How Will You Measure Your Ministry? (2 Timothy 2:14-26)

measuring tape

Big Idea: How will you measure your ministry? Measure it by your teaching, your character, and your relationships.

When the members of the class of 2010 entered business school, the economy was strong. Students saw their post-graduation ambitions as limitless. Just a few weeks later, the economy went into a tailspin. They’ve had to recalibrate their worldview and their definitions of success.

In the spring of 2010, Harvard Business School’s graduating class asked HBS professor Clay Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, to address them. What’s interesting is that they asked him to apply his principles and thinking not to their careers, but to their personal lives. He shared with them a set of guidelines — strongly influenced by his faith — that have helped him find meaning in his own life. On the last day of class, he asks his students three questions:

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

The last question isn’t meant tongue-in-cheek. He says that he knows many colleagues who have taken shortcuts and ended up sabotaging their careers.

The talk was fascinating. It’s available on the Harvard Business Review website, and later became a book called How Will You Measure Your Life? One of the things that gave Christensen such clarity was his own illness. “This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned,” he said. “Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.” He concludes his article:

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.
I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

This brings a sharp issue in focus for us: How will we measure our ministries? The parallels are striking.

First, the spiritual economy for the church is in a tailspin. When we started Liberty Grace Church, I ended up being invited as a guest on Toronto’s number one morning radio show. The basic gist of the conversation was this: Why in the world would anybody start a church in downtown Toronto? It’s ridiculous.

Nobody is interested in church. As Rico Tice says in his new book Honest Evangelism, people used to generally believe “in a Creator God, the notion of sin, and in the truth that Jesus is God’s Son.” When people heard the gospel, many were ready to respond.

By the 1990s, people were hardening against Christianity. It was harder to get them to come to a special service, or to hear a visiting evangelist. Some blocks (objections to Christianity) had to be removed first before the gospel could gain a hearing. In particular, Tice describes four: Christians are weird; Christianity is untrue; Christianity is irrelevant; and Christianity is intolerant. When people met Christians, saw the way that they lived, and heard answers to their intellectual issues, trust would build. People would then sometimes be willing to give the gospel a hearing.

Now, Tice says, “people are on a totally different road.” Our culture is now defined by tolerance and permissiveness. People no longer engage with faith in order to accept or reject it. They simply dismiss it out of hand. As a result, it’s a lot harder. Tice says:

Research suggests that when people put their faith in Christ, on average it’s taken two years from the point when they came into meaningful contact with a Christian who witnessed to them — and that time period is growing. Witnessing is a long-term commitment to invest in a relationship, to pray tirelessly, and to speak the gospel over and over again, patiently and persistently. It is a journey of gospel conversations. It really does take effort.

Second, many of us are questioning the old metrics of ministry. Christensen said:

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

Fifty years ago, many churches had signs posted within the building showing weekly numbers on them: worship service attendance, Sunday School attendance, offering total, and even how many people brought their Bibles. I would argue that although these numbers aren’t the best gauge of our success, its still important to keep a scorecard. What should we count, though? Conversions? Baptisms? Or other metrics like the number of people who are serving, the number of people in small groups, the number of people being trained into leadership?

I think about this occasionally back home. I go running from our community right through downtown Toronto, and run by the old site of a prominent old church in Toronto called St. John the Evangelist [Garrison] Church. The church began in 1858 and served the community, originally serving the soldiers and families associated with nearby Fort York. Later on it served residents who worked in local factories. The church became a leader in social outreach, and by 1931 it ran the largest free medical clinic in Canada. It ministered to pilots and staff from the nearby Royal Norwegian Air Force training camp during World War II. After the war, the congregation dwindled. By 1963, the church was demolished and replaced by a multipurpose building. That building was demolished in 1985.

A plaque on the site reads, “All that remains here of the church is the cornerstone of the 1893 building, on the ground below.” The cornerstone of their church building became a memorial stone. Of all the things that made this church look great in its day, nothing remains today except for a slab of stone in a park. Anything more than that is known to God, and it will be revealed in time (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

That phrase “All that remains…”: got me thinking. What will remain in our churches long after we’re gone? Certainly not bricks or any of the things you notice at first. I pray that the bricks, stones, and activity won’t tell the whole story. I pray to God that there will be more that remains.

