Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Unlocking Success

Every leader is looking for the key to success. Perhaps, most of its seekers are knocking on the wrong doors.
Success, for many men, would be to have a body like Hulk Hogan's, a golf game like Tiger Woods', a brain like Albert Einstein's and the wealth of Bill Gates.

Success for many women would be to have the beauty of Catherine Zeta-Jones, the grace and poise of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and the compassion of Mother Teresa.

Every person has his or her own definition of success. First, let's clear the emotional and intellectual fog by stating what success is not:

1. Money

If you think success is money, consider these facts of life: Money can buy you a palace of breathtaking splendor, filled with priceless works of art, but money cannot buy you a home filled with love and respect from the people who live there.

Money can buy the finest physicians, but money cannot buy the God-given gift of health. Money can buy you a bed of solid gold, but it cannot buy you one minute of rest or inner peace. Money will attract legions of people to you, but money cannot buy you the treasure of one true friend. Money will buy books, but money cannot buy brains.

King Solomon, the richest monarch in ancient Israel whose horse stables had gold-plated hinges on every door, said, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income" (Eccl. 5:10, NIV).

Solomon is not the only man who realized that money does not buy rest or inner peace. Centuries later, Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers, said: "Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way."

2. Reaching a Goal

I have been a minister for more than 45 years, and I've heard legions of people boast of reaching long-sought goals, and then sitting down and dying. Reaching their goals destroyed them. Reaching a goal can destroy you via stagnation and the illusion of accomplishment.

I believe in goals as long as they do not become gods. Goals must be targets and not terminal destinations. Successful people are motivated to exceed their goals.

Success for many people is nothing more than fantasy. They fantasize: "Someday my dreams will come true. Someday my ship will come in."

Are you living there? Are you looking for a place in your personal or professional life where you can level off and stagnate at a destination that will be a last stop before the graveyard? If so, your goal has become your god.

3. Power

Adolf Hitler had absolute power over Germany in one of history's most brutal and bloody dictatorships, but on April 30, 1945, Hitler blew his brains out, hiding in his bunker with a handful of fellow Nazi fanatics. He ordered his body to be burned to prevent the Germans from mocking his corpse as the Italians mocked Benito Mussolini's, who was hung upside down.

Like scores of dictators and so-called world leaders before and after him, Hitler had absolute power, but he was not successful.

Long ago, the apostle Paul stood, bound in chains, before Felix, a Roman governor. Paul reasoned with Felix about the "righteousness ... and the judgment to come" (Acts 24:25, NKJV). The Bible record states that Felix shook so violently he could hardly sit on the throne.

He had absolute power of the Roman Empire behind him, yet he shook before a prisoner who successfully described his faith in Jesus Christ and the truth of what his Savior had done. Yes, Felix had power, but power is not success.

4. Circumstances

Some of the world's greatest men and women have been saddled with disabilities, but they have managed to overcome them.

Cripple a man, and you have Sir Walter Scott. Lock a man in a prison cell, and you have John Bunyan. Bury a man in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have George Washington. Raise a man in bitter poverty, and you have Abraham Lincoln. Subject a man to bitter religious prejudice, and you have Benjamin Disraeli. Strike a man with infantile paralysis, and you have Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The world is not interested in the storms you encountered, but they want to know: Did you bring in the ship? Success is not found in your circumstance; it's found in overcoming your circumstance.

5. 'Having It All'

Anyone who tells you that you can have it all is lying.

Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a rich man who was never satisfied. He always wanted more, more, more. One day this rich man heard of a wonderful chance to get more land. For a thousand rubles he could have all the territory he could walk around in a day. But he would have to make it back to the starting point by sundown or he would lose it all.

This wealthy man arose early and set out. He walked on and on, thinking he could get just a little more land if he kept going further and further. But he went so far that he realized he must walk very fast if he were to get back in time to claim the land.

As the sun got lower in the sky, he quickened his pace. Then he began to run. Finally, he came within the sight of the starting place, so he exerted his last energies, plunged over the finish line, fell to the ground and collapsed. A stream of blood poured out of his mouth, and he lay dead. His servant took a spade and dug a grave. He made it just long enough and just wide enough and buried the avaricious man.

