Whether it be in the classroom, the business world, the ball field or the mission field, success can be exhilarating. There is satisfaction from knowing that your hard work has paid off, your goals have been met and the outcomes have met (or even exceeded) your expectations. Just ask LeBron James, Mark Zuckerberg or the pastor of a 5,000+ member church.
Consider the 72 people sent by Jesus on a risky mission. Taking nothing but the clothes on their backs, they entered the surrounding communities, ate in the homes of strangers and proclaimed the kingdom of God. They returned and celebrated their success:
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” (Luke 10:17)
Success is exhilarating, but it is also dangerous. Ironically, ministry success threatens our faith. The disciples were tempted to put their joy and confidence in the authority they asserted over the powers of evil, but Jesus revealed a secret that protected them from the threat of success:
“Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)
Ministry success is defined in various ways: Reaching more people, developing more leaders and growing more disciples. These can be good measurement tools for evaluating a church’s faithfulness, but we cannot let them become the source of our joy in ministry.
Jesus protects our joy from the threat of success by reminding us of our true citizenship, and promising us the great reward of heaven. Nothing can take away this joy…not even success.