by | June 27, 2023 | Espresso

What is success? So many leaders strive to achieve it, but what is it?

There is a plethora of answers to this question. For most, their answer is both conventional and corporate, and based on their ability to achieve goals, increase numbers, and fulfil a strategic plan. In a world obsessed with success and dominated by high achievers, life can become a daily competition for some, and a losing battle for others. Success, regardless of its definition, can remain illusive and unattainable to many.

There are thousands of ‘experts’ offering advice on how to succeed in work, leadership, business, management, and sports. A quick search on Amazon for ‘leadership books’ will create more than 100,000 results. If you change the search to ‘successful leadership’ you will have more than 20,000 results to consider. There is no shortage on advice.

Historically the church, in particular denominations, haven’t adequately equipped its leaders to navigate the challenges that emerge with each social, cultural, or generational shift.

As a result, many church leaders have borrowed and adopted their leadership practices from secular management theory, psychology, and business. I’m not suggesting there is no merit in these practices. That would be naïve and irresponsible. I also realise there is immense pressure on churches and faith-based charities to comply with huge amounts of legislation, compliance, and regulation. I have firsthand experience on this, therefore I understand the complexities.

However, I am suggesting that we, as church leaders, have created new measurements of performance and success that are not necessarily biblical. As Roxburgh and Branson say in ‘Leadership, God’s Agency and Disruptions’, we have not considered God’s agency when adopting these leadership methods. They remind us that the theory-to-practice approach doesn’t always work. It assumes that an ‘expert’ discover the “truth, some set of knowledge, a specified goal, a definitive strategy, or correct theory, and just apply it” (pg.73). (See my book review for further insight)

Success is contextual. Why? Because of each one of us as leaders, are called to serve God in different ways in different places and spaces. The gospel is made more powerful when it is communicated incarnationally, with adaptive methodology, and with contextual sensitivity. This is fundamental to cross-cultural communication of the gospel. What works somewhere else doesn’t always work where I am serving. We herald William Carey as the ‘Father of Modern Missions’, yet it is claimed he only saw 700 converts in a nation of millions. Yet none of us would call him a failure. Why? Because his success wasn’t measured by the number of converts.

Our social, cultural, and religious context in Australia has changed. The gospel must be recontextualised without being minimised. Therefore, our measurements for ‘success’ must also change. The number of attendees at church services is no longer the highest measurement of success.

Success is personal. Why? Because what God calls each of us to do is deeply personal and revelatory. This is true through all of history. Peter and Paul are the standout contrasting examples in the NT. What God calls you to do, is not the same for me. My ‘success’ is based on my ability to fulfill that God-given calling (Eph 4.1, 1Tim 1.12, 1Cor 7.20-24). Each of us must deny ourselves and take up our own cross and follow Him. That’s the highest calling. To live the cruciform life.

In conclusion, why have I changed my mind about success? For many years I served another leader’s vision. Without boasting, the sacrifices I made, the hours I served, and the things I achieved were incredible. But I also suffered in other areas. My family came second and third. My health suffered as workaholism controlled my diary. My emotional maturity was dwarfed and plagued by insecurity and perfectionism. My self-worth was misplaced and anchored in other leader’s opinions.

I needed to redefine success. So I set apart some reflection time and I asked myself “What is God pleased with?” Immediately a wave of scriptures came to mind. Things I had read before, but today they altered my path.

I was reminded of the words of Jesus “If you love me, obey my commands” (Jn 14.15). And the words of Paul, “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal 1.10). Again the verse in First Samuel came to my memory, I paraphrase, ‘I don’t need your sacrifices, I want your obedience’. I concluded that my desire to succeed and win the approval of others, was causing me to disobey God.

I repented, mused, and concluded, “Success is my daily obedience to the revealed will of God for my life”. At the end of my life, despite all of my work, my greatest reward will be His words to me “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Not a cliché. Truth.

Are you in the process of redefining success either personally, or for your church or organisation? Can I help you? Contact me here.

Gary Rucci has been serving in christian leadership since 1989. Together with his wife Nikki, also a credentialled minister, he has served in various portfolios in a few of Australia’s largest churches and alongside many influential pastors and not-for-profit leaders. Gary loves to network and collaborate with others across the Body of Christ. Gary and Nikki live in Brisbane and have three adult children.