— While clergy live in the world, it is often difficult for them not
to become trapped in worldly ideals of success, which should not be
applied to the ministry, according to the majority of clergy who
responded to a recent informal e-mail survey.
How clergy define and achieve success was an underlying theme of
the Sept. 12 Conference Table Meeting at Lake Gibson United Methodist
The Conference Table, created in 2002, is a venue for clergy and
laity to discuss the connectional life and current context of the
United Methodist Church for the 21st century.
More than 70 Florida Conference clergy surveyed shared how they
define success, whether or not they feel they have to compete with
other clergy to be successful, and how the expectations of laity play
a role in their ministry.
Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker had some strong words
for clergy who allow the cultural category of success to define their
“If we who are clergy take this cultural category as our goal in
life, we’re going to lose focus of our calling,” Whitaker said in a
recent interview. “The Biblical category that should define what
ministry is all about is faithfulness.
“To me there are three fundamental things that we, who are clergy,
should remember as we seek to be faithful in our calling. Remember
that each of us is part of the one body. If we think of ourselves as
individuals who are doing his or her own thing…then I think we are
going to have a distorted understanding of our role, and we’re not
going to provide the kind of leadership we should. Secondly, each of
us who are clergy has a responsibility to tell the truth, and when I
say tell the truth, I mean to tell God’s truth in all of its meaning.
Sometimes that means talking about things people may not want to talk
about. Last thing, I would say always be motivated by passion to
fulfill the mission of the church.”
Whitaker acknowledged he has wrestled with cultural success in his
“The way I dealt with it is I always tried to keep my eye on the
ball,” he said. “I never permitted myself to become distracted. I
always tried to keep focus on what God had enabled me to do and what
God had called me to do. I emphasized self-discipline and not allowed
myself to become distracted by the concerns of other people that were
rooted in the values in our culture, which I don’t think are
necessarily Christian values.”
The Rev. Kirk Dreiser, pastor of Limona Village Chapel in Brandon,
said he defines success as being obedient to the call God has given
him, yet he is torn.
“I feel I must be in a growing church with lots of new members and
baptisms and professions of faith, having paid all of my
apportionments, to be considered successful by fellow clergy,” he
said. “I feel I must meet all of the emotional and physical needs of
the congregation, visit everyone often, remember everything I am told
about everyone’s family, and never have a bad day, in order to be
successful by the laity.”
The Rev. George Zimmerman said success and calling are not at odds.
“I feel that success comes in taking care and loving your people,”
he said. “It is not determined by salary, position or the size of the
church. It is what and how you serve the God who called you. You are
not the CEO who rules with an iron hand, but the shepherd that leads.
If you love and take care of your people, all else will be taken care
Like Whitaker, the Rev. Steven Price, co-pastor of Harvest United
Methodist Church in Bradenton, has a problem with success being used
to define the ministry.
“I think that using the term ‘success’ is itself problematic,” he
said. “It is difficult for us to think of success in any terms other
than those which come to us from the prevailing capitalist culture in
which we live. I would prefer to think in terms of our ‘faithfulness’
as clergy, rather than successfulness. Based on standards often used,
pastors could be successful without being faithful and,
simultaneously, there are many faithful pastors who would fail the
Whitaker said if pastors lose focus of their ministry, all is not
“I think it’s inevitable that you will lose your passion for
ministry,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to maintain
spiritual discipline, and most especially to be part of a covenant
group…[group] with others will remind you when you’re getting off
“I don’t mean to suggest that pastors, particularly those with
families, don’t have legitimate material needs. They need to be able
to provide. All of us have psychological needs to feel like we’re
making a contribution to life. It’s all a matter of perspective.
There’s a difference between that legitimate human need and a person
really treating the ministry as a profession, measuring it by all the
standards of success which have to do with how much salary you make,
the church you have and what kind of accomplishments your church has.
By the way, churches that do achieve a great deal, often we, who are
clergy, take a lot more credit for that than we should.”