I stood quietly in the dark after shutting out the lights. I hung my head and couldn’t believe how big of a failure that experience had been for me. I had attempted to do a rocking Sunday evening worship program and it flopped. The Church I was serving had been given an old Church building and we were not sure what to do with it. So we came up with a plan to continue our adult contemporary worship on Sunday morning at the movie theater and then have a loud rockin’ band in the evening at the Church building. This would enable younger people to sleep in and enjoy worship in the evening. It would also allow the musicians to keep their gear set up each week without moving everything back and forth. With this plan in mind, I gathered a band, set up the building and put together a series of sermons and went for it. We publicized and prayed and held our first program we called “Connection.” The first night we had 25-30 people other than the band. The second Sunday night dropped to 10. By six weeks into the program we had 5 people attending other than the band and myself. Finally at the end of the seventh service I told them that we were going to cancel the evening Connection program. Everyone cleaned up, took their gear and headed home. I was left alone shutting out the lights and feeling like a failure.
In every game my children play there are only the two outcomes of winning and losing. Success or failure. About 50% of the time I have sat in the stands to watch my children give their best effort only to lose … and sometimes to lose terribly. Other times I have sat in the stands and watched my children win and have great success in their efforts. Everyone who lives in America knows exactly what I am talking about for themselves. We ride the roller coaster of happiness and sadness with every game they play.
One problem I see is that we can bring this type of thinking into the Church. Actually we can do it any relationship, but I see it played out in how people do ministry for God. It is easy to think that when we do ministry that the only two outcomes are success or failure. I believe that is simply not true. I guess my real problem is that I do not know how to define success in ministry. Failure either.
Is it a success or a failure if only one person hears the gospel for the first time? I mean it is not 10 people who heard, or 50 or 100.
Is it a success or a failure if I learn to trust God more than myself through attempting something new? I mean I was the only who grew spiritually.
Is it a success or a failure if Church people spent time in prayer for a program only a few attended? I mean is it ever a failure when people pray?
Is it a success or a failure if a few people spend time together attempting to do something for God? I mean is it ever really a failure when someone does ministry?
Is it a success or a failure when the Bible is preached or taught? I mean, it is the Bible.
The older I get the harder I find it to clearly define a success or a failure in the Church. Sure, some events do not have the same impact as others and as a Church we need to focus on what bears the most fruit. As a leader I clearly understand that truth. But if the church in an effort to find what works the best in their context has a few less than successful ministries along the way, is that a bad thing? If you were to attempt something for God and it did not go as planned does that mean the effort was wasted? Is that a failure?
That night I bowed my head and I thanked God for the people who put together this program, who prayed for this program, who attend this program and anyone who had grown even a little because of those 7 weeks. Was it failure? Maybe. Was their success? Maybe.
I encourage people to give their best in a ministry and to work toward their greatest impact, but I really feel like no effort is ever wasted by our God. Maybe there are no failures only some things are more successful than others.