The Meaning of Ministry — Success vs. Faithfulness by Jeanie Smith

The Lord recently brought to my attention that the question I am most asked as Director of Set Free is whether or not people “really change,” i.e. what is our success rate? I answer the first part of that with an unqualified YES, and am honest in saying that there is actually no way that we could give an actual percent-age of success. I have recently come to believe that I need to help reframe this question, for in many ways it is the wrong question for a believer to ask. As believers speaking to and with other believers we need not question whether or not we’ll change (in any and all areas), but rather accept that the process is both absolutely assured and absolutely unpredictable. I am going to borrow from a Presbyterian minister, Ben Lacey Rose, in saying that the two great questions which we need to ask at Set Free or in any ministry setting are: 1) Are those to whom you minister com-mitted to the truth; and, 2) Are those to whom you minister willing to struggle for the sake of righteous-ness? These questions place far more emphasis on character and on the process of faithfulness and less on a “success” story which is fascinating in light of current culture, but which encompasses only one area. 

As I write this article I am sitting watching the waves roll in one a beautiful October day on Topsail Island. It is appropriate (in a real God-moment way) that I am staying at the home of Alan and Willa Medinger, “The Pelican Palace”! Alan founded the ministry called “Regeneration” first in Baltimore and later expanded to Northern Virginia. He and Willa have discipled and encouraged many in their jour-neys. They have given those of us in Virginia the precious gift of Bob Ragan—a brother in Christ and a true example. Yet when I think of them (including Bob), I don’t think of any glitzy success story put which stresses “overcoming homosexuality wrapped up in foil and tied with glitter ribbon;” but I do think of faithfulness, of humble and committed service even in the midst of trial, of honesty and openness, and of on-going wholeness and healing which is truly invit-ing and encouraging.

When I think of one of the most basic differences between success and faithfulness, I think of our actual reasons for following Jesus. It seems to me that if we get caught in measuring one area of success we can totally miss the mark. We can easily become focused on “getting fixed.” That means that we actually come to see our God as “the great repair man in the sky” rather than our eternal Father. We can become impatient with life, loosing heart when things don’t go as we had planned. We lose our motivation because we don’t meet our own standards of success (whatever success looks like in our limited human view and perspective of those around us.) We can actually begin to value looking good rather than deeply desiring to demonstrate goodness. 

In contrast, our motivation for faithfulness can never depart from the most powerful and primary events in both human and eternal history—His redemptive work on the cross and His promise of the always present power of new life through His resurrection. In His great work we find our promise of spiritual formation and our “reason” to live for Him. He has said rightly, “If you love me obey my com-mandments.” Is that legalism? Absolutely not; but it is an objective measure which says when (not if) we lack the virtue of faithful, trusting obedience, we need to look at our primary love relationship with Him. I base this on a principle I came to very early in my walk: if something is wrong in my life, the problem is not with God but with me. That unchanging truth does not lead to self-condemnation or self-hatred, but to the great and powerful graces of confession and repentance. 

This faithfulness I speak of is a process which is marked by many events—some of them quite dramatic, some of them quiet, but all leading to deeper and stronger relationship with Him. Now I want to say clearly that I believe that in this great process sexual twistedness and ungodly desire of all kinds is increasingly set right. This is a part of the greater process of growing into His image which is holy in every area. However, let me also say that I believe that the purpose is always to be a life that glorifies Him daily, never simply a “success story” that fasci-nates or sensationalizes. Let me share some contrasts between the two: 

*A testimony which stresses complete and utter freedom (even if this is true) in ONE isolated area can actually convey a general expectation that by-passes the process of others who struggle and isolate us from believers who do not struggle with our particular issue(s). 

A testimony which deeply integrates where we have been, where we genuinely are today, and how the Lord has worked, will unite us with all believers as those united in struggling for the sake of His righteousness in our “jars of clay” lives. 

*The person who actually perceives his/her life through the tunnel vision of “success” in only one area can easily become either prideful or overly discouraged in the midst of a period of either freedom or intense trial. 

The person who knows (rightly) that his/her life is an absolutely endless and eternal , variegated and often not understandable in terms of what can be seen (in other words, they have accepted that we see now “as through a mirror darkly, but will see someday face to face” and that’s when our questions will be answered) will join with all those who have walked with Jesus in experiencing the truth that we remain moving “from glory to glory” while here on earth. And often this process doesn’t feel so glorious while we’re in it. The result is furthering His glory in our lives, which is demonstrated by faithfulness whether in what seems to be an endless valley of pain or an exhilarating mountaintop experience. 

*Finally, what may be the greatest danger of all to our human souls and integrity. Centering our stories on “success” in a particular area may actually begin to create an image which we begin to protect. We may begin to hide areas which “don’t measure up”; we may start to fear honest confession to our pastors and peers; we may, in fact, start to live a life which is compartmentalized in the “public image” and the “private self.” What unnecessary grief and pain this causes! 

Blessedly, the life which centers on faithfulness can remain open and humble. Faithfulness is a virtue which is never finished; indeed, we simply keep following in the footstep of the One who is FAITHFUL AND TRUE. We can allow our lacks to lead us to a deeper neediness which He promises to fulfill. We can allow safe and trusted others to speak into our lives, both encouragement and affirmation, and correction. Faithfulness doesn’t give us tunnel vision in one area, but opens us to a life- encompassing, biblically sound process. 

I have to end by saying that I also believe even our ideas of “success” are always influences by our culture and the words and eyes of man—even in the Christian community. Faithfulness is a far more objective measure. It brings us back to the person of Jesus (our ultimate example), as well as the standard of the written Word of God. It brings us back to those two real questions—are we willing to struggle for sake of righteousness; and, do we believe the truth as revealed in the Scripture? And yet, as objective as this is, faithful-ness remains an act of abandoned and intimate love and trust which molds our very inward parts. It allows us to experience over and over His committed love for us; it allows us to continue in learning to be “little children” in His presence; it cleanses and restores our very ability to respond to His love and to love others rightly. May we all begin to ask the right question and...

May He find us faithful to the end,

Jeannie Smith