Winning is Overrated: How ministry is not all about “the win”

Chess is a game of iterative steps to the strategic capture of the king. Often times, it seems leaders in church ministry might use this Machiavellian approach, seeing church members and leaders as pawns or bishops. The “enemy” must be wounded beyond repair, or enough to never strike back. All these steps fuel typical politics. Winners means losers are created. But, in a church leadership culture we might gain more by have a different ethic than simply winning.

I have loved the language of modern church leadership with a respected author’s words: “clarify the win” and such. How about clarifying the loss? How about counting the cost in real human terms as a metric rather than simply putting ministry in the lingo of ROI and metrics. If we keep a balance sheet, losing is really where it is at. Winning makes us feel great. And, morale is indeed important. But, in our day that metric-to-deaths everything, do we really end up earning anything by it?

In order to find our actual win, we have to be able to count the real cost. The Rich Young Ruler had to contemplate the win of following Jesus after he would lose all earthly possession and status. The Widow’s Mite is something a woman lost in order to offer an expensive gift to God. The math of striving, squeezing, and beating the odds make sense in business, but not in the church.

In the business of church the math of people with messy lives means that love is an uncontainable metric. It is valued and counted only as it is spent. Or, lost. This loss is your time, your hobby, your status, and maybe even money. To lose is to win. What if we flip a phrase and say this: “Lose the whole world and gain your soul.” Winning is overrated.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

40 comments

  1. Wow, that’s a scorcher RK! I think Steve Taylor had a song called “Jesus is for Losers” Ministry to the hurting is by definition a “loss leader”. As far as the Machiavellian political implications, well that’s another topic… 🙂

  2. Wow, that’s a scorcher RK! I think Steve Taylor had a song called “Jesus is for Losers” Ministry to the hurting is by definition a “loss leader”. As far as the Machiavellian political implications, well that’s another topic… 🙂

  3. Wow, that’s a scorcher RK! I think Steve Taylor had a song called “Jesus is for Losers” Ministry to the hurting is by definition a “loss leader”. As far as the Machiavellian political implications, well that’s another topic… 🙂

  4. Wow, that’s a scorcher RK! I think Steve Taylor had a song called “Jesus is for Losers” Ministry to the hurting is by definition a “loss leader”. As far as the Machiavellian political implications, well that’s another topic… 🙂

  5. Wow, that’s a scorcher RK! I think Steve Taylor had a song called “Jesus is for Losers” Ministry to the hurting is by definition a “loss leader”. As far as the Machiavellian political implications, well that’s another topic… 🙂

  6. If to lose is to win, then is winning really overrated?

    1. Guy, like Rob says below, ministry is a “loss leader”–efficiency is not always the goal, as in business.

      Our metrics are not always what our culture dictates. Example: It is not efficient to build into young adults rather than placate older members, because they may not give to a church money right away. But, in the Kingdom, we can develop a life-long servant worth more than their financial offering could ever be worth. We should challenge any thinking when it does not match people above our programs, buildings, vision, salaries, etc.

      1. I just could not decifer by the use of those two statements (“to lose is to win” and “winning is overrated”) if you are saying we should not go for the win or that we need to redefine the win.

        1. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

  7. If to lose is to win, then is winning really overrated?

    1. Guy, like Rob says below, ministry is a “loss leader”–efficiency is not always the goal, as in business.
      Our metrics are not always what our culture dictates. Example: It is not efficient to build into young adults rather than placate older members, because they may not give to a church money right away. But, in the Kingdom, we can develop a life-long servant worth more than their financial offering could ever be worth. We should challenge any thinking when it does not match people above our programs, buildings, vision, salaries, etc.

      1. I just could not decifer by the use of those two statements (“to lose is to win” and “winning is overrated”) if you are saying we should not go for the win or that we need to redefine the win.

        1. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

  8. If to lose is to win, then is winning really overrated?

    1. Guy, like Rob says below, ministry is a “loss leader”–efficiency is not always the goal, as in business.

      Our metrics are not always what our culture dictates. Example: It is not efficient to build into young adults rather than placate older members, because they may not give to a church money right away. But, in the Kingdom, we can develop a life-long servant worth more than their financial offering could ever be worth. We should challenge any thinking when it does not match people above our programs, buildings, vision, salaries, etc.

      1. I just could not decifer by the use of those two statements (“to lose is to win” and “winning is overrated”) if you are saying we should not go for the win or that we need to redefine the win.

        1. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

  9. If to lose is to win, then is winning really overrated?

    1. Guy, like Rob says below, ministry is a “loss leader”–efficiency is not always the goal, as in business.

      Our metrics are not always what our culture dictates. Example: It is not efficient to build into young adults rather than placate older members, because they may not give to a church money right away. But, in the Kingdom, we can develop a life-long servant worth more than their financial offering could ever be worth. We should challenge any thinking when it does not match people above our programs, buildings, vision, salaries, etc.

      1. I just could not decifer by the use of those two statements (“to lose is to win” and “winning is overrated”) if you are saying we should not go for the win or that we need to redefine the win.

        1. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

  10. If to lose is to win, then is winning really overrated?

    1. Guy, like Rob says below, ministry is a “loss leader”–efficiency is not always the goal, as in business.

      Our metrics are not always what our culture dictates. Example: It is not efficient to build into young adults rather than placate older members, because they may not give to a church money right away. But, in the Kingdom, we can develop a life-long servant worth more than their financial offering could ever be worth. We should challenge any thinking when it does not match people above our programs, buildings, vision, salaries, etc.