So I want to spend some time thinking about what will matter most at the end of our lives. I think 2 Timothy 2 may help us as we look at what matters. How will we measure our ministries? There are three. They’re almost like a stool. If you have one or two of these, you’re not going to be successful. All three are absolutely vital. If you have all three of these, I am going to suggest that you have a ministry that matters.

How will we measure our ministries? We’ll measure them in three areas: our teaching, our lives, and our relationships.

First, measure your ministry by your teaching.

Kevin Vanhoozer has written a couple of great books called The Drama of Doctrine and Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. They’re incredibly helpful in helping us understand the importance of doctrine in the church — not as something divisive or as an impediment to love and unity but as a vital tool in directing the Church into the venture of living wisely to the glory of God. “Christian doctrine directs us in the way of truth and life and is therefore no less than a prescription for reality,” he says.

Doctrine is instruction about God and direction for playing one’s role in the same drama of salvation that lies at the heart of the Scriptures. Doing theology according to the Scriptures means displaying our understanding of what God is doing in the world and of our place in it. It’s all about doing the will of King Jesus amid the kingdoms of this world. If dramatics is the study or practice of acting in plays, then theodramatics is the study or practice of acting in God’s royal theater.

According to Vanhoozer, we are part of a great drama. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the primary players, but we are called to participate as well. The Bible functions “not as a book filled with propositional information” but “as a script that calls for faithful yet creative performance.” And the task of theology is to “study the playscript and prepare it for performances that truthfully realize its truth.”

What are pastors?

Pastor-theologians exist to help disciples learn and play their parts in a fitting manner. Here catechism resembles theatrical rehearsal, where would-be disciples not only learn their lines but also new reflexes, thus enabling them spontaneously to glorify God and do the right thing, precisely because they understand the nature and telos of the drama of redemption and their place in it. Pastor-theologians are dramaturges (workers of drama) charged with preparing the company of the baptized to put feet on their doctrine, walking the way of Jesus Christ with not only theoretical but also practical understanding. The dramaturge is the person who makes drama work by helping the actors better to understand the (trans) script and play their respective parts. It is the dramaturge’s responsibility to research the play, keep it historically accurate, think about the playwright’s intent, and study the play’s production history. In sum: the pastor-theologian teaches people of faith to speak and act with right understanding.

I love this image of doctrine and our role. It helps me understand why Paul focuses so much on the importance of doctrine and teaching in this passage. Our role is to help our people learn and play their parts in a fitting matter in the greatest drama going. That’s a pretty cool job description. Our job is to get to know the plot, keep it accurate, and help our people play their parts well. That’s a job description I could get excited about.

But according to Paul, there’s a way we can botch our role in helping people to live their role well within God’s theodrama. That’s by messing up our doctrine. Paul is brutal when he describes the results of this. He says that when we get our doctrine wrong, we end up spreading gangrene among God’s people:

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Gangrene is a potentially lethal condition. It involves the decay of tissue that takes place when the blood supply is obstructed by injury or disease. It’s an ugly and deadly condition.

He also compares people who teach bad theology to bedpans:

Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.(2 Timothy 2:20)

Paul’s talking about cheap vessels that would have been used for garbage or human waste. Some of them were so cheap that they would have been thrown out with their contents. When our doctrine goes wonky, we actually damage the body of Christ. We’re in danger of spreading an ugly and deadly disease. We become useless and disposable. God’s people are not prepared to play their roles faithfully in the cosmic theodrama.

On the other hand, good doctrine matters. That’s why Paul writes in verse 15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Paul says to work hard, to work very hard. And the thing we’re to work hard at is presenting ourselves before God as a apprentice. As N.T. Wright says:

Such a person, particularly a young person in training like Timothy (though, God knows, all of us preachers and teachers are still in training), must think of their work as if they were an apprentice coming up to a qualifying examination. ‘Present yourself before God as one approved’ (verse 15): in other words, figure out what standards of knowledge, expository skill, historical and literary judgment, and above all spiritual understanding, are required for the job, and make sure you possess them. Then you will be an ‘unashamed workman’.

