How do we measure successful Christian ministry? What are the indicators that God has blessed a preacher, a church, a ministry?
The most obvious sign is that they have lots of followers. John the Baptist certainly had lots of followers back in the day.
But then, so did Rev Jim Jones when he led nearly 1,000 of his followers to commit suicide in 1978. So sheer numbers may not be the best measure of success.
In fact, if we were to measure only numbers, then Jesus was an abject failure.
So, what is the best indicator of a successful ministry?
John the Baptist certainly had lots of followers. Some of them were no doubt caught up in the hysteria of the time (think Coronavirus panic-buying today).
Many others were genuine disciples though – followers who heard and believed John’s message, and were willing to follow him to the ends of the earth if necessary.
But they must have misheard John. His message was not “Follow me.” In fact, John was adamant that “I am NOT the Christ; I am not Elijah; I’m not the Prophet you are looking for.”
Instead, John’s message was, “I am only a voice in the wilderness preparing a straight path for the Lord. Don’t follow me, follow Christ” [see John 1:19-23].
John’s whole ministry was devoted to pointing people away from himself, and pointing them to Another.
In fact, two of Jesus’ first disciples came because John had pointed Him out. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29-30, 35-37].
But John’s disciples started to get jealous of Jesus, it seems. People were starting to flock to Jesus instead of John, and they complained “Look, he (Jesus) is baptising, and all are going to him” [John 3:26].
I can hear echoes of myself – and many other Christians – in that complaint. “Look, everyone is going to that church. Everyone is listening to that preacher. What about us?”
And we can get disillusioned by our apparent lack of success. But the measure of success is not numbers.
Someone has said that “the measure of a successful church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.”
John understood that. It’s why he consistently sent people to Christ. It’s why his whole ministry was built around pointing people away from himself, and to Another – to Jesus Christ.
That, in my opinion, is the mark of a successful ministry. Any ministry that faithfully proclaims Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected; that consistently proclaims the good news of salvation in none other than Jesus Christ – that is a successful ministry.
At the end of the day, numbers really aren’t that important. What matters is the “He must increase; I must decrease” [John 3:30].
Am I consistently pointing people to my Saviour? Are you? Is that mega-church? Is that televangelist?
If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then we should celebrate, not be envious. For we are all proclaiming the same message: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”