Ministry Success: Being or Having?

I found the following quote from Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership very interesting in today’s church environment. I don’t understand the authors to say that having a large congregation, facilities, et al. are bad or sinful. Rather, they are focused on the desire to have those things that is the problem – the state of being vs. having.

At the core of the problem is personal ambition and the insidious desire to have or possess something that is not able to be possessed-namely, success. We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success. And this desire has infiltrated the ranks of Christian leaders as it has every other strata of American culture. The problem arises from the fact that success is not something one can have or possess. True success is a state of being not having.

Unfortunately, many Christian leaders are driven manically to have success. In the church, having success is measured by how many people you have attending your service, the size of the facility you have, the number of staff members you have, how many user-friendly programs you have, and the size of the budget you have. As a result, leaders who need to have success to validate themselves are driven to acquire these things and are willing to pay virtually any price to do so. I have become convinced that the desire to have these things is not compatible with biblical concepts of church or even Christianity. As a result, even when these leaders succeed in creating a large congregation, a large facility, and all the other markers that measure success in the twenty-first-century church, they are no closer to actually having or possessing the inner feelings of success that they have been seeking through their manic activity. It is at this point that leaders often begin looking elsewhere in an effort to assuage their needs for personal validation and worth-needs they thought would be met by having a measure of success.

Moreover, this phenomenon is very often fueled by church leaders who are just as desperate to have success as the pastors and staff they seek to employ. Take for example this recent employment ad in Leadership Journal, placed by a church in New Jersey:


We are looking for a Head of Staff who wants to build something big. We’re a Christ-centered congregation in Summit, New Jersey. We believe that God has called us to do great things. And so we want to build something big too. Are you one of the great heads of staff out there? Think about the opportunity we have here. It is going to be exciting’.’

Imagine the person who responds to such an ad. They must consider themselves as one of the “great heads of staff” and be driven to “build something big.” I don’t believe a better recipe for church or leadership failure could be written!

But sadly, as I mentioned in the preface, because ambition is easily disguised in Christian circles and couched in spiritual language (the need to fulfill the Great Commission and expand the church), the dysfunctions that drive Christian leaders often go undetected and unchallenged until it is too late. And so the church begins mopping up yet another messy and often public leadership failure.

I am convinced that reducing the potential for leadership failures must begin with challenging the current paradigm of measuring success in terms of having as opposed to being. Unfortunately, “the alternative of having versus being does not appeal to common sense,”2 as Erich Fromm wrote in his classic work To Have or to Be?

To have, so it would seem, is a normal function of our life: in order to live we must have things. Moreover, we must have things in order to enjoy them. In a culture in which the supreme goal is to have-and to have more and more-and in which one can speak of someone as “being worth a million dollars,” how can there be an alternative between having and being? On the contrary, it would seem that the very essence of being is having; that if one has nothing, one is nothing.’1


If the authors are correct that true ministry success is being over having, what does being over having actually look like in ministry success?

Something to think about….

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tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,morality,theology

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 KB May 13, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Are we in danger of focusing too much the work of our own hands?
I don’t disagree that some pastors are into “having” success (and more often than not it leads to compromising the Word), but what deems “being” successful?  A ministry that properly brings in and teachers believers?  A small but loyal congregation?  A proper support structure?  Not having to worry about the lights being shut off?  Outreach?  And even about “having” success, what makes us believe that all pastors define the word unilaterally?  I know it SHOULD be defined by Biblical concepts, but is it?
Is the church that makes disciples in the image of their misshapen theology successful?  Obviously not when placed in Biblical terms.  I’m very leery of how the author defines success in the 21st century church, but isn’t the Bible how we should define success?


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