Defining Success

Rejection is never fun.

As I sent personal text messages to about 60 freshmen girls one day to invite them to a freshmen girls’ hangout, I sat almost stunned as I saw rejection… after rejection… after rejection. While I had snacks and dessert planned for about 30 people, I had just nine freshman girls sitting in my living room that night for the so-called “party.” It was hard not to be disappointed.

Well, I thought, at least our club numbers have been great this year! We had 150 students at our back-to-school barbeque and about 60 at our first two Clubs of the year! Yet about a week later, as our next Thursday night Club came, we hardly had 30 students in the room. That was half from the week before. We haven’t had that few of students for a September Young Life Club in years. It was hard not to be disappointed.

Through my disappointment, I didn’t realize that at the same time I was suppressing intimacy with God. The negativity made me vulnerable to spiritual attacks as I started to take the “results” personally, and I couldn’t get the Enemy’s voice out of my head…

It’s your fault.
You’re not good enough.
And you thought it was a good idea to devote your life to this ministry? You’re wasting your time. 

Through a spiritual and emotional breakdown, I realized that in the midst of all the rejection and the negative spiral of thoughts, I lost sight of God’s goodness and the work He has been accomplishing so far this semester. I was so caught up in my own will for Young Life College that I had complete distrust in God and distrust that He was really in control of this ministry!

Let’s change our perspective on the previous “results.”

Smiling with two of my YL College student leaders as we spent the evening with our Freshmen Girls' Small Group last weekend.
Smiling with two of my YL College student leaders as we spent the evening with our Freshmen Girls’ Small Group last weekend.
  • There were nine freshmen girls there that night at the party, and eight of those girls have committed to a full semester of my weekly Small Group. Praise God!
  • We’ve had 25-30 students at club the last several weeks. It may be lower numbers, but that’s still a lot of students! Some in the room wouldn’t consider themselves Christians, and others are in desperate need of a community and spiritual direction. Because there were fewer people, we’ve been able to be more intentional with these students. Praise God!
  • Amazing conversations have been happening with students in one-on-one settings outside of club. For example, we had a freshman student accept Jesus into his life for the first time and he feels as though his whole life has changed for the better! He started a mentoring relationship with my husband, Kevin. Praise God!
  • The Lord has provided more leaders into our ministry and we added four new small groups this semester that meet outside of club. Praise God!

I realized that I had given God an ultimatum. If I dedicate my life to this ministry and sacrifice a full-time job, nights out of my week, etc., then we will have big club numbers and more freshmen than ever before. In doing so, I completely missed the joy of His work and didn’t experience the peace that He was offering me in the midst of those circumstances!

John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

This passage struck me as I began to process my thoughts – I was measuring ministry success by worldly standards.


How does the world give?

From the organizational standpoint, successful industries grow in numbers. You can judge success based on how many people are coming and who is consistently coming back week after week, year after year. If we look a certain way as an organization, if we act a certain way, if we put the right things out on social media, etc., then we will be successful. On a personal level, we see results based on how much time and effort we give. The more time, blood, sweat, and tears we put in, the better the results, the more successful we are.

It seems that our ministry should work this way.
God reminds me that it doesn’t.
He doesn’t give as the world gives.


How does God give?

As Christians, we do not measure success by worldly standards. God is the judge of success in His Kingdom and in fact, God doesn’t care about the results that we can produce on our own.

In John 7:38, Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Think for a moment about the Mississippi River. Let’s think about where it starts in northern Minnesota. As small streams flow together and form the beginning, looking ahead, one would have no clue that the slow current meanders south 2,320 miles, making it one of the longest rivers in the world. We may not fully know the outcome of the work we are doing from this side of heaven. However, we trust that God will multiply our small efforts into the bigger part of His plan.

We see in John 6:44 that it is God who draws someone to Himself. Our responsibility is to seek Jesus, fixing our eyes Him, and to trust His plan.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

Do we seek Jesus first in our lives?
Do we trust His plan, even when we don’t see the outcome?


What does this mean for us?

How is success measured, then? Success is determined by faithfulness to God and His calling on our lives. In other words, our responsibility is our willingness to listen and go where God leads us in all the effort we can possibly give. In order to do this, we must seek the person of Jesus, receive Him, walk with Him, be established in Him, and last but not least, be thankful.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7

God will have His way. Just because we have good intentions or fine plans for our life—a career, an event, a sports game, our ministry—doesn’t mean that those results are in His will. We need to learn what it means to leave the results up to God. Our part is to respond in obedience to the calling He has placed in our lives and to walk in the grace and love of Jesus.

How have I applied these truths to my own situation?

Praise God that “the numbers” at Young Life does not define me! Yet Praise God I get to be a part of both the highs and the lows of ministry. God teaches me a lot more through ministering to His people than anything I could ever offer to these students. It is I who am blessed, not those I witness to. I am overflowing with thankfulness for the life He has given me and expectant to see Him do big things this semester.

The Lord causes me to rely on Him for every ounce of strength, so that anything good that comes from Young Life College is not to the glory of myself or of my own doing, but to the Glory of God.

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2 thoughts on “Defining Success

  1. Bryan Neely says:

    Thank you for sharing this Maggie because it is a great reminder for me to remember that success in God’s eyes is not how we see it on earth! I can have a tendency to get caught up in striving for success of the world but I would be missing the most important success out there!
    I want to let you know you are an absolutely amazing person and role model of mine so don’t ever feel like the numbers being down at YoungLife are a bad thing. God has a reason for why the numbers are small and I’m confident he is doing great things in these small numbers! Watching you and Kevin commit your entire lives to YoungLife and living for Jesus is one of the most beautiful Godly things I’ve been able to witness in my entire life and I want you to trust that God is doing AMAZING things through both of you! I love you both more than words can describe and I’m so blessed and excited I get to spend this year walking and living by your side for God! I wish the entire world had the chance to meet you and Kevin because you are like Angels sent from above! Praying for you and see you at YoungLife Club! 🙂

  2. Jane Hull says:

    Wonderful thoughts – very insightful and helpful Maggie!!! I had similar difficulties in my area of ministry lately – very difficult, but hopefully grew through it!

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