Imagine, spending only three weeks in a city, before being driven out, but seeing a successful, persecution-resistant church planted. Paul was very successful, but we must resist the temptation to think that his success is beyond our reach. He was not magically endowed with the ability to plant churches. Yes, God called and equipped him to this ministry, but all of us are capable of similar success in our own callings. You may not have the same calling as Paul, but you can have the success that he had, if you will conduct your ministry as he did. In 1 Thessalonians 2 he gives us the ingredients of his ministry; I like to call it his Formula for Successful Service: Courage, Motivation, Self-sacrifice and Imitability.
In ministry we must be courageous. Paul had been beaten severely in Philippi and other cities. He has no way of knowing what he will face in Thessalonica, but he still goes into the city and preaches. He carries the good news to all who will listen and, in doing so, exposes himself to danger. Similar feelings are expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:3 where he says: “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” The life of an apostle was not easy. Paul’s life involved beatings and prisons; public stonings and secret plots. He had every reason to expect rejection, hatred and the possibility of torture, prison or death.
Despite the danger Paul went into new settings repeatedly to plant churches and to reach the lost. He knew that his calling was more important than his safety and comfort. How about you? Is your calling more important to you than your own safety? Are you willing to serve the Lord no matter what it may cost?
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that his motivation for coming to them and for his ministry is not to please men, but to please God. This is the motivation behind all successful ministries. Of course there are those who serve in church to please men and still succeed in creating large churches. Large churches and ministries do make not a successful ministry; success in ministry is not defined by size.
Years ago, my screensaver said “Success is the accomplishment of God-given goals, failure is the accomplishment of God-less goals.” One person questioned this, not understanding how accomplishment could be a failure. I explained that the defining terms are not success, failure or accomplishment. The defining terms are God-given and God-less. If the goal I work toward is in line with God’s plan then accomplishment is success, but if I insist on serving my own agenda and setting goals that are not in keeping with God’s plan for my life and ministry I have already failed. Adherence to the will and word of God defines ministry success, not the number of people fed, clothed, reached or inspired. Everything Paul did was to serve the Lord, everything we do in our ministries must be to serve the Lord, not to win praise from man.
Paul and his co-workers were example of self-sacrifice. They subjected themselves to harsh conditions and fierce opposition. They chose to work to support themselves where possible and necessary, dedicating themselves to not burdening the people they sought to minister to. For a ministry to be successful we must put those we seek to reach before ourselves and willingly give our time, efforts, wealth and even lives to complete our calling.
Paul often shares details of the life he lived and encourages those in the church to imitate him. He lives a life worth imitating. Too often leaders do not follow through and apply their teachings and the word to all areas of their own lives. The temptation to separate life into areas of spiritual and secular is tempting but must be resisted. People around know if you are living the life; they see small details that eventually paint a picture you may not see. To be successful in ministry live the word before the people you seek to reach.