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What to Do When Ministry Feels Like It's Failing – Part 3: Redefine Success

This is the third and last planned post in this three-day series. I introduced the series in Part 1 and talked about the first reason we face failure and what to do about it in Part 2. Today, let’s tackle a second reason we sometimes don’t feel like we’re bearing fruit and what we can do about that.

At times, we may not see the fruit, the results, of how God is working through our lives. We may, in fact, see just the opposite, at least for a time and perhaps for our whole lives. We consistently share the gospel or teach or preach the Word or lead a small group or rear our children or stay committed to our spouse, and it seems like nothing is happening. We see no movement, or worse, things are digressing. Why does this happen and what should we do?

Is your ladder of success leaning on the right building? If you are defining success by worldly standards, you may end up terribly disappointed when you don’t see the results you are expecting. But God’s working does not operate as the world’s systems do. As Isaiah learned, the teaching of God’s Word may harden people’s hearts at first. In Isaiah 6:9-10, a passage quoted six times in the New Testament, God tells Isaiah to expect people to not understand his Word. Even though Isaiah would pour his life into preaching God’s truth,  the people’s eyes and ears would seem totally closed to God. Like Isaiah, we must believe that God is at work anyway, that his Word will not return empty, but he will accomplish what he desires through us (Isa 55:11).

We are to be witnesses of God’s truth and love. Period. How they respond is in God’s hands. This takes surrender.

What really matters is not outward successes, but our faithfulness to him. God makes the seeds we have planted and watered grow in his own timing, not ours. We may see the fruit in eternity if not here on earth. I believe we will be greatly surprised by what God did though what we thought were futile efforts. And those may be our greatest rewards in heaven.

How do you define “success” in your ministry?

If you were to redefine success based on God’s calling and direction rather than on worldly wisdom, how would it be different?

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Michael C. Mack founded SmallGroups.com in 1995 and served as a small-groups minister for more than 20 years in several churches. He is a writer, editor, trainer, and consultant in the areas of small groups, leadership, and discipleship. He is the author of more than 25 books and small group studies, including his latest, World's Greatest Small Group (pub. January, 2017). He regularly blogs on his ministry website at SmallGroupLeadership.com. His family is a small group that includes his wife Heidi, their four children, and their dog, Lainey. Mike is also an avid mountain biker.