Our church has recently experienced some numerical growth in our Sunday attendance. I am grateful and admittedly excited about this trend. I don’t know of many preachers who feel discouraged when numbers are going up! But I also find myself quickly checking my motives regarding numeric growth. In the back of my mind I am always aware that God’s blessing can easily turn into Will’s doing. To help keep things in balance I am drawn back to scripture. There, God does his work on my heart and reminds me who is in charge. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church I am reminded of four godly attitudes all of us need to have concerning church growth.
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.(1 Corinthians 3:1-7)
Be Content and bloom where you are planted
When Paul addresses the church at Corinth he first rebukes them for an unhealthy practice of the comparison game between church leaders. Some were saying “I follow Apollos,” others, “I follow Paul…” Even in the first century the church fell prey to the comparison game. Oh how things seldom change! How often do we as preachers and church leaders do the same. We observe other local churches with disdain and frustration just because they are larger or have been blessed in ways we have not. Bob Russell, former minister of Southeast Christian Church, reminds us all that no matter how big your church gets, this comparison game is always raising its ugly head:
(Russell, Bob, After Fifty Years of Ministry, 82-83.)
“A few years into my ministry Southeast Christian Church was listed in a national religious magazine as the six fastest growing church in America. That was a big ego boost… For about 10 minutes. Then I begin asking “who are those other five? Are they telling the truth? I wonder if we can get ahead of them and be number one next year.… Take it from someone who has been blessed to be in a church that grew steadily for a long time. Enough is never enough.”
Instead of playing the comparison game we need to be content and bloom where we are planted. We need to recognize the God has called us to the church we are serving. Thus, He is requiring faithfulness, not fruitfulness from