Feeling the Pressure of Ministry Success and Failure

As followers of Jesus, we live on mission by sharing the gospel and engaging our broken world. We help, listen, bring meals, visit hospitals, pray, and invite as we love Jesus by serving our churches and communities. 

How do we evaluate the work that we do? What do we label as missional success in our ministry? It’s easy to consider success by the number of people saved or if it all went according to plan without any hardships. But what if we would celebrate the work of the Lord regardless of how it looks? 

When I was growing up, a “share service” would happen on Sunday nights after Falls Creek, Kids’ Camp, or after a group had returned from a mission trip. The leaders would share the trip’s highlights and thank the church for its support. Everyone would rejoice and look forward to the next trip or camp. Sometimes they would share little bumps or inconveniences from the trip, but those were usually communicated with humor and chuckles. All in all, the celebration would come with notable highlights from the mission.

But what if the mission was riddled with unexpected challenges, painful difficulties, and fearful situations? What if it wasn’t full of celebratory successes but with dangerous experiences? What if when you attended a “share service,” someone stood up and shared an experience like this:

Well, we headed out on our mission trip but didn’t have a plan of where we were going. We just knew that our church had prepared us to go and prayed over us! As we traveled, we met a man who was responsive to the gospel, which was amazing. But another man was also making fun of us, becoming a huge distraction. But it was ok because our group leader put him in his place by calling him “a son of a devil!” 

At our next stop, one of our younger members got homesick and left. But our leader could still give a powerful sermon, and many people were saved. Some people wanted us to stay for a while, but others (especially some wealthy ladies) wanted us to leave. They ran us out of town. 

In the next city, we had the same experience. Some listened and were saved. But others ridiculed, rejected us, and sent us away. 

In the next place, our leader miraculously healed a man. Amazing! But some folks got confused and misplaced their worship of God on to us. We had to get moving again for our safety. Then, we encountered a violent crowd, our leader was attacked, and he almost died in the street. Thankfully as we prayed, he was able to escape. After all this, we decided to head home but went a long way back through the towns we had visited to check on the people and encourage them. 

Now, we are home! Amazingly, it took us a year and a half, but we made it! Thanks for your support for our trip. Now, let’s all head to Braum’s!

Silly, I know. This doesn’t seem like a great trip by mission trip standards. Persecution, misdirection, lack of commitment, ridicule, and violent attacks sound more like a mission trip failure.

This account was similar to Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts 14. But after they returned home, we see them celebrate in the first ever “share service:” 

And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples. Acts 14:27-28 ESV

From their story, we see that missional success is NOT defined as: 

  • everything going according to plan
  • lack of danger or ridicule
  • efficiency
  • constant feelings of enjoyment
  • absence of conflict
  • acceptance of the message

Instead, success can be celebrated when: 

  • God opens doors of faith 
  • there’s a focus on prayer and fasting
  • the gospel is shared
  • people are saved
  • new converts are encouraged
  • the young churches are helped to establish structure and leadership
  • new Christians are entrusted to God

So Ministry Wife, are you defining the success of your ministry by how well it’s going or if there is a lack of opposition or by smooth cooperative growth? Are you judging your mission by everything going according to plan, an absence of conflict, or your constant enjoyment? 

Paul and his team came home injured and exhausted after facing lots of conflict and failure. But they STILL rejoiced over all God had done with them and the doors He had opened! 

Look at your ministry context with these fresh eyes. Let unrealistic expectations fall away. As we head into a busy holiday season, I pray that Jesus would be the ONLY One speaking defining words of missional success into our hearts and minds as we live on mission for him. 


Written by: Jamy Fisher