Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome

By Susie Hawkins

Liberating Ministry for the Success SyndromeI have rarely read a book about ministry that is as candid and straightforward as this book. With almost painful honesty and profound insights, Kent and Barbara Hughes recount their experience of a “failed” church plant and the valuable lessons they gained from it.

Their story begins with their church starting a new congregation in another part of their city. The Hughes served on the staff and it was decided that Kent would be the founding pastor. According to all the formulas, this church plant should have been wildly successful. They had done their homework regarding the demographics of the community. The church had generously given resources for supplies and salaries. A core group of twenty families would be the founding members, and they were spiritually mature and trained church leaders, eager for this mission opportunity. A great deal of prayer and waiting for God’s direction was put into this project as well. As Barbara says, “From the start, we had everything going for us.” Of course, they and everyone else expected the church to thrive and become a viable part of that community. However, to everyone’s astonishment and disappointment, that didn’t happen. The church actually shrunk and a year later they realized that they actually had less people attending than they did the first six months of the church’s inception. So what does a ministry couple do in that situation?

If you have ever tried to comfort your husband after a bitter disappointment, then you will instantly feel Barbara’s pain. She struggled with finding the right approach – trying to encourage and uplift her husband, but also compelled to be honest and admit they had a huge problem. Kent, as most pastor husbands, loved his wife and wanted to protect her and not give her any cause for worry. Of course, eventually they had to discuss their situation openly and call it what it was – FAILURE. This was their “dark night of the soul.” However, as they worked through their despair, they began to sense God had a redemptive purpose in this experience and had something to teach them.

Kent and Barbara first determined that the basic problem was their definition of “success”. Without realizing it they had bought into the idea that success was determined by numbers alone. They asked themselves these three questions: Can a man be a success in the ministry and pastor a small church? What is failure in the ministry? What is success?

The message of this book is their journey in discovering Biblical answers to these three questions. As they searched for answers they discovered that success in the Bible is found in faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness and attitudes. Their expectations had been influenced by a secular definition of achievement, rather than God’s. By applying Biblical truth to the issue of failure, the Kents re-define success for the believer, especially one in vocational ministry. The title of this book perfectly describes their premise.

I found Barbara’s chapter on the Pastors Wife to be one of the most helpful things I have ever read on this topic. I re-read it occasionally, just to keep my own perspective. This experience changed even the way she prayed for her husband!

The Hughes are refreshingly honest and their story is a gift to those who are weary and worn from the battle. We need this message. We need it badly.

Published November 13, 2014

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Susie Hawkins

Susie lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband OS Hawkins. She is the author of From One Ministry Wife to Another: Honest Conversations on Connections in Ministry. She has 2 daughters and 6 grandchildren, keeping her life full of craziness and joy.