What is success?

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed early this morning, a headline caught my attention:


“How Shauna Niequist became successful by not trying to be”


Written by Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service, the author noted that despite being the wife of a well-known musician (Aaron Niequest) and the daughter of a well-known pastor (Bill Hybels), Shauna refuses to live in their shadow. Shauna has authored several books, including Bread and Wine and Bittersweet. Merritt noted that Shauna’s new book, Present over Perfect, has landed the #2 spot on the “New York Times” best-seller list. He continues:


“Interestingly, this [her] success did not come just from writing a beautiful piece of literature. Although the book qualified. It also didn’t come through snippets of practical advice, though the book is chock full of those, too. No, her success came from not trying to be successful. From just being herself.” (Emphasis added)


Lots of people are just being themselves but their books don’t make it to the NY Times best-seller list. Are we supposed to believe that Niequist acheived this “from not trying to be successful”?


One commenter noted the obvious:


“Ok—I resisted the temptation, but now I am yielding. The thesis of the article is wanting. When your dad is Bill Hybels and his friends like John Ortberg push your stuff, one has the connections to be successful. And I guess there are many, many more connections/resources than those that we don't know about. No doubt she is a fine writer, but the average person does not have access to these connections. She wrote the book (books) so she must be trying to do something! (The title said she was trying not to be. I think not.) BTW, I greatly admire both Hybels and Ortberg. I have no axe to grind here. We just need to be honest about privilege and celebrity when it is present.” (Emphasis added.)


I agree. I have no axe to grind with Hybels, Ortberg or Niequest. I actually like her writing, at least the preface she wrote for her friend Nish Weiseth’s book, Speak. I liked it so much I shared it with a group of women but really, with her connections, Niequest doesn’t have to try hard to get published, which is what Merrit meant by success.


When a writer is well connected to someone with a large platform, like if your father is the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church with a weekly attendance of 24,000, you are more likely to get a contract for your book. Large platform means more visibility means more sales which means more profit for the publisher. And profit is the bottom line in publishing, whether it is Zondervan or Harper & Row.


On the other hand, if you have no platform and no connections, publishers have no interest in you, whether you are a gifted writer or not. So as the commenter said, lets “be honest about privlege and celebrity.”


This article begs the question of how Christians define “success” (or it should). Is success having a lot of subscribers to your blog? Is it having a large congregation? Or having a book on the NY Times best seller list?


I don’t think so.


The ministries of the people I admire the most are unknown to the Christian media machine, meaning that they have no platform. They just love God and love the people God puts on their path—students, patients, coworkers and friends. You wouldn’t recognize their name and thats they way they want it. So are they successful or not?


Its been said that what we do in private is more important than what we do in public when it comes to following God.


Maybe we all need to be reminded of this truth once in a while, or is it just me? As a fatherless daughter with no name and no connections, as a writer of a book with minimal sales and a blog with a small but devoted readership, it might sound like I am bitter. I am not but like many of you, I need to remember what following God is all about. Its not about celebrity, branding, size of platform or “success.” It is about loving God and loving people.


The prophet Micah (and Eugene Peterson) put it this way:


God already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (Micah 6:8 MSG)


And that’s the way I see it.




GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com. 


You can access Merritt’s article here.