How do we define success?
It’s no secret that there’s a strong undercurrent of discouragement and despair in the conservation community. Given the challenges we’re up against, it’s hardly surprising.
Needs can be overwhelming, with pollution, biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, climate disruption and many other challenges pressing up against us relentlessly. How can we possibly fix them all?
Expectations can be just as numerous and challenging—whether from foundations, individual donors, political entities, or the local communities where we work. How can we possibly please everyone?
Those working in the broad and interrelated fields of conservation and development are blessed with valuable and meaningful labor. We get to spend our days serving and protecting the people and places we love. But it sure isn’t easy.
Over the last decade, I’ve been involved in a number of creation care nonprofits including A Rocha USA, a start-up called Renewal, the Evangelical Environmental Network, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, and the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. Looking back on this time, and all its highs and lows, I wrote Doing Good Without Giving Up (IVP 2014) to share what God has been teaching me, how he has sustained me and others in our various callings, and where our faith and hope come from.
The book’s premise is straightforward. Change is still possible and remarkable things will continue to be accomplished. But there are two things we need to get right.
First, we need to learn how to persevere. This is a weakness in our instant era where we expect things to happen easily and quickly. Significant and lasting progress, however, is usually hard, slow, and incremental. But it can happen, and it’s worth it if we don’t give up.
Second, as CS Lewis put it, we don’t get second things by placing them first; we get second things by keeping first things first. We all want change in the world. But our first calling as Christians is to faithfulness. And faithfulness, the Bible says, is what leads to fruitfulness: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches,’ Jesus taught. ‘If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).
The world typically defines success by measurable metrics of effectiveness. No results; no success. But, if our work is primarily in response to God, then we don’t define success by effectiveness, but rather by faithfulness. The empowering reality is that it’s not ultimately up to us to fix or save the world—we couldn’t if we tried. Out of God’s great love, however, we get to be partners in the great ongoing process of redemption and restoration.
So if we really want to make a difference, then our goal is to be faithful to Jesus, the true Savior of the world. We trust that God will use our efforts—whether we are working on agroforestry projects, environmental education initiatives, species monitoring and conservation, climate advocacy, clean energy innovation, or anything else—and bring them to fruition, even if we don’t see the results. And even if the results are quite different than what we expected.
Mother Teresa put it this way: ‘I am doing my work with Jesus, I am doing it for Jesus, I am doing it to Jesus, and therefore the results are his, not mine.’
Amen. May God give us the grace to stay rooted together in Christ, as we strive to faithfully seek first his kingdom and righteousness in this good but groaning creation.
(Portions of this post were adapted from a previously published article: http://www.redletterchristians.org/good-without-giving/)