How Do We Define “Success” in Ministry?

Worldly Failure

“Well done, brother. Well done.”

We had gathered in a restaurant on a sultry summer day in the heart of DC. Outside, laborers set up fences and hung bunting in preparation for the July 4 celebration. Inside, we were having a celebration of our own. About a dozen men had gathered to celebrate the ministry of one of our planters. It was a wonderful occasion.

Dozens of people walked by without interest as the brothers laughed, prayed, and encouraged this precious man. One by one, they spoke words of heartfelt gratitude for how he had inspired and encouraged them in their own ministry. One documented the brother’s biblical fidelity, another his eagerness for evangelism, still another his coffee snobbery, followed by another who testified to this brother’s love for the church. Our hearts were as full as our bellies as we rejoiced.

Planting by Pastoring

Nathan Knight

Planting by Pastoring rejects the entrepreneurial mindset of church planting and invites leaders to adopt a far more biblical view of the church to cultivate a community that can “treasure Christ together.”

Had you been sitting in the neighboring booth and listened in, I’m confident you would have testified to the success of this man, and you would have been right. True enough, we’d come together for a meal to say goodbye. He and his family were transitioning out of the city. They fell short of the indomitable five-year mark. So in the eyes of some, he’d failed. But in the eyes of God, he had not.


This brother and his family labored hard in the city. They tabled at festivals, they did service projects, they prayer-walked, they handed out materials, they invited neighbors over for meals, and they facilitated services that dripped with the gospel. Some came, but after five years he needed to move on so as to not be the “infidel” that Paul speaks of in 1 Timothy 5:8; he needed to be able to better provide for his family.

Did he fail?

Unequivocally, no! He didn’t fail. In fact, I would even say that he succeeded more than some church plants that have grown larger and lasted longer.

Church planters plant churches. Pastors are the leaders of churches, and therefore we plant biblically defined assemblies. We do the work of pastoral ministry so that our people might treasure Christ together. That’s the often unheralded yet beautiful definition of “success.”

We believe that the Lord in his infinite wisdom used a humble teenage girl from nowhere to give birth to the Redeemer. We believe that Jesus won as the world laughed at his loss. Things may appear to be one thing when they are in fact something else.

God is working. But it’s not flashy, predictable, or perhaps even noticeable to the surrounding community.

Successful church planters are like the successful farmer of Mark 4:26–29. He scatters the seed, and he goes to sleep. He does what? He goes to sleep! “The seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”

Surely if we were to ask the farmer, “How do plants grow?” the planter would know the answer. But Jesus’s point is to highlight the sufficiency of the seed of the word. The seed, like the word, is buried into the soil of the world, and fruit comes in the various places we preach that word. We know not how. We can’t predict where. There are no “proven strategies,” no books, no enneagram numbers, no amount of charisma that will automatically produce “success.” We succeed when we faithfully spread the seed. After that, we can rest in the sufficiency of that seed to do as it pleases the Lord. Read that again: we planters rest in the sufficiency of Christ and the word as we lovingly and liberally scatter the gospel in our communities. What defines our success? Scattering the seed and sleeping.

Five years have now passed, and Iglesia Biblica Sublime Gracia has continued scattering the seed and slept. They’ve not only baptized a dozen or more from countries all across Central and South America, but they will soon birth their own church plant. More than a dozen planting-pastors meet in our office each month for prayer, counsel, and encouragement; they are doing the work and the Lord is blessing their labors. The gospel landscape of DC has changed dramatically because of the faithful discipleship of planters descending upon this city. It’s happening. God is working. But it’s not flashy, predictable, or perhaps even noticeable to the surrounding community. But God sees, God knows, and God remembers. And he is pleased.

Rest well, friends. Go to sleep with joy in your hearts and hope for tomorrow. No matter what comes when the sun rises, you can rest assured that if you’re planting a church by faithfully preaching the word and pastoring saints toward treasuring Christ, then you are absolutely succeeding. Well done, brothers and sisters. Keep it up.

Plant by pastoring names, not numbers.

This article is adapted from Planting by Pastoring: A Vision for Starting a Healthy Church by Nathan Knight.

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