Pastor Mike Cepela
Updated June 2015
When we talk about success in the kingdom of God, I often ask myself these very questions: What is success? How do I know when I've reached success? How do I measure success? There seems to be a couple of categories that are often talked about. But, let's look at what I believe to be the most important area that this is often looked at. This is church growth through evangelism. If I have success in business, it usually means that I made a lot of money and that sales are up. But when working in the church of Jesus Christ, we must be careful which model we use.
A Case of Old Testament Success
In the case of the call and commissioning of the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord assures him of the success of his call when He says "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7)."
This sounds like a sure bet. But, a few verses later, we see what the Lord assures the prophet of. Jeremiah 1:16 says, "I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands."
Jeremiah is not to win the people's confidence or to see them repent. Rather, Jeremiah’s success was to say to the people that which the Lord wanted Jeremiah to say to them. In short, his success was to announce God's words to Israel as He told him to say. In our modern business model, this would seem like a lack of success with no point at all.
Here is another Old Testament example. Read Isaiah 6:1-4. We see the prophet having a spectacular vision of the Lord in His Holy Temple as well as Isaiah hearing and responding to the call of God. As Isaiah accepts his mission, the Lord tells him, "Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, And their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed. Then I said, "Lord, how long?" And He answered, "Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate (Isaiah 6:10,11)."
Again there would be no sense of perceived success in the modern models we use for success. In fact, many “Christian” success gurus would be willing to offer the prophet Isaiah advice on how to be more productive. These well-meaning gurus would tell Isaiah to approach things differently, because the way he was caused his audience to be less receptive.
Definition of Success
If you don't understand how to define what "success" is in any given situation, the Christian will always have a hard time on their approach because he or she doesn't know what their goal is and what it is the Lord expects them to do, and not to do. There will be all kinds of missteps, and miscalculations leading to further confusion with a true lack of godly fruits and results.
When it comes to understanding both success and failure in the area of church growth through evangelism, I cannot stress enough how important it is for each and every believer to know what the Lord Himself expects in the area of success and what the Bible defines as success.
To learn about this, we'll look at a couple of things in the Scripture. The Great Commission, for example. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Many times this gets misunderstood in that people think Jesus is telling them to go and make Christians. But, in truth, the word used in the Greek is matheiteis, which speaks more of what kind of Christian you develop after the fact. Properly defined, it means "One trained properly in all of the Christian disciplines."
So we not are commanded to bring a particular result number wise. Instead, we are commanded that when people do get saved, we need to train them the right way as the Word of God tells us to. So Jesus is not saying go make some Christians but rather go and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we can clearly define success in church growth through evangelism as "How we train those saved and added to the church" and not "How many are being added."
The New Phrase
The new phrase we hear in Christianity in regards to success in evangelism is, "Face it, what you are doing is simply not working!"
Again, the ability to judge whether something is working or not relies heavily upon you having a clear definition as to what success is and isn't. What is the call when it comes to preaching the Gospel? Are we Christians called to make sure people accept the Gospel or are we called to preach exactly what the Scripture tells us to preach in regards to what is, and what isn't the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul gives us an example. Acts 20:27 says, "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." We know by looking back at verse 21 that the base of the message was repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see another thought of Paul in regards to the importance of the message being exactly what it's supposed to be. Galatians 1:8 says, "But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed."
The one thing that the Scripture emphasizes is for the Gospel is preached exactly as it is prescribed to be preached. Paul makes it very clear as to what that is and isn't. The Gospel has a number of biblically prescribed successes. Acts 17:30, 31 for example: "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
We succeed when we declare what God's wants of us to declare. We succeed when we declare what the Gospel demands of people and whether they come to accept that or not we have fully succeeded in the sight of God. Paul says, "For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Even though some see the Gospel as a stumbling block and foolishness the very preaching of the message is still intact when it is fully declared, so whether a person accepts Christ or, stumbles or, counts it as foolishness it is preaching is still considered a complete success (1 Corinthians 22-24)."
Does the Scriptures guide us in success as to how many get saved? Let's look at a Scripture that does show to a degree, whether a minority or a majority, will get saved by the end of time. Matthew 7:14 says, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it."
The Scripture uses two words that have always grabbed my eye: Narrow and few. These are the numerals when describing the amount of people saved. We hear people the body of Christ frequently saying, "I'm just not satisfied with the results we are getting in our attempts and the amount of people being saved is simply not successful enough; we need to do something different."
I'm all for communicating in the clearest way possible. But beyond that, it is simply a matter of whether the message strikes someone as foolishness, or a stumbling block, or that they are coming to a saving knowledge in Jesus Christ. But whatever the case, it is a success as long as the message is fully declared.
Believers, we must be careful in regards to what models we use as to determining success or failure in any area of our faith. Remember, if you cannot have a clear definition as to what success is or isn't, you cannot be clear about the very nature of your task or how to get your task done.
Pastor Mike Cepela is the Senior Pastor of New Life Assembly.