Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome – A Book Review

In seasons of life like this one of COVID-19 pandemic that seems to affect everything including our ministry plans and strategies, in times when failure in church ministry and in other institutions seems inevitable, good reminder and godly advice like the ones that can be found in “Liberating ministry from the success syndrome” (a book written by Pastor Kent Hughes and his dear wife) are relevant and very helpful. The new edition of this book is published by Crossway in 2008. In this book, the authors writing from good biblical understanding and from long-term ministry experience have clarified what success is not, define what true success is, presented some encouragements concerning biblical success, and then conclude by explaining how the pastor’s wife and the congregation can help her pastor to be truly successful in doing what God has called him to do for the good of God’s people and ultimately for the glory of God.

The book is divided into four parts. In part one, in the first chapter, the author has reflected on how he experienced “the darkest, deepest depression” of his life to the point of resolving to quit his pastorate because of experiencing “failure”, a feeling that has resulted from disappointed expectations and from wrong understanding of biblical success. In chapter two Mrs. Hughes has explained how she tried to help her discouraged husband, and how they came to understand that true success is not increased number, building big building, being rich and famous, and how this truth has saved them from quitting the ministry.

In part two, the authors have described what true success is: success is faithfulness, “living in profound obedience to God’s Word and working long and hard at our [God given] tasks; serving with a foot-washing heart [in preaching, counseling and administrating – John 13:1–10]; loving God with all our heart, soul and might; believing what we believe, [what the Bible teaches and living according to that truth]; praying with the dependence and passion of Christ; living pure and holy lives in this sensual world; and manifesting a positive, supportive attitude, [not a jealousy attitude] in the midst of difficulties.” (p.111)

In part three, the author has drawn an encouragement from God’s Word (Jeremiah 29:11): God called people are to be hopeful even in the midst of difficulties because God has a compressive (known, continual and settled), good, and optimistic plans that they can experience if they seek God with their whole hearts. In chapter twelve, he reminds us that the God’s called servants should rest in the fact that it is God who has called them to the ministry, and He knows and cares about the work and challenges of ministry. In chapter thirteen, the author has reminded ordinary people that “God chooses and uses nobodies, because their unusual dependence on him made possible the unique display of his power and grace, and he chooses to use somebodies only when they renounced their dependence on their natural abilities and resources.” (p. 140).  In chapter ten he explained how fellow workers can be the source of encouragement in ministry – he presented three causes of depression in ministry and three things we can do in relation to fellow workers to deal with such depression. To those three things we can do to deal with ministry related pressure, I think I can add honest prayer and supplication (Philippians 4:4–7).  Chapter fifteen has called serving Christians to find comfort and encouragement in the promised eternal rewards of the ministry in Christ.  

The last part of the book, in chapter sixteen in particular, Mrs. Hughes who is a pastor’s wife has presented 12 things she has done to encourage her husband and to help him to be a faithful servant; there are practical words of wisdom  to pastors’ wives in this chapter. The last chapter has presented four things the congregation should know in order to help her pastor to be faithful, and then conclude by presenting six “specific ways in which the congregations (especially its leadership) can encourage its pastor.”                         

This book has encouraged, corrected, rebuked and strengthen me in the work of ministry; the content of this book must be understood and rightly applied. I highly recommend it to every pastor, to other leaders and to every Christian who is serving, to those that are experiencing discouragements probably even thinking of quitting, and to all believers who are comfortable, thinking that they are successful.

Details of the Book: Kent & Barbara Hughes (2008). Liberating ministry from the success syndrome. New edition. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

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