Consider this definition of true success by Peter Leithart and then apply it to ministry.
We think success means being so good or great that no one can do without us, yet a successful scholar is one whose work continues in his students long after he retires, and a successful entrepreneur is one whose company chugs merrily along while he’s taking a holiday on the beach. A successful parent is one who, eventually, doesn’t have to be there.
Success is a movement into invisibility. Success is decreasing so that others may increase. Success is a seed dying in the ground and bearing fruit upward. Success is becoming dispensable. The successful man is one who will not be missed. (Peter J. Leithart, “Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity”, June 2009, Pg. 6)
That final line cuts against the grain of what we would usually consider successful ministry. The world tells us that we won’t be successful unless we’re remembered. Perhaps true greatness is found in being unknown.
Someone once told me that we should worry about effectiveness in ministry rather than success. A stick of dynamite that blows up on the ground is successful: it did exactly what it was designed to do, but a few weeks later the wind and the rain will erase any memory of that explosion. However, if you drill a hole down in a rock and place that same stick down in the hole, that stick of dynamite will become effective. The effects of that blast will live on for centuries. God give us that kind of effective ministry success.