It may be difficult to put a finger on defining success in ministry. Rather than calling it success it may be better to name it, evidence of fulfilling the function of the church. If there ever was a "successful" church the Book of Acts records the story, for in this book of early Church history we see a model to use.
As we walk through the book there are the following highlights:
1. People were speaking in languages they had never learned for the purpose of evangelism. (Chapter 2)
2. There was the sharing of all things with one another. (Chap. 2 and 4)
3. There was death as a result of deceit. (5:1-11) Talk about purifying the church!
4. People flocked to the church by the droves. (5:12-16) Today we have many people, particularly the young adult generation, leaving the church in mass numbers.
5. There was a stoning after the Word of God was preached.(7:58-60)
6. An exorcism was performed. (8:7-8) We sure could use a few of those today!
7. Peter was supernaturally released from prison. (12:5-17)
8. There were so many incredible things happening in the church that the entire city turned out to witness them. (13:44) When is the last time that that happened in your community?
9. Evil spirits were cast out. (16:17-18)
10. Paul and Silas were supernaturally freed from prison as a result of much fervent prayer. (16:22-29)
11. A book burning is mentioned in 19:19. We definitely could use that as an example for today, couldn't we?
12. People were willing to die for Jesus and the Gospel message.
WOW! One thing is for sure. Success in ministry should be measured by what is normal. If one compares his or her ministry, or that of a local church, with the Book of Acts, how much of a gap is there? While not every one of these elements needs to be evident, and thankfully some may not be, like stoning and death, the point is that a successful ministry will impact people's lives. There will also be an atmosphere of excitement because God is at work. There are many congregations where there IS excitement and God is clearly at work transforming lives, but sad to say, there are also many churches that are nothing more than a meeting place.
On the other hand, one never knows how the Word of God is changing lives. It has been said that "successful evangelism" is simply sharing the faith and leaving the results to God. However, the result of sharing the hope and healing of the Gospel message should be evident in restored marriages, deliverance from addictions, public confession of faith in Jesus, baptisms, and emotional and physical healing. How many churches are experiencing one or more of these evidences of evangelism?
Success is not measured by how large the congregation is or how spectacular the Christmas or Easter musical production is. Success is determined by one regenerated life, or one restored relationship at a time. But, of course, a quality musical presentation can draw large crowds of people to hear the Gospel message.
Faithwriters is a huge success, not only because it is the largest website of its kind, but more importantly, because there have been over 400 confessions of faith as a result of people being drawn to the website and clicking on the link to hear the Gospel story. God only knows how many other lives have been changed!
The way one determines success in ministry is by consistently teaching and preaching the Word of God and seeing the evidences of changed lives.
Is the universal and local contemporary church experiencing an Acts-style evangelism? As I said before, we sure could use a few book burnings? Imagine the whole community coming to hear the Gospel because of so much excitement in your church? While it would not be necessary expected for every local church to see things happen as dramatically as in the Book of Acts, it is sad that there are probably many churches that are seeing none of it happening.
Acts Christianity was definitely not boring or irrelevant. If we had been practicing the model given to us in this book, we probably would not have had a generation of young adults leave the church. I need to say in all fairness, though, that there are many local churches that ARE exhibiting a normal Christianity, and where people of all ages, including young adults, are attending in mass numbers.
We see something else in the Book of Acts. Jesus and the cross were the central message. This is expressed in verses 8:35, 9:22, and 16:31. It wasn't prosperity theology, feel-good theology, or a tolerance for sin that was taught. It was Jesus and Him crucified. We must stick to this message today. That is real Christianity, the kind taught in Acts . As a result of this all kinds of exciting things happened in the church. It definitely was a ministry of success.