It’s why our preaching matters. Vanhoozer says:

The sermon, not some leadership philosophy or management scheme, remains the prime means of pastoral direction and hence the pastor’s paramount responsibility … The sermon is the best frontal assault on imaginations held captive by secular stories that promise other ways to the good life. Most important, the sermon envisions ways for the local congregation to become a parable of the kingdom of God. It is the pastor’s/director’s vocation to help congregations hear (understand) and do (perform) God’s word in and for the present.

The result? Vanhoozer says, “Doctrine gives disciples directions for what really matters: for making the most of their place and time, living with others to God in ways that lead to human flourishing and divine glory.”

This is the first leg of the stool, and it’s critical. It’s also countercultural today. Other things are important, but Paul says this is crucial. Don’t spread gangrene throughout the body of Christ. How do you measure your ministry? Measure it by how well you’re helping your people learn their parts in the divine drama. That requires that you work hard at your role as a teacher.

But that’s not all.

Second, measure your ministry by your character.

Paul writes in verse 22:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)

It’s not just our teaching that matters. It’s also our lives. Paul is continuing to develop his image of the kind of objects that people have in their house. I read a book last year that said that you should put everything you own through a test. If you absolutely need it or absolutely love it, keep it. Otherwise, toss it. I haven’t quite succeeded in doing this, but I love the idea. It would end up with a ton of stuff being thrown out.

As Paul thinks about these two categories of stuff — the valuable stuff made out of gold and silver that you’d use for special occasions, and the less honorable stuff made out of cheaper material — he thinks of the things that would keep Timothy in the first category. How do we maintain ourselves as “a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21)? Here’s one way: we need to watch our lives. We need to flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

Flee youthful passions. We immediately think of sexual sins here, but Paul doesn’t actually specify one type of sin. He’s probably referring to a whole list: things like impatience, harshness, the love of debate, self-assertion, self-indulgence, selfish ambition, headstrong obstinacy, arrogance, and more.

John Stott writes:

But we are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom (Gn. 19:15, 16). On the contrary we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible.

Sometimes flight is the best strategy. Don’t fight your youthful passions. Run away from them.

On the other hand, pursue holiness. Paul lists four positive qualities we’re supposed to pursue: righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Run away from immature behavior; run towards holiness and the qualities that characterize purity of heart.

Our lives matter, and they matter significantly. In my mind, Joe Stowell wrote one of the most important books last year on any topic. It’s called Redefining Leadership: Character-Defining Habits of Effective Leaders. He writes:

Warning! If you believe leadership is ultimately measured by how well you can deliver the goods, then in the end you will fail in your calling as a leader … While outcomes are not unimportant in the story, the affirmation is about the character of the steward that produced the outcomes.

The kind of person you are and how you navigate your leadership is at the core of long-term effectiveness, he says. Your character matters. Stowell talks about character-driven leaders, “whose exemplary lives influence and empower those within the sphere of their authority to achieve great outcomes personally, spiritually, communally, and organizationally.”

I want to pause here and think about what this looks like. Every single one of us here is vulnerable. There are a set of youthful sins that we tend to run towards if we’re not careful. One friend of mine — Scott Thomas, author of The Gospel Coach — breaks the major categories of sins that tempt us into four categories: power, approval, comfort, and security.

  • If we crave power, we’ll crave positions of power. We’ll succumb to anger and we’ll thwart other leaders. We’ll demand that we get our own way.
  • If we crave approval, we’ll take criticism badly. We’ll be proud and envious and we’ll live for the recognition of others.
  • If we crave comfort, we’ll feel like ministry is a burden. We’ll complain, and people will tire us out.
  • If we crave security, we’ll be overbearing. We’ll be inflexible, impatient, irresponsible, and we’ll hide our weaknesses.

Here’s the bottom line: We need to know where we’re vulnerable. We need to know our weak spots. We need to run away from those weak spots because they will kill us and our leadership if we don’t.

How do we measure our ministries? We measure them by our ability to help others learn their part in the theodrama. We also measure our ministries by the degree that we’re character-driven leaders who are learning to run away from our sins and to run towards purity of heart. None of us has arrived here. This is an ongoing pursuit. Character always has to overshadow talent.

There’s one more measure of your ministry:

Third, measure your ministry by your relationships.

