Newsletter 594 – What Should we do with Advice About Success?

success1Much of what I read and write about in these blogs concerns success, efficiency, productivity, setting and achieving goals, having an impact, and making a difference. I’ve spent a lot of my life striving to live out these values. Many of my friends, colleagues and students are the same, with our life agendas built on these cultural assumptions that are universally accepted at least in developed countries. We can be grateful for people who share their experiences in these areas.

Even so, most success-focused books, articles and or seminar topics seem built on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms and promoting ourselves. There is little difference between what is produced by Christians and the success-oriented advice that comes from non-believers. In themselves none of these values is wrong. Maybe they can’t be overlooked if we want to advance our careers and have a maximum impact. But what if they dominate our thinking, actions, and relationships as they do for many among us?

I wonder what he would have said if Jesus had written a blog on success or led seminars? The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount would be a good place to start searching for our answer. Or we could look at God’s instructions to Joshua.

Remember him? Moses lead his nation until he died and Joshua took over. God gave the new leader directions, including more information about success that we read anyplace else in the Bible. Consider this when you’re looking for success guidelines:

  • “Be strong and courageous…not afraid or discouraged” because we can believe that God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:5, 6, 9)
  • Be familiar with God’s instructions and guidelines, meditating on them consistently (Joshua 1:8)
  • Determine to seek God’s leading and follow through (Joshua1:7, 8, 16, 17)
  • With divine help, trust in God fully. Don’t depend on yourself alone. “Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5).

We can benefit from the guidance of success-oriented writers. Almost always their guidance is well intentioned. But would Jesus or the God of Joshua ever advise us to “build on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms, and promoting ourselves?” Probably my career success has been limited because I resist some of the contemporary advice givers who seem unaware of biblical guidelines. Does anyone else have similar struggles? Please comment.

20 Comments

  1. I sure needed to read this. I have been struggling with setting up a life coaching platform and I just don’t have peace about what I think I am supposed to be doing. What a feel I really should be doing is setting a up a website to give hope and encouragement to people, to challenge their way of thinking so that they see life from an eternal perspective and then develop the coaching from there. I know there is money in coaching leaders and people with disposable income. Nothing wrong with that. But, I really have a heart for the marginalized and struggling. so far, that is who I have coached. If someone does have the money I don’t hesitate to charge but I want to approach the whole concept as ministry. So, I think I’ll just go ahead, build my website, continue to coach the people God brings to me and see where He takes me.

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    1. More power to you. It is hard to live out Christian values in a secular society. We may disagree with some of the opinions of Pope Frances but he lives what he believes and many people both admire this and wonder what to do with it.

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    2. Thanks for your post “loserville.” I suspect you are not a loser and I hope that is not how you perceive yourself.

      I wonder if it would help for you to chat with somebody who might give you some fresh ideas and help in getting focused on where you really are called to go. For example, there can be value in setting up a web site but I wonder if these are over-rated. If you set this up why would anyone go there. With literally millions of websites, it is important to work with somebody who could help yours grab attention. I do not think this involves the contemporary view of success so much as finding the best way to let others know of your availability.

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  2. This is a very sobering Article. I feel slightly awkward having read it.
    I guess, at the end of the day, it’s a balance and one which provides a great opportunity to search my heart for soul-centred intentions. Thank you.

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    1. Hey Peter. The last thing I want to do is make people feel uncomfortable, but a lot of us feel uncomfortable with this conflict of values – especially when Christian success speakers seem oblivious to their promotion of values that, to some of us seem opposite to biblical teachings. I wish we could hear from somebody who is in the success-promotion field. That would be helpful.

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  3. It seems like success in the kingdom of God is a bit different from success in our earthly kingdom.
    “Lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven . . . ” (Mt 6:20).
    For most of us, most of the time, it is easy to become absorbed with accumulating treasures on earth.

    Rodger Bufford

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  4. Being one who loves to read about and teach leadership development, I recognize the world’s definition and typical growth plans. Having it reframed with God’s instruction to Joshua is excellent and will now be shared in the small group leadership training that I love to do. Thanks so much for your insight!

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  5. I really appreciate this. I’ve read some of the books and blogs by Christian authors on building your platform and much of it seems self-seeking. Although it is often couched in phrases about impacting the world for Christ it often seems to be more about promoting oneself, making money, getting known. As an Enneagram Nine one of my defaults is to further other people’s careers rather than focusing on my own. I certainly do that in my job leading a counseling center, to the detriment of my own income. I think I have to find a way to work faithfully and to present it all as an offering to God and let him make of it what he will.

    I have really enjoyed this and your previous blog, as they’ve been very helpful to me.

