Pressure to be a Success

by Frank Jones


If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. (2 Corinthians 11:30)

"As a result, we are tempted to feel and act as if God may have made our lives and ministry possible, but it is now up to us to make them successful. Deep down we believe that the success of the gospel in our own lives and in the world around us is dependent on our creating ever new and culturally appealing ways to attract and satisfy our ever-changing interests. Rather than holding on to, cherishing, and giving ourselves to the study of God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures, we look for what the Christian publishing industry calls the latest “Bible product” on the market. Rather than following Paul’s example of focusing on the content of the gospel and its implications, we fall into the trap of thinking that the progress of the gospel is determined by the preacher’s own powers of persuasion. After all, everyone loves a great speaker.

As it was for Paul, today too, the pressure on pastors to be successful according to the standards of contemporary culture is intense. And as it did for Paul, today too this pressure comes not from the world but from the worldliness within the church. The temptation is to respond by boasting in one’s strength. For in our day we find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that God is at work through the proclamation of his Word if the number of people in our Sunday morning services is not growing exponentially.

In our “size is success” culture, it is almost beyond our ability to resist determining the measure of God’s blessing by the numbers in our congregation. We confuse the ability to draw a crowd with the establishment of a people known by their “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:3). Accordingly, we look to the size of our parking lot rather than to the size of our church’s heart for God, for his people, and for the lost world in which she lives. The result is, as Thomas N. Smith points out, that the “dreadful treadmill” of competition and self-comparison over the size of our churches characterizes so much of modern ministry. Yet, as he reminds us:

Caring for a smaller church is no less a sacred stewardship than doing the same for a larger one. ‘Me irrascible John McNeill purportedly told a young minister who lamented the smallness of his congregation, “Tha’s a’right, laddie. In the Great Day it will be the least of your worries that ye’ve only eighty souls to give an account for!”

… Evangelicals have not begun to discern the potential of ambition, recognition, popularity, fame, and power to corrupt men. But, while sex and money have slain their thousands, ambition and its unholy siblings have slain their tens of thousands."[1]

[1] Scott J. Hafemann, 2 Corinthians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 449–450.