      1. I just could not decifer by the use of those two statements (“to lose is to win” and “winning is overrated”) if you are saying we should not go for the win or that we need to redefine the win.

        1. Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

  11. Part of the issue are the metrics themselves.  The institutional church uses metrics like attendance and giving to measure success.  And there are other unspoken metrics as well—like how cool your music is, or how American Idol your worship leader appears, or how good “the show” is on Sunday morning.
    But God’s Kingdom economy is peculiar, and not at all like ours.  The
    first shall be last.  The least of these is the greatest.  The meek will
    inherit the earth.  And to be great in His Kingdom, you must be a
    servant of all.  It is certainly true that real ministry (the kind that involves life change in people) is messy, exhausting, often unfruitful and certainly unmeasurable.  But it is also sacred, intimate, rewarding. 

    In the end, if God is to measure us at all, it will be in terms of our faithfulness, our humility, our ability to pour out ourselves in faith and hope and love.

    1. You state well the point that God is the one who will measure, so we should in the end of our life expect God to size us up for what we have done or not done. The church as his bride will be judged. So, how do we measure what God measures? And, how do we do this without blowing apart the sacred institution of his church?

  12. Part of the issue are the metrics themselves.  The institutional church uses metrics like attendance and giving to measure success.  And there are other unspoken metrics as well—like how cool your music is, or how American Idol your worship leader appears, or how good “the show” is on Sunday morning.
    But God’s Kingdom economy is peculiar, and not at all like ours.  The
    first shall be last.  The least of these is the greatest.  The meek will
    inherit the earth.  And to be great in His Kingdom, you must be a
    servant of all.  It is certainly true that real ministry (the kind that involves life change in people) is messy, exhausting, often unfruitful and certainly unmeasurable.  But it is also sacred, intimate, rewarding. 
    In the end, if God is to measure us at all, it will be in terms of our faithfulness, our humility, our ability to pour out ourselves in faith and hope and love.

    1. You state well the point that God is the one who will measure, so we should in the end of our life expect God to size us up for what we have done or not done. The church as his bride will be judged. So, how do we measure what God measures? And, how do we do this without blowing apart the sacred institution of his church?

  13. Part of the issue are the metrics themselves.  The institutional church uses metrics like attendance and giving to measure success.  And there are other unspoken metrics as well—like how cool your music is, or how American Idol your worship leader appears, or how good “the show” is on Sunday morning.
    But God’s Kingdom economy is peculiar, and not at all like ours.  The
    first shall be last.  The least of these is the greatest.  The meek will
    inherit the earth.  And to be great in His Kingdom, you must be a
    servant of all.  It is certainly true that real ministry (the kind that involves life change in people) is messy, exhausting, often unfruitful and certainly unmeasurable.  But it is also sacred, intimate, rewarding. 

    In the end, if God is to measure us at all, it will be in terms of our faithfulness, our humility, our ability to pour out ourselves in faith and hope and love.

    1. You state well the point that God is the one who will measure, so we should in the end of our life expect God to size us up for what we have done or not done. The church as his bride will be judged. So, how do we measure what God measures? And, how do we do this without blowing apart the sacred institution of his church?

  14. Part of the issue are the metrics themselves.  The institutional church uses metrics like attendance and giving to measure success.  And there are other unspoken metrics as well—like how cool your music is, or how American Idol your worship leader appears, or how good “the show” is on Sunday morning.
    But God’s Kingdom economy is peculiar, and not at all like ours.  The
    first shall be last.  The least of these is the greatest.  The meek will
    inherit the earth.  And to be great in His Kingdom, you must be a
    servant of all.  It is certainly true that real ministry (the kind that involves life change in people) is messy, exhausting, often unfruitful and certainly unmeasurable.  But it is also sacred, intimate, rewarding. 

    In the end, if God is to measure us at all, it will be in terms of our faithfulness, our humility, our ability to pour out ourselves in faith and hope and love.

    1. You state well the point that God is the one who will measure, so we should in the end of our life expect God to size us up for what we have done or not done. The church as his bride will be judged. So, how do we measure what God measures? And, how do we do this without blowing apart the sacred institution of his church?

  15. Part of the issue are the metrics themselves.  The institutional church uses metrics like attendance and giving to measure success.  And there are other unspoken metrics as well—like how cool your music is, or how American Idol your worship leader appears, or how good “the show” is on Sunday morning.
    But God’s Kingdom economy is peculiar, and not at all like ours.  The
    first shall be last.  The least of these is the greatest.  The meek will
    inherit the earth.  And to be great in His Kingdom, you must be a
    servant of all.  It is certainly true that real ministry (the kind that involves life change in people) is messy, exhausting, often unfruitful and certainly unmeasurable.  But it is also sacred, intimate, rewarding. 

    In the end, if God is to measure us at all, it will be in terms of our faithfulness, our humility, our ability to pour out ourselves in faith and hope and love.

    1. You state well the point that God is the one who will measure, so we should in the end of our life expect God to size us up for what we have done or not done. The church as his bride will be judged. So, how do we measure what God measures? And, how do we do this without blowing apart the sacred institution of his church?

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