I am slowly and carefully reading through the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. Many of you have already read it, and it is having as profound an effect on me as it probably did on you. Near the beginning of the book, the author described his realization that he had never defined success for himself. He was a successful pastor, author, and speaker, yet he noticed that those things didn’t seem to bring the satisfaction that he thought they would. That realization led him to pose a simple but profound question: What ought to be the definition of personal success?
There is no single correct answer for this question. In fact, the correct answer is different for everyone, because we are all unique, we are individually gifted, and we have our own particular circumstances and spheres of influence. But in spite of those differences, each of us should have at least a couple of measurable markers that help us determine if we are hitting the mark.
I have taken some time to work through my answer to this question, and although it makes me nervous and a little embarrassed, I’m going to share with you what I’ve decided success looks like for me. I am not sharing this as an example of what success would be like for you, nor am I offering my definition of success as any kind of standard. I’m doing this as a means of public accountability. I want this to be more than a mental exercise for me.
So, here goes. Here’s what success looks like for me.
1. Success means living within God’s matrix.
If you saw the movie The Matrix, you’ll know that apart from normal life there existed a vast, unseen sphere of existence called The Matrix, and the characters entered into and became part of that existence. In order to be a success in my life, I must enter into and become part of God’s world- His matrix. In God’s matrix, I am not the Leader or Boss, He is. I get on His page, I join His plan, and I devote myself to His purposes.
I must admit that I sometimes struggle to live inside God’s matrix. Unless I stay intentional, I tend to travel in the same direction as God while staying on the outside. I pray, I preach, and I follow Christ, but I’m still in my own world. It’s like a train track- there are two rails, both going in the same direction, but not being completely together. That’s the dynamic I must fight against- going in God’s direction but not sharing God’s matrix.
2. Success means proactively influencing people for God’s Kingdom.
I am the pastor of a medium sized church, and it’s easy to arrange my week around my office schedule. There’s a lot to do, a lot to read, a lot to write, and by the end of the week, I can be so absorbed with running the church that I haven’t had time to be with people. Creating a smooth Sunday service is not the same thing as meeting people’s personal needs. That can no longer be a picture of success for me.
The key word for me is proactive. Instead of waiting for people to call me, I must be the catalyst for spiritual conversations. Success for me can no longer mean I’m a competent manager, or even a visionary pastor. Success means intentional personal interactions that nudge people forward in their spiritual lives.
3. Success means giving my family higher priority than my ministry.
This one isn’t as easy as it sounds. Pastors live with constant pressure to be perceived as available and accessible. My biggest fear on vacation is that there will be a personal disaster in the life of one of my people while I’m away. And this need to be available occasionally forces me to have to choose between my job and my family.
When people are hurting, I will always be available. That’s my calling. But I cannot be a successful husband and father unless I draw some boundaries that protect my marriage and my family from feeling like they come in second place. I have to limit the number of evenings I work during the week. I must jealously guard my day off. I don’t have to answer every call immediately if I am involved in family time. I am a success if my wife and children know they are more important to me than my job.
So that’s it. Success for me can no longer be measured by the number of people who come to our church, or how many people tell me they liked my sermon. These three statements are now my yardstick.
If you have never worked through this process, I highly recommend it. It’s a struggle, but it will uncover important thoughts. If you have a definition of personal success, I’d love to know what you came up with.