by Steve Wyatt
As our church’s lead minister, I am accountable to a team of elders. A key component of that accountability involves measuring how successfully I lead us to the fulfillment of our stated mission. We call this measuring process “metrics”—a concept that sounds simple enough. And broadly speaking, it’s a truth so basic you could call it Leadership 101: “If you can’t measure it or monitor it, you can’t manage it.”
Still I struggle with how we monitor the metrics in my ministry. In the corporate world, leader teams can easily measure their mission by checking out the bottom line. But in ministry, the bottom line isn’t profit. Our God-given mission directive is all about life change.
Truth is, you and I can’t measure a changed life. But does that inherent difficulty mean you keep your feet firmly planted in mid-air? So you count some beans—membership class attenders, baptisms, and the number of people moving into small groups—even though what keeps your heart beating are the stories. In the end, it really is about the amazing stories.
I’d been struggling with this conundrum recently, so I grabbed my Bible and read about a man it describes as “successful in whatever he undertook” (2 Kings 18:7). Intrigued by such a glowing analysis, I began scribbling a list of the key metrics that percolated up from King Hezekiah’s leadership.
On the one hand, I found significant achievements I could count. For example, Hezekiah “removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles” (v. 4). He even “broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it” (v. 4).
These accomplishments were quite notable and led to the success of Judah’s divine mission. Destroying the bronze serpent was downright risky and courageous since it was something God himself instructed Moses to build but never intended as an enduring object of worship.
Most of Hezakiah’s deeds were similar to those other kings (both before and after him) had also done. Yet the Bible says “there was no one like him among all the kings of Judah” (v. 5). So why did Hezekiah receive such a glowing commendation? That’s where things get fuzzy, including:
• “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 3).
• He “trusted in the LORD” (v. 5).
• He “held fast to the LORD” (v. 6)
• He “kept the commands [of] the LORD” (v. 6).
These are important things, but how do you measure them? That’s why success can be sneaky. Sometimes it can only be revealed within the folds of someone’s story. A lot of what Hezekiah did for Judah can’t be tallied on a spreadsheet. He did many good things, but much of the good he did can only be appreciated by the telling of his story.
Even though the Bible says Hezekiah was successful in whatever he undertook, at first glance Hezekiah’s “whatever” almost took him under. As you piece through his story, you find that this king faced what can only be described as relentless setbacks. For example:
• He lost every city under his command. He was attacked by the king of Assyria, who captured all of Judah’s fortified cities (18:13).
• He lost all of his kingdom’s financial reserves. He was forced to pay, literally, a king’s ransom. A payoff that included “All the silver . . . in the temple and in the treasuries of the royal palace” (v. 15). He even “stripped off the gold” that had “covered the doors and doorposts of the temple” (v. 16).
• He lost Judah’s confidence and international standing. He was subjected to humiliation and public ridicule. Vile, accusatory abuse was heaped on him. “On what are you basing this confidence?” “You speak only empty words” (see vv. 19-25). These verbal grenades were hurled within earshot of Hezekiah’s people, goading them to panic.
At face value, the metrics on Hezekiah’s so-called “success story” seem lacking. But behind the folds of his story you’ll see what set him apart.
He was prayerful. “When [Hezekiah] heard this (Assyria’s assault against him), he . . . went into the temple” (19:1). In other words, he prayed. He didn’t launch a counter-attack, he prayed. And because he remained silent, his people did the same. They trusted his leadership primarily because he didn’t expect from them anything he wasn’t willing to do himself (see vv. 3-6).
He was discerning. Why did Hezekiah pray? Because he knew this attack was not a personal affront; these naysayers had been “sent to ridicule the living God.” So Hezekiah refused to return fire. Instead, he waited for God to “rebuke [Assyria] for the words the Lord your God has heard” (v. 4).
He was submissive to spiritual instruction. Even though Hezekiah was king, when Isaiah told him that the Lord had said, “Do not be afraid . . . I will have him cut down” (vv. 6, 7), Hezekiah took God at his word and did exactly as he was told.
There are more folds to Hezekiah’s storied success.
When a second uprising occurred, Hezekiah responded exactly as before. This amazing leader was steadfastly predictable, even in the face of relentless attack. When Hezekiah received a letter intended to scandalize his leadership, he “spread it out before the Lord” (v. 14).
What was God’s response this time? “I have heard your prayer” (v. 20). And sure enough, by morning, the king of Assyria was toast.
On another occasion, Hezekiah’s success story meant a tragic sickness. In fact, he became so sick he “was at the point of death.” Isaiah even told him, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover” (20:1).
Some people think success means wholeness. So does that mean if I’m less than whole, I’m a failure?
But instead of allowing his death sentence to drive him away from God, Hezekiah “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord” (v. 2).
That doesn’t mean he didn’t struggle. But as he struggled he prayed, pouring out his heart, reminding God that he had “walked before [God] faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and [that he had] done what is good in [God’s] eyes” (v. 3). “And yet . . . after everything else I’ve been through, now I get sick, too?”
Of course he got sick. Because everybody gets sick, just as everybody dies. But that doesn’t mean you don’t mourn the fact. The truth is, “Hezekiah wept bitterly” (v. 3).
Some might inaccurately conclude that Hezekiah was successful because after he prayed, God responded and gave Hezekiah another 15 years of life. However, receiving God’s healing wasn’t part of Hezekiah’s metrics report because healing is a God thing. Baptisms and attendance and building funds aren’t what we can own, either.
Neither can we call him successful because in answer to another prayer from Hezekiah, God “made the shadow go back the ten steps it had [already] gone down on the stairway of Ahaz” (v. 11). Making time go backward is a stunning feat, but it was a feat done by God—not Hezekiah.
What made Hezekiah successful is that he prayed. He trusted. He did what was right. The results—the metrics of his amazing story—belong exclusively to God. Hezekiah did what he could do, and then God responded by doing what he alone can do.
It’s important to note that Hezekiah didn’t always get miraculous answers to his prayer. He prayed for his people to be freed and, in time, they were freed. God told him, “I will defend this city for my sake” (v. 6).
But not until after Babylon. No, a time was coming when everything Hezekiah had struggled to build would be taken away—lock, stock and barrel—to Babylon. Nothing would be left. And all the descendants of Hezekiah’s loyal subjects would also be taken captive.
This “successful” man would lose his entire kingdom—a prophecy to which Hezekiah replied, “The word of the Lord . . . is good” (v. 19). Even though to hear that must have felt anything but good.
When it comes to success in my ministry, I simply don’t know how to measure it. But I do know this much: I want to “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). And I want those I serve to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (4:13).
So here’s my plan: I’ll do my best to do what is right. I’ll trust in the Lord and keep his commands. I will keep going to the temple. And I’ll keep praying that as I lead, more and more people will reach over into faith and then mature in their faith.
And I’ll trust God to use his “reed like a measuring rod” (Revelation 11:1) and lay it alongside the part of the temple my elders and I are trying to build . . . and that he will make the final read on the story my life has written with the same mercy with which he measured the king.
Steve Wyatt is a minister and freelance writer in Phoenix, Arizona.
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