How are things going with you and the Lord these days? How about in ministry? As our leadership and ministry responsibilities increase, “it’s going well” is often all the response we have time to muster. And whether or not that’s true, we know it’s what people expect to hear from us.
Sometimes we’ll drop in details about attendance figures at our recent events, the number of people who responded at an outreach, some type of financial benchmark we have reached, or even a mention of the consistency of our private disciplines. It can become easy to measure the status of our relationship with the Lord by the results we are seeing through our ministry. But do they really give us an accurate reading of our spiritual success?
A highly-praised, religious group of God worshippers (you may know them as the Pharisees) challenged Jesus on “how things were going” in his ministry in Luke 15. Jesus—in His divinely brilliant way—responded by telling them a few stories to help them realize an important truth: impressive stats in ministry and the devoted practice of religious disciplines don’t define success, and they won’t necessarily make you more like the one you are devoted to.
Before you cry “heresy,” let me explain. I’ve been pastoring at The Oaks Fellowship for over 20 years and have given my life to working in the Father’s house to see people come to know Jesus. And lots of people have.
But in the past months, God has taken me on a journey of redefining the key factors of successful ministry and devotion through a much deeper revelation and experience of something that I already knew to be true…the fact that I am His son.
I began to understand in a whole new way what it means that He is the perfect Father. It has changed so much about the way that I see Him and the way I see myself. It also changes how I see others.
As I’ve been on this journey, I’ve come to see Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in the Luke 15 story in an entirely new way. He responds to their accusations regarding His association with “sinners” with 3 parables that we are probably all familiar with. Here’s a short recap:
In the parable of the shepherd who lost a sheep, something was lost (a sheep). And someone (a shepherd)searched for what was lost. When that lost sheep was found, the shepherd gathered all his friends for a great celebration!
In the parable of the woman who lost a coin, there was—once again—something lost (a coin) and someone (the woman)was looking for it. There was also another great celebration when it was found. Can you see the pattern Jesus is setting up here? It’s starting to become familiar.This is what made me notice that, in the next story, the pattern changes. Jesus is setting us up for an “aha!” moment.
Shouldn’t a someone be worth pursuing more than a something? Why did no one go and search for him?
As I’ve reflected upon this question, it’s become clear to me that the responsibility to pursue the wayward son was that of the older brother. But the older brother didn’t go. Instead, he was working faithfully in his father’s house, devotedly doing all of the right things. The servants in the house and those who saw from a distance probably all regarded him as the successful, obedient son. However, just because he worked faithfully in the father’s house didn’t mean that he shared the Father’s heart.
When the wayward son finally came to his senses and returned home, we see the heart of the father to celebrate, restore, and reinstate him in his house. The older brother’s reaction stands in stark contrast.
The older brother’s inability to celebrate the younger brother’s return should jump out at us, as it was meant to do to the Pharisees, alerting us that something is wrong here. Jesus used these three stories to demonstrate to whoever would listen that outward actions aren’t nearly as important as inward conditions.
If the story had followed the pattern of the previous two, the older brother, in seeing his father’s brokenness over his wayward son, would have left everything to find his younger brother. He would have searched for him until he finally found him in the pigpen, and climbing into the mud with him, he would have pleaded for him to come home (which, by the way, is exactly what Jesus as our perfect older brother does).
The story didn’t go the way that it was supposed to because the older brother was more concerned with his own performance and success than understanding and sharing the Father’s heart.
This revelation has caused me to ask some serious questions about what success looks like in my ministry and devotional life. I’ve had to transparently assess whether my devotion is causing me to become more like the one I am devoted to.
If we don’t seek the Father’s heart, we will develop the same selfish attitude the older brother had in the story. We run the risk of staying at home, faithfully serving the Father…
Working for him…
Talking with him…
But not becoming more like him.
True success and devotion starts deep within…with a heart that’s one with the Father’s heart.
So, how are things going with you and the Lord these days? How about in ministry? I’m not asking you for your latest ministry metrics or how many Bible reading plans you’ve completed.
I’m really asking if your ministry and devotional life is driving you to be more like the Father. Is your heart breaking over the things that break His heart, causing you to seek out wayward sons and daughters?
He is inviting you to know and represent him as the perfect Father in a deeper way, walking in the knowledge that He says to you just as he said to the older brother, “My child, you are always with me and all I have is yours.”
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Scott Wilson has been in full-time pastoral ministry for more than 20 years. He is the Senior Pastor of The Oaks Fellowship located in Dallas, Texas—now ministering to nearly 3000 people each week.
Scott is the author of several books. His latest release is “Ready, Set, Grow: 3 Conversations That Will Bring Lasting Growth to Your Church”.
Scott is a loving husband and proud father. He and his wife, Jenni, have three boys: Dillon, Hunter, and Dakota. The Wilsons live in the Dallas area.