The Measure of Success

For the corporate executive it is a corner office and the big salary.

For the doctor it is the right diagnosis time after time… and the big salary.

For the actor it is the starring role and an Academy Award … and the big salary.

For the minister it is….. probably not the big salary.

SuccessI have found myself often contemplating just what is the measure of success when it comes to ministry. The measuring stick can look very different from the one used by the rest of society. There are those who seem to find a way to do it. Some count the size of the congregation, the successful building program, and fundraising. A few actually have the big salary. In my raised-in-the-church background, I was well aware of the ministers and evangelists who measured success by “notching their Bibles.” They could tell you exactly how many people were “saved” by their sermons (I thought it was God who did the saving!).

While many in ministry cringe at talking about money, we mostly live in a paradigm that depends on the generosity of others to make a living. Those donors want evidence that what they are donating to is a good investment. And who can blame them… I am the same way. I want to be sure that if I am giving my money to a ministry, it is getting results. So again we are forced to try to quantify ministry by counting something to make it look valid…to make it appear “successful.” It is easier to quantify if your ministry is feeding the hungry or distributing Bibles…not so easy when your ministry is speaking or performing… it is an intangible thing that doesn’t translate well into numbers.

I get caught in the trap… I find myself measuring my ministry week after week by how many people were in the audience, how big the offering was, or how many sponsors I was able to obtain for World Vision. It can put me on an emotional roller coaster, feeling successful one weekend and ready to throw in the towel the next. It can be especially challenging for the itinerant minister/performer. We do our thing and leave. Often the real “fruits of our labor” are not known to us.

So I was contemplating success… again… when I got this email:

“Today, I met with a man…. He really needed to talk to someone because he was grieving over his brother’s suicide… He told me he’d been struggling for days over feeling guilty, wondering what more he could have done or what he’d overlooked… But then he heard your story (Truth Be Told)… He said you helped him to see that it was wrong for him to take on the responsibility for his brother’s death. He said your words helped to put it all into perspective. It helped him to find peace and remember that God has not deserted him in this terrible time. Well done, good and faithful servant!”

At once I was reminded that THIS is why I do it. Every once in a while a guy like me needs a reminder… something tangible that helps me to see that what I am doing… or better yet, what God is doing through me, matters. Success like that? I’ll take it!

Have you struggled with trying to measure success in ministry? If so, what has helped you?  


As the adage goes, “you are only as good as your last show.”  It applies to not just the theater, but to just about everything in life: last game, last speech, last job review.  It can be so easy to let the most recent success or failure define our worth and sabotage our stories. Check out this video to see how some pretty famous people handled their rejection.

I remember auditioning for my first professional acting job.  It was for a role in the Smokey Mountain Passion Play in Townsend, TN.  My college drama professor was directing it, and since he already knew my abilities and had cast me in lead roles before,  I was sure I had a lock on a good role.  I wanted to be Jesus or Judas, hero or villain, as long is it was a lead role!  When the cast was announced I searched for my name beside one of the lead roles… not there.  I couldn’t believe it…. I checked the list again to be sure… oh wait, there it was at the bottom of the page: “Assistant to the Director – Chuck Neighbors.”  I was heart-broken.

Assistant to the Director….what did that even mean?  It is a vital and necessary responsibility, to be sure, but it basically meant “secretary.”  I would be by the director’s side to be a gopher and to write down every bit of stage blocking. Not what I wanted! I wanted a starring role! Man, this rejection thing stings!

That was early in my career but it is by no means the only example of rejection in my story.  Everyone experiences rejection. Actors have to be thick-skinned in this department and it is never easy.  Even after 37 years as a professional actor I still find myself judging my entire career on the basis of my last performance.  If I felt good about it, I was a success; if I didn’t I was a failure, and I contemplated getting out of the business altogether.

For some, the rejection kills the dream. They let one person’s negative comment, or a day of sales with no results, or the search for a job stamped with an “over-” or “under-qualified,” bring everything to a halt. It takes self-determination and a belief in one’s calling and ability to persevere.  Here are three things I consider when I have doubts brought on by rejection:

  1. Am I doing the right thing?  I stop and reflect on my life story. Where has my journey taken me so far? Does where I am make sense with that story? I pray and seek confirmation that I am indeed moving in the right direction.
  2. Is the rejection based in truth? I need to be honest. Was there something in my performance, my presentation, my job, that was not good, or that needs improving?  If so I admit it and make adjustments so it doesn’t happen again. If not, I give myself permission to disregard it and move on.
  3. Revisit my touchstones. Webster defines a touchstone as “a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing.”  I think it is important to have touchstones throughout our story, our life.  Those key moments that serve as proof that you are doing the right thing. They might be items that mark milestones such as awards, letters and photos. Or places you can visit that help you remember significant events. Or a passage of scripture that God has used to speak to you and confirm things in your life. These things are wonderful reminders that can encourage and validate our story and give us an extra measure of courage to persevere.

As the video above indicates, even the most successful—or maybe I should say especially the most successful—people in the world experience rejection and failure. It is what you do with it that makes all the difference in the world.

(Side Note: In addition to being Assistant Director, I was also the understudy for ALL male roles. This basically meant I had to learn the entire script and be ready to go on for ANY actor who might be sick or absent.  It turned out to be a GREAT job and I did play, through-out the run of the show, ALL the lead roles at least once! I attribute that experience as one of my touchstones that confirms my calling and abilities!)

How do you handle rejection? What are some of your touchstones that remind you that you are doing the right thing?

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