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  6. I wonder if Jesus and his apostles would not rather devote their efforts to making others successful? Jesus gave over all his authority to the 12 and later to 72 others. Paul raised up Silas, Titus, Timothy and a number of others, whom he charged with raising up generations of successful leaders by coaching them.
    Gladwell in his book, Outliers, demonstrated that nurture trumps nature in human success. Many of us scored high on intelligence tests, yet we remain poor, ineffectual and ignored. We will never be successful in any cultural sense of the term. Yet we have quietly coached some who have gained a reputation, because they have both nature and nurture.

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    1. I rarely think much about having a legacy but to the extent that I do, my legacy is about building up and encouraging others. If they surpass me, I rejoice and keep cheering them on. But we pay a price for this perspective. That’s OK with me (most of the time).

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  7. Yes, I struggle and end up staying silent about the excess and emphasis on self we see in the US. We’ve served as missionaries in Japan for over 30 years and have no home of our own, no property, no fancy cars, or other “trappings” of success. We don’t get raises or bonuses or perks with this job. When we return to the US I feel like I need to buy new clothes and shoes in order to “fit in” in US churches, and I work in a first world culture! Jesus modeled sacrifice and we would do well to teach and and model it more, especially to our young people who have been raised to feel entitled. I don’t think that Jesus would be pleased with Christians who have the same goals and aspirations as those who aren’t walking by faith. What makes us stand apart?

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    1. One thing that makes us stand apart is our values. I like your idea on being a model to younger people. As a professor I encounter a lot of students. Yes they often feel entitled but, maybe surprisingly, many of them also resist the self-promotion and success-driven mentality of their parents and others who are older. If you can do it, it is good to hang out with these people. The mentoring can go two ways.

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  8. GARY’S RESPONSE TO EVERYBODY. I was very much interested in your responses. Clearly you are colleagues who share my perspective and my struggles. One of my friends wrote privately to tell me he has unsubscribed to the blog of one of the most prominent success experts because of: “his self-promotion and email messages advertising his latest product…. Honestly, I appreciated what he has shared and how he wants me to [be successful] but I started to feel nauseous about the amount of self-promotion. So, I unsubscribed.”

    It is difficult for Christians to strike a balance between the desire to succeed in getting our message across and the risk of turning off people because of our promotions. I have noticed that humility and service rarely come up, at least in the success writings that I have seen.

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  9. I live in the mega-center of narcissism and Type-A living…Washington, D.C. It will creep up and bite you, even when you are fully aware the pitfalls of the “success syndrome.” I tell my students, “If you want to enjoy this wonderful city, D.C., don’t take yourself as seriously as everyone else, and don’t be surprised when someone claims credit for what you do.” The challenge is that of taking our identity TO what we do instead of FROM. Easier said than done. Let me without sin cast the first stone!

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  10. The way success is often defined (productivity, influence, $$) is only one dimension of success, albeit, a valid one. But it is not the most important dimension. I remember growing up I would often hear my parents saying something like “he is doing well for himself” and that always meant that he was making a lot of money. I never heard that phase about the quality of the person’s relationship with his wife, kids, business partners, or friends. It never meant that he was living an godly, Spirit-filled life. Success was never defined as being effective in living the gospel message of life and peace through Jesus.

    I believe that the drive to be successful is rooted in God image in us. Sadly, we reduce success to “what moth and rust corrupt and to what thieves can break into and steal.” I hope that the American church can recover a more Christo-centric definition of success–one that has appeal to those who have achieved “worldly” success only to find that they are left with a mouthful of sand.

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  11. Dear Garry, from time to time I read your articles because you seem to me a very decent, honest man in a circle of live and business coaches, mentors and other professionals. Concerning this article, I like to share my recent experience.
    Searching for some career directions towards successful and fulfilling career I turned to a few professionals and of course every one of them had some different advice for me. None of them seem to satisfy my heart enough to follow and pursue it. Finally, feeling a bit lost and praying for more light, I met a holy man with a gifts of the Holy Spirits. After praying over me he said that in pursue of my career I was following my own compass which indicates completely different, opposite direction than the compass of the Holy Spirit. So basically, God rebuke me by showing it is not my path, it is not His will to follow it. I decided to ceased all my research and spend more time to pray. After a month or so I participated in a beautiful healing service where another man of God prophesied and prayed over me about three daughters. This came as a total shock and surprise to me. Some month after, I went there again to ask him to pray that I will find my husband since God had the plan for children but it couldn’t happen without a man. The same day, in the end of the service, one man approached me asking for a phone number and telling me he is searching for a wife. Another shock and surprise for me! A couple weeks after I went to see the same prophet and ask him to pray that God will confirm the man I met is meant to be my future husband. I received my positive confirmation and now I am waiting for my new friend discernment towards that matter. I am looking forward the future although it may look totally different than I initially planned.
    Everything what I wanted to say here is God very often gives us and works through unexpected surprises. We have to be open to accept it. His plans for us are perfect but one has to believe it and search to discover them. We can have a good plans for ourselves but they are not perfect because we don’t see everything as God does. We may reach what world call success by pursuing our own plans but will God call it success too?
    Ursula

    Reply

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