The title of Tolstoy's story is "How Much Land Does a Man Need?" He concluded by saying, "Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed."

Success is not having it all. Success is knowing the one thing in life that God has assigned you to do and doing it with all your heart, soul, mind and body. Let us never forget the words of the apostle Paul, "One thing I do ..." (Phil. 3:13).

6. Status Quo

The status quo is stagnation. Our goal at Cornerstone Church is to be as good as we can be every day, every hour, every minute. If we're not progressively improving, we're stagnating, which is death by another name.

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it's the same problem you had last year. Do not complain about what you permit.

The leadership of our church has refused to be satisfied with maintaining the status quo, and God has blessed our endeavors. Every day we strive for continuous improvement in every department. We accept the fact that there is a better way to do everything we're doing, and we're looking for it every day.

7. Not Avoiding Criticism

How do you respond when you receive criticism from your spouse or your employer? Does criticism emotionally waste you? There are three ways to avoid criticism: do nothing, be nothing, say nothing.

Success is not avoiding criticism, because this is impossible. Success is learning how to receive criticism without fear as you replace your defense mechanism with honesty, love, forgiveness and a sense of humor. The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined with praise than saved with criticism.

Criticism is one of God's finest shaping tools. In the hands of an expert it can transform us from self-centered individuals into people who live and act like Jesus. But most of us have failed to realize that criticism can be beneficial.

There are two kinds of criticism: justified and unjustified. How do you tell the difference? Criticism that is justified has at least a measure of truth in it. Unjustified criticism is criticism that contains no truth. Stop hiding from the truth. Every one of us can improve what we're doing and the way in which it's being done. Criticism may be the key that opens the door to self-discovery.

The Secret's Out

In his latest book, megachurch pastor John Hagee shares his formula for success: bulldog faith.

During the early days of his ministry, John Hagee was not what people would consider successful. In his new book, The Seven Secrets: Unlocking Genuine Greatness, the pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio shares his humble beginnings with readers.

He slept in a garage for a year when he first began preaching--and he shared the cramped space with a Great Dane. He lived on $7,000 during the first three years of ministry and worked odd jobs to keep food on the table.

He suffered setbacks and failures. He was criticized and analyzed. Religious people investigated every word he spoke from his pulpit.

But today, pastors who walk into his 5,000-seat sanctuary, situated on a $40 million plot of land in San Antonio, want to know Hagee's formula for success.

Known for his Texas twang and belligerent preaching style, Hagee puts it simply. He became successful because he maintained a contagiously positive attitude in the face of adversity. He laughed at his problems and never took no for an answer--even when the devil whispered the word impossible.

Success, Hagee says, is the result of what he calls "bulldog faith."

"God does not consult your past to determine your future," Hagee often tells his congregation. "Yesterday ended last night. Look forward to today in Jesus' name!"

Hagee admits that certain things in his past--such as his mother's strong work ethic and his experiences on the football field--shaped his message. But he insists that past mistakes alone will not destroy a person. It is how he or she responds to those failures that determines the final outcome.

"Losers focus on what they are going through," he tells his church, sounding much like an athletic coach. "Winners focus on what they are going to."

Although Hagee's book might be considered a successful motivational tool, it goes deeper than the typical you-can-do-it books that are popular among salespeople. Using characters from Scripture, Hagee challenges Christians to shake loose from negative attitudes that steal faith and limit achievement. He is especially hard on those who make criticism a career.

Hagee writes: "A person with a critical spirit is someone who has divorced hope and married despair."

Professional critics and habitual whiners won't like The Seven Secrets--particularly when Hagee tells those who are dealing with hurt, failure and betrayal to simply "get over it!" But his forceful words provide strong medicine for any Christian leader who is interested in achieving their full potential in God.

To order your own copy of The Seven Secrets, call 1-800-599-5750 or visit

The author of several best-selling books, John Hagee is the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, a thriving nondenominational church with more than 17,000 members.

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