How to Define and Measure Success on God's Terms

I felt responsible, and I felt ashamed. I felt I had let everyone down: the hardworking entrepreneurs, the staff, the donors.

But after several hours, this group of supporters was amazingly gracious. They wanted to know how we had responded. They wanted to hear what we had learned and what we were doing differently as a result. And then they offered words of encouragement about some of their lowest times and how God used even their failures to teach them lifelong lessons.

They echoed something businessman Jim Amos shared: “All we get on the mountaintop is a good view. The real change comes through the hard work of the climb.”

After our course correction in Congo, we are now rebuilding slowly and painfully. Our mistakes created opportunities to learn and provided a perspective I hope I never forget: We need a strong foundation and a fanatical obsession with operational excellence, but most of all we need a spirit of humble dependence upon God.

We need a new definition of success.

Ambition God’s Way

When we measure our success based solely on output and comparison to others, we are undoubtedly heading in the wrong direction. It’s easy to equate the Lord’s blessing with how many (or how few) people follow me on Twitter, know me by name and want me to speak at their event. Doing so, I adopt a skewed definition of success.

We do the same thing when we become enamored with churches with the highest growth rates and forget to examine the depth of character of the leaders. It’s possible to build a mega-ministry and feel so good about “our success” that we also develop a mega-ego. It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of humility. As pastor Jon Tyson puts it, “When our influence exceeds our character, we are heading toward a disaster.”

I see a very different example in the life of Jesus. Christ’s life and ministry stood in stark contrast to spiritual self-promotion and obsession with numbers. Instead of clamoring for success, the Redeemer came to earth to serve and took the nature of a servant, not a superstar.

Jesus defined success as loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor. The extent of our love—not numerical growth—matters most. One of Jesus’ biggest criticisms of the religious leaders was that they adopted the wrong definition of success. They believed they were successful if they were given “the most important seats in the synagogues” and were recognized as esteemed teachers (Matt. 23:6-7).

No longer was their desire for Scripture about wanting to be close to God; instead, it had translated into desiring notoriety for themselves. Success had become an obsession, an idol, their object of worship.

Contrast this to those changed by Christ in the New Testament. You see that they weren’t obsessed with searching for significance—with fame or fortune—but they were obsessed with embracing their identity in Christ. They called attention to their heritage—they were the sons and daughters of the King. They didn’t seem to call much attention to themselves and continually diverted attention to their Savior.

Instead of comparing ourselves to others, let’s recognize our identity in Christ. Then we can determine whether we’re being faithful with what we have been given and let go of our spiritually dangerous preoccupation with worldly success.

Peter Greer is president and CEO of HOPE International, a global nonprofit focused on addressing both physical and spiritual poverty through microfinance. He has a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School and is a regular speaker at conferences such as Catalyst and Passion. His latest book is The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group), from which this article was excerpted. © 2013 Used by permission.

How does God’s definition of success differ from the world’s version? Go to to watch pastor Mark DeYmaz of Mosaic Church in Central Arkansas explain.

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