Paul concludes in verses 24-26:

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

As Paul closes this section, he closes with a set of relational qualities. They’re a set of qualities that seem admirable. What’s hard is when they meet the realities of ministry. As Charles Simeon put it, “The work of the ministry is arduous in the extreme, not only on account of the labors in which a pastor has to engage, but on account of the opposition he meets with from those whose welfare he seeks.” He should know. When he became pastor of his church, opponents harassed Simeon by locking the family-owned pews, forcing those who wished to hear the new minister to find standing room as best they could. When Simeon brought in benches, church council members tossed them out into the churchyard, but he was undeterred. Relationships in ministry are hard. People attack!

When I was a seminary student years ago, I read Marshall Shelley’s book Well-Intentioned Dragons. It was my first real insight into what a pastor can experience in real ministry. Shelley describes the various types of personal attacks you’ll endure over the course of your ministry. It was a scary book to read a couple of decades ago, but it’s become even scarier now. He’s added a new chapter called “Electronic Warfare.” Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and other social media have magnified the ways that dragons can come after us.

How do we respond to the attacks of dragons? Shelley suggests two things: creating a healthy culture in the church where that type of attack is rare. Because that’s not always possible, he also suggests a second approach: to build a healthy board. Dragons will exist, and they will drive us crazy. But Shelley writes:

The goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate from them, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect.

The most important thing in handling dragons is not to become one ourselves. That’s why what Paul writes is so important. Our ministries must be measured by how well we treat people, including the difficult ones. Be kind to them. Be gentle but firm. Look to disciple your enemies. Your ministry is measured by your relationships, even with those who are the most difficult in your ministry.

In this sense, ministry is no different than anything else. A study attempted to define the good life by tracking the lives of nearly three hundred Harvard men. The study began in 1937, and it followed them for over 70 years. George Valliant directed the study for four decades, and when asked, “What have you learned from the study?” he replied, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” Paul would list a couple of other things, but there’s no question — relationships matter. How we relate to others is a measure of our ministry, and a measure of our life.

How will you measure your ministry? Measure it by your teaching, your character, and your relationships. That’s a pretty good list.

I don’t think God measures success the same way we do. From a worldly perspective, a lot of the people in Hebrews 11 don’t really seem that successful. Successful people don’t get mocked and scourged. They don’t get chained in prison. They aren’t stoned to death, sawn in two, or beheaded. They aren’t destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated. They don’t wander in deserts or live in holes in the ground.

Except that the Bible calls these people successful. The world was not worthy of them (Hebrews 11:38). The same is true of many pastors. They will never appear to be successful to most people, but they will be successful in God’s eyes.

So how will you measure your ministry? A friend of mine recently met with the search committee of a church. They asked him how he would measure success if he came to that church. You would have expected him to list things like attendance, growth, conversions, and more. He didn’t. He listed five things:

  1. Jesus saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
  2. The best possible marriage.
  3. His children following Jesus, and the knowledge that he had served as the best father possible.
  4. A good bunch of friends.
  5. The knowledge that he had equipped a team to do the work of ministry.

Those things — the approval of Jesus, loving others, and building into people — those are the measures of success in ministry.

How will you measure your ministry? Not by accolades or popularity. Not by your prominence. Measure it by your teaching, your character, and your relationships.

At the beginning of this talk, I mentioned Clay Christensen’s lecture. He said:

Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

Let’s pray.

Father, we want to live for that. We don’t want to make the mistake that Stephen Covey talked about so often: of climbing the ladder of success only to find that it’s leaning on the wrong wall. We don’t want to build renowned churches and gain great reputations, but then discover that in your eyes we’d blown it in the areas that matter most.

I pray for each of these three areas. I pray for our teaching. Help us to prepare people to play their roles in the story, making the most of their place and time. Help us to guard our lives. We are all vulnerable. And help us in our relationships, especially with those who are hardest to love.

I pray that we will live our lives so that we’re living for what matters most in the areas of teaching, character, and relationships. And I ask for your Spirit’s help because we can’t do this ourselves. I also thank you for the forgiveness and cleansing that is ours through Jesus when we have failed. Thank you that our failures are not the end.

Help us, Lord, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada