For years I believed that if I could simply identify the right planning and decision-making process, we would then make good decisions at the church I pastor. That, it turned out, was both naïve and misguided. Over a 20-year period, however, the dramatic difference between our standard process and emotionally healthy planning and decision making became crystal clear.
The first is the foundation from which all the others follow—defining success as radically doing God’s will.
We Define Success as Radically Doing God’s Will
From the time I became a Christian, I believed intellectually that listening for God’s will was vitally important. But it wasn’t until a four-month contemplative sabbatical in 2003-2004 that my approach to planning and decision making was utterly transformed. As a result, my definition of success so broadened and deepened that my leadership and my approach to discerning God’s will experienced an extreme makeover.
What happened? I slowed down my life so I could spend much more time being with God. Listening for and surrendering to God’s will became the focus of my life—both personally and in leadership. I realized that New Life had one objective: to become what God had called us to become, and to do what God had called us to do—regardless of where any of that might lead us. That would be the sole marker of our success. It meant that all the previous markers—increased attendance, bigger and better programs, more serving—had to take a backseat to this one. I was no longer willing to “succeed” at the expense of hearing and listening to the will of God.
Have you ever considered that your ministry, organization or team may be growing and yet actually failing? Why? Because God’s standard of success isn’t limited to growth. Success is first and foremost doing what God has asked us to do, doing it his way and in his timing. Years ago, when I was first wrestling with redefining success, I imagined what it might be like to come before God’s throne at the end of my earthly life and say, “Here, God, is what I have done for you. New Life now has 10,000 people.” Then he would respond, “Pete, I love you, but that was not what I gave you to do. That task was for a pastor in another part of New York.”
Embracing God’s definition of success for New Life over the years was initially difficult for me to accept. It slowed me down and I suddenly felt like I didn’t look as good as the leaders of other more successful ministries to which I compared myself. But as time went on and we leaned into God’s leadership and wisdom for our context, a new freedom and joy emerged.