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I’ve always tried to live my life and do ministry by this rule:

Don’t try to be successful. Try to do good work.

  • Not people-pleasing work, God-honoring work
  • Not self-promoting work, Christ-magnifying work
  • Not numbers-driven work, Spirit-led work

The one time in my ministry that I abandoned this principle and did things for the numbers, I got numbers. For a while. But the numbers came at a cost. They sucked my soul dry.

Those numbers, as modest as they were, almost killed my church and cost me my ministry. Not because of the numbers. Because I abandoned my principles for them.

Yes, you can honor God and see numerical success. There are a lot of churches, pastors and ministries that do. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

It’s not about size or success. It’s about having and honoring Godly principles, no matter what the results look like.

Good Work As Its Own Reward

“If you do good work, success will follow.” That’s what I’m supposed to tell you now.

But it’s not true.

Sometimes – many times – numerical success stays elusive, no matter how hard we work, how smart we are or how much we pray.

That’s why the good work needs to be its own reward.

Not All Results Are Visible

The Apostle Paul had to remind the Corinthians of this fact. Some plant seeds and lay foundations. Others water, harvest and build. (1 Cor 3:1-11)

The harvesters and builders experience the joy of seeing the results of their work. The seed-planters and foundation-layers dig holes. Many never see visible results. But everyone has their role to play.

It’s the nature of ministry. So much of what we do isn’t quantifiable.

We can measure attendance, conversions and baptisms – all of which are wonderful things. But how do you measure the value of the time spent mentoring a young person so that they don’t follow their classmates into addiction? Or the marriage that didn’t end in divorce because the pastor and church provided a healthy environment for them to thrive in?

Jesus never called us to be successful, he called us to be faithful.

When I try to do good work, I may or may not see numerical success. But the effort will always be nourishing to my soul. And to the souls of others.

A minister with an empty soul may build a big church (usually not even that) but they’ll never have a healthy church.

A minister with a well-nourished soul may or may not have a big church, but they’ll always have a healthy ministry.

What kind of God-honoring work nourishes your soul, both in and out of ministry?

Feed on that. And you’ll always have enough left over to bless others.

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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