Understanding Success in Transformational Development (TD)

NOTE May 2019. This paragraph by Parker J. Palmer, On the Brink of Everything, pp. 70-71, deserves your reflection. “As long as we are wedded to results, we’ll take on smaller and smaller tasks, the only ones that yield results. If we want to live by values like love, truth, and justice — values that will never be fully achieved — “faithfulness” is the only standard that will do. When I die, I won’t be asking about the bottom line. I will be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, and to the ways I engaged those needs with my gifts — faithful, that is, to the value, rightness, and truth of offering the world the best I had, as best I could.”

Typically a program evaluator makes judgments about the different ways that a program was successful or not. Understanding the features of success in a transformational development program is essential for facilitating TE.

Cook (1974, p. 13) lists six propositions about success from a scriptural perspective. Because the worldly notions of success are not consistent with godly notions it is important to think carefully about the words that are used to describe the features of success. Cook’s detailed discussion in the book points in directions that are based in Scripture, but he could have indicated this more explicitly in this list. Cook’s propositions are bullet points; my comments are marked with FGC. 

  • God is interested in me being successful, provided my definition of success is correct. 

FGC. God is interested in me being successful in the emerging kingdom of God, which is in conflict with the world. Success in the kingdom is very different from success in the world. God deeply desires that I be faithful to him in all matters; this is the image of success to keep before me. 

  • God should know more about success than anyone that has ever written about success. 

FGC. God knows more about success in the kingdom than anyone that has ever written about success. God in the person of Jesus demonstrated exactly what success looks like. 

  • God has put man into the world to succeed, not fail. 

FGC. God has put man into the world to succeed, not fail, in loving God and neighbor. I succeed in the kingdom as I act with love in all things. 

  • God is interested in our goals – interested in helping me formulate some that would benefit me tremendously. 

FGC. God is interested in how I choose to live my life, and will help me live in a godly way in the fallen world. The benefit of doing this is indescribable joy in all circumstances. 

Worldly success is often defined in terms of achieving personal goals. The problem with ‘achieving’ is the implication that I must work hard, which obscures the fact that devotion is more important to God than effort.  The problem with ‘personal goals’ is the implication that whatever I decide about goals is okay with God, as long as I do not hurt others. 

 Also, this statement is not helpful because an emphasis on benefiting the self is a stepping stone to sinful behavior; it obscures the fact that God’s interest is in being in relationship with me. Although God is always open to me coming to him, even as I pursue worldly goals, God is not interested in helping me achieve them. Secondly, God has promised to provide whatever I need to serve him; it is distracting to wonder about what other tremendous benefits I might receive. Finally, in our culture goal-setting is primarily about achieving selfish ends. What God desires is that I discern his plan for me as his servant, and faithfully follow that plan as circumstances evolve. 

  • God has written a book that contains excellent principles of success. 

FGC. God has written a book that contains excellent principles of success that I can apply in the emerging kingdom from this moment forward. 

  • God knows more about how to motivate man than any other authority in the field. Once he helps in the formulation of our goals, he then provides inner motivation for maximum achievement. 

FGC. God, through the Holy Spirit, knows how to motivate man more than any motivation specialist.

God does not help us formulate goals; God gives me insight into how I can fit into his plan for reconciling a fallen world back to God. Through the Holy Spirit, and only through heeding the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can I do things that fit within the plan. How much I achieve is not really relevant because I do not know how God measures achievement. I know that God desires me to be faithful in all things; perhaps this is what Cook means by ‘maximum achievement’. 

Cook, William H. 1974. Success, Motivation and the Scriptures.  Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

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