Our world equates success with more. More influence. More opportunities. More audience. Algorithms, surveys, and analytics push us even further into the obsession of how much influence we have compared with what we used to. The world screams that we must not stop climbing the ladder of success.
This line of thinking, unfortunately, can spread within the church. As Bible teachers, small group leaders, or disciples that make disciples, we can be caught measuring our service for the kingdom by the level of influence within it. Despite readily acknowledging the importance of humility and servant leadership, we can easily get sucked into linking our spiritual growth with our upward mobility. But when it comes to discipleship in the church, we may need to rethink whether the world’s ladder is ours as well.
Not Climbing, but Placed
As Christians, we can get stuck in phrases like “using our talents” for God. Though if we aren’t careful, these good statements can cause us to forget a key truth. While God is the giver of both our spiritual gifts and our skills, we must remember that he also ordains every single way we will use them. God does not simply portion out abilities and gifts at birth and wait with bated breath while we explore and discover their full potential.
After the Israelites had been rescued from Egypt, God gave them specific instructions for the construction of the tabernacle. It was a huge task that required physical goods, money, and the talents of skilled laborers. The people supplied what God needed for this work. Men and women came with jewelry and gold to donate. Women with skillful hands spun beautiful linens to give to the tabernacle. Each gave because they had their “hearts stirred” (Ex. 35:26).
Even as we give of our resources, operate in our spiritual gifts, or use our unique skillsets for the Lord, we have no room to boast. God is always the initiator. Just as God filled Bezalel with knowledge and craftsmanship for the very work needed on the tabernacle, so God gifts us with our abilities for the ministries he will put before us (Ex. 31:2). As mentors, teachers, and servants in the church, we can’t view our service as climbing the ladder to the next rung of success because, in truth, we aren’t pulling ourselves up but are being placed on each and every level.
God has made us with skills and specific gifts for his church. He ordains every second we get to utilize them! He also plans every moment of growth in our giftings—for his planned work. We don’t need to feel the constant pressure to take our ministry to a bigger platform or higher numbers. God isn’t waiting for us to rise to a level worthy of his gift. Instead, he calls us to walk in what he’s given (Eph. 2:10), whether we are writing books thousands will read or we are sharing our life with one sister in Christ over coffee.
Freedom to Stop Comparing
As Sunday school teachers, pastors, or writers, it’s easy to look around at the saints we admire and assume that their roles should one day be our own. I’ve often found myself pressured to compare role models with my own effectiveness in ministry, to try to use my gifts as much as the person beside me, or to evaluate my ministry with numbers. And instead of walking in what God has given, I’ve added responsibilities to try to keep up. I’ve taken on tasks that I didn’t need to, sometimes to the detriment of the tasks that God did have for me. But if it’s true that God is the initiator of each level we rise to, we are all freed from the pressure to keep climbing.
Just as this frees us from the pressure to stop climbing, it also frees us from the fear of falling. Maybe our hands become too full with our current ministries. Maybe sickness or factors outside of our control has affected our ministries. Maybe God will choose to remove a ministry completely. In these challenging seasons, we don’t need to yoke ourselves to expectations God has never called us to. We can be energized by the call in 1 Peter to steward what God has given us, while remembering that the strength and skill we receive to do them is always rooted in God’s provision, not our own (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Ditch the Ladder of more
While we don’t climb the ladder the world does, we do climb a ladder. This one has nothing to do with power or prestige. The grueling climb we take in sanctification will often feel invisible to us in the everyday. This is the ladder that requires the bulk of our attention, but often it’s the one we’d rather overlook. We’d often rather focus on our ministry’s growth, small group numbers, or sermon reach rather than the difficult and invisible growth of our own hearts. We can see the negative effects of this throughout the world of celebrity Christian culture—writers caught plagiarizing to keep up with their platform or well-known pastors hiding scandalous sin. But we know that no matter how big the platform, service, or offering to Christ, it is the heart that matters to God.
Just as Samuel challenged Saul with the hypocrisy of his outward worship while harboring a heart of disobedience, we need to question ourselves often. Scripture shows that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). We may draw the biggest crowds to our Bible studies, worship nights, or website pages, but these outward expressions of service and expression must overflow from an obedient heart, one that is growing in sanctification each day.
God has called us to “be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:15). We don’t have a prerequisite of perfection before we disciple anybody else, but our heart posture should always prioritize the ladder of sanctification before any other growth we expect in the ministries God has given us. This is the ladder that matters. Growth in holiness. Growth in our affections for Jesus. Growth in the things that God loves!
Progress in our sanctification may seem hard to see, but it is one that will give lasting effect to those around us. It’s through our sanctification we know how to better love our brothers and sisters. As we slowly kill sin in our own lives, we are able to disciple those around us to fight harder in their own struggles. The slow, steady climb up the sanctification ladder may not make any headlines, spark viral posts, or get us a book deal, but it shows those we disciple—whether they be children, friends, or co-workers—the beauty of the steadfast faithfulness of the Spirit in our lives.
Faithful on Every Rung
While the world pushes us to climb up, we are called to something quite different. Our king calls us to be faithful. Paul told the church in Philippi, “to hold true to what we have attained” (Phil. 3:16). Not what they will attain. Not what they think they needed to attain. Rather, what they already had attained in Christ. Likewise, we don’t have to worry about the next upward move or feel the pressure of the numbers, but instead remain faithful knowing he is in control.
Our reward isn’t in power, prestige, or fame—but in Christ.
Along with the heroes of Hebrews 11, we can’t fix our eyes on the fleeting ladder of “success” by the world’s standards. Instead, we look to the eternal glory, which is ours, not because of numbers but because of faithfulness (Heb. 11:13-16).
Let’s grow in knowledge and skill, but let’s ditch the ladder of more, for the ladder of sanctification, the one that brings us closer to the image of our God. This is our true goal in discipleship—and it’s one that can be accomplished whether we grow to 30,000 followers or thirty. This kind of faithfulness will bless our churches, our neighborhoods, and every ministry God has given to us today and every ministry he will place us in tomorrow.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.