in all the weekend services, over 2 days, to release words and minister to those in needs, particularly, the sick. The full-timer may have “his hands tied”, concerning the coming or going of the people to his services; dwindling attendance may be staring at him and he seems NOT able to do anything about it; is his ministry failing, he is wondering! Now, I too have “my hands tied”, concerning my moving in the Spirit in the church services; church leadership seems no longer wanting to do the “ministry time” in services; I am left in the limbo; my ministry failing, I am wondering! Or is it my season of that particular use, is over?

For a couple of reasons, I started on the side, marketplace healing meetings, which I head up in the marketplace, outside of the church, but attendance is poor. Just as the full-timer may NOT actually want a secular job, in place of his “calling”, I don’t want a hobby to fill up the time; I rather have my ministry, but we really do NOT know all the maneuvers of God. One thing I know is that setting our hearts on the things of God is NOT wrong, and having God’s interests at heart is never wasted; and whatever good works we have done unto the Lord, is never useless. Who can be a better boss to work for, if NOT God? If you are serving God, as far as possible, continue to serve Him. When things are going downhill, persevere in seeking His face. It is persevere IN SEEKING HIS FACE, not persevere in seeing things going downhill, for the latter, you do NOT need to persevere, you just see, don’t you. Unless the Lord asks you to wait, you are just a sitting duck, waiting for the water to rise to drown you, when you just let things be (maybe I should use chicken, since duck can …).

In Singapore, teenagers get enlisted for National Service (NS) (to serve in the army) for period of 2 years, and there is a term we used here, called “ROD” which stands for Run-Out-Date; ROD is when you complete NS. All believers are enlisted into the army of God on entering into salvation, and there is no ROD, only being assigned and re-assigned! Work till no end! But is there better, really better things to do?

What about failure, how? Just do your best, and that includes being responsible, at each assignment, in God’s army, and leave failure to God. Demoted, how? We have all the time in the world, we have no ROD. Just work again to be promoted again. Remember, if we are truly serving Him, we are working for His interest, NOT ours! Again, I repeat it is to persevere in seeking His face; don’t freeze, unless He tells you to wait. Soldiers don’t freeze; they freeze when they are going to die! The army (of God) is on the go, and so must you and I.

PS: The battle over righteousness which lasted almost 4 years is almost over. The care and control of the children has been awarded to me; and I look to receive what is reasonably mine. The Lord was and is at work.

Prentis said...


My whole perceptiion of you has changed. There is more depth in your relationship with the Lord because you have had to walk close to Him in order to keep from being pulled into the mire of unrighteousness. Even though you have had to suffer for a little while you will know God's rightest blessings.