In a day when elder boards and churches are putting pressure on their pastors to grow their church numerically, modeled after marketing techniques designed by corporate America, Kent and Barbara Hughes offer some encouraging words to those who have not bought into success defined by man. Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome is a welcome addition to a number of books written in recent years attempting to combat an unbiblical view of ministry that currently has its foothold in the church at large.
There are four main sections to the book. The first chapter of the first section is "Disappointed Dreams." Part II contains a number of helpful chapters, which include "Success is Faithfulness," "Success is Serving," "Success is Loving," "Success is Believing," "Success is Prayer," "Success is Holiness," and "Success is Attitude." Part III has two wonderful chapters, "How the Pastor's Wife Can Help," and "How the Congregation Can Help."
Any pastor who has served a church for at least several years will likely relate to the disappointed dreams Kent describes in Chapter 1. However, he explains, his disappointments were the result of expectations: "God had saved me and called me, and in my youthful egocentricity, I assumed he was going to do great things through me" (p. 15). Pastors across the board should be able to relate to having visions of great conquests in ministry (the lost saved, the saved growing by leaps and bounds). The truth of the matter is that "unfortunately, ministry is messy. One experiences a wide range of disappointments and criticisms in ten years of aggressive Christian service" (p. 17). Forced to examine what they were doing, three critical questions needed to be answered: Can a man be a success in the ministry and pastor a small church? What is failure in the ministry? What is success in the ministry? (p. 27). Those questions helped Kent and Barbara establish their priorities. From there the following chapters define what success in ministry should be.
Within the Hughes' definition of what it means to serve a church through leadership, three areas are outlined by them: preaching, administering, and counseling (pp. 51-52). Since no pastor can do all three things equally well, it is necessary to have the rest of the church body support him in carrying the load. Personally, my particular giftedness is teaching. For it to be done well it requires a significant amount of time, which in turn limits the time that can be devoted to the other two. A well-balanced ministry is one where the rest of the church body compliments the work of the pastor: he is allowed to minister in the area(s) of his strength, and others help him to minister where he either does not have sufficient time, or where he is not gifted. True success can be seen when church and pastor alike pursue their areas of giftedness for the overall health of the church.
This is a valuable little book for pastors. As I have revisited this work over the years, my appreciation of it has grown. One particular section that has, interestingly enough, brought me comfort, are the words they share from Charles Spurgeon, who told of his own trials in ministry: "On an unforgettable Sunday morning in 1866, the great C. H. Spurgeon stunned his five thousand listeners when from the pulpit of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle he announced, 'I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.' For some of his audience it was incomprehensible that the world's greatest preacher could know the valley of despair. Yet twenty-one years later in 1887 he said from the same pulpit, 'Personally I have often passed through this dark valley" (p. 143).
In is vitally important that pastors not let themselves get caught up with unrealistic expectations, or the criteria of success marked out by an unbelieving world, whose understanding of success or failure comes down to numbers: if our churches are growing in size we are successful, if they are not, we have failed. True success in ministry is defined by the Bible as faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness, and a proper attitude about how God is using you. -- Ray Hammond, Christian Book Previews.com
Every year thousands of God’s servants leave the ministry convinced they are failures. Years ago, in the midst of a crisis of faith, Kent Hughes almost became one of them. But instead he and his wife Barbara turned to God’s Word, determined to learn what God had to say about success and to evaluate their ministry from a biblical point of view.
This book describes their journey and their liberation from the “success syndrome”—the misguided belief that success in ministry means increased numbers. In today’s world it is easy to be seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything. But the authors teach that true success in ministry lies not in numbers but in several key areas: faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness, and a Christlike attitude. Their thoughts will encourage readers who grapple with feelings of failure and lead them to a deeper, fuller understanding of success in Christian ministry.
This book was originally published by Tyndale in 1987 and includes a new preface.