What Is A Successful Christian?

What makes a successful Christian? Who’s number one on God’s “most impressive Christian” list? Is it:

  • The mega-church pastor who preaches six times on Sundays, writes chart-topping books, and has his own podcast with really cool rock music (probably U2) at the beginning? Maybe.
  • The children’s ministry volunteer who dispenses fifty-three pounds of goldfish crackers to sweaty three-year olds every Sunday? Maybe.
  • The homeschooling mom who deals with large volumes of laundry and baby poop on a daily basis? Maybe.

In Matthew 25:14-28 Jesus spells out a blueprint for success that’s very different from our standard definitions of success. You know the story. A master is preparing for a journey and starts dishing out the Benjamin’s to his servants.

The first servant gets five talents, the second gets two talents, and the third gets one talent.  Servants one and two immediately hit the streets, putting their talents to work in the cause of the master. Servant number three digs a hole and buries his talent. The master returns.

Servant number one stands before his master and presents him with ten talents, a return of 100%. Servant number two? One-hundred percent ROI. Servant number three presents the master with a big fat nothing. He simply returns the talent he was given.

The response of the master is incredible. To the first two servants he says:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.

No reference to the numbers. No talk of the bottom line. The master highlights the faithfulness of the servants. You have been faithful over a little. That’s it.

A successful Christian is someone who faithfully uses their talents and circumstances to further the cause of God. Numbers don’t equal success. God is impressed with faithfulness. The faithful pastor of 20 is just as pleasing as the faithful pastor of 2,000. The faithful small group leader is just as pleasing as the faithful mega-conference worship leader. God doesn’t ask for big results, he just asks for faithfulness.

So the question of the day/year/century/eternity is: are you faithful?

+photo by Xavier Fargas

  • Matt Taylor

    Do you think we as Christians are hindering ourselves by using ambiguous statements like “be faithful”? What does it look like to be faithful? In the parable you mentioned the servants brought back double what they were given. That may seem like a burden to some.
    Maybe what this parable is trying to teach us is to go out and use what God has provided for us to do GREAT things for his kingdom because we serve a GREAT God who wants to show it to others.
    Which leads us back to another ambiguous statement. But in this statement there is vision and hope and passion. God provides. How much faith do you have that he wants to use you to do great things with what he has given you for his name?
    Thank you for you thought provoking post. May God bless you in your continued faithfulness in honoring him though them.
    In Christ,
    Matt

  • http://www.biblicalservanthood.com NP

    hmmm I would think that any Christian is inherently successful. I mean what could be more sucess defining than eternal life with a holy God.
    I would be careful assigning sucess to the Christian Life based on your definition – even though its a great thing to apply and do. Sucess for the Christian has already been acheived now let us all just act like it. – thats where yoiur definition comes in.

    NP

  • http://spiritfilledpuritan.com Arthur Costigan

    Stephen,

    I would think the term success should be defined by God. I think of Psalm 1.

  • Stephen Altrogge

    Matt – That’s a great question, and thought. I don’t want to move away from the statement “be faithful” because that statement originates with Jesus, not me. He commends the servants for their faithfulness, not for the amount of success they had. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we should strive to great things for God. I think the trouble comes when we define great in terms of a number or a definite outcome. Rather, from this passage it would appear that God is ultimately concerned with our faithfulness. Does that make sense?

    NP – Yes, I agree. In Christ we are “successful” in God’s eyes. I was speaking more of the spiritual efforts we put forth. I think it becomes dangerous when we define the success of our spiritual efforts (evangelism, preaching, care group leading, etc.) based on a specific outcome.

    Art – I totally agree. But am I missing something here? It seems like in this passage God does give us a definition of success, namely faithfulness. At the judgment the master commends the servants for their faithfulness and rebukes the one servant for his unfaithfulness. And it seems like Psalm 1 would fit under this definition of success. Just my thoughts.

    Thanks for all the helpful comments!

  • http://www.worshipfulreader.blogspot.com Ron Reffett

    Hey Stephen,
    Great post, I have always loved and been extremely convicted by that verse of Scripture. There is great comfort in knowing that the talents were given according to their abilities. As you said in your post, success is not defined by numbers or if we are playing music before 1000′s of people every week, while those things are nice we should never define our success by them. If we are faithful in the little He has given us, He will set us over much. Very encouraging post, as always!
    Blessings
    Ron Reffett

  • Matthew

    Part of the success is correctly spelling “success” in being a “successful” (not “sucessful”) Christian :)

  • Stephen Altrogge

    Ahhh, good point matthew!

  • http://lamentations324.blogspot.com Lee Shaver

    While I certainly agree that the “success” of what it means to be a Christian is not a matter of numbers, a blog entry I read a while back does make me question your interpretation of the parable of the talents. While we have often seen the “talents” to refer to something much broader than just “money,” would Jesus’ original audience have interpreted it that way? Probably not, suggests David Henson from unorthodoxology: http://unorthodoxology.blogspot.com/2008/11/parable-of-talents-slave-narrative_15.html

  • Stephen Altrogge

    Lee – Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    However, I would disagree with the thoughts of David Henson. Henson seems to be promoting a type of liberation theology, which I don’t believe is scriptural. I don’t believe Jesus’ original audience would have interpreted the word “talent” as related to freedom, injustice, etc. The surrounding context of the parable is speaking about the final coming of Christ and the rewards we will receive on that day.

  • Mike

    Excellent and convicting post!
    I feel that John Piper would say something along the lines of “Don’t waste your unemployment!”
    :-)

  • http://ke4juh.wordpress.com/ Jim Brown

    Amen.

    There are so many that get caught up in numbers and loose their way, how many churches go through an expansion or building project and then experience a major backslide?

    I heard a sermon, I believe it was Alistair Begg (Truth for Life), where the question was asked who is the more successful evangelist, Billy Graham or a man who thoroughly disciples one new believer per year. Many would say the answer is obvious, Billy Graham preaches to thousands, even hundreds of thousands, at a time and gets many new professions of faith every time he preaches. Here’s the catch, if the other man creates just one new disciple the first year and in the second year the new disciple and that man each disciple just one man each year, this pattern can only repeat for sixty three years before the entire world population would be disciples of Jesus. Of course this ignores those who profess faith and then fall away but when you consider that the answer leans even more to the man with a single disciple as those who hear the word once and profess faith with thousands are certainly more likely to fall away than one who is taught the truth one on one for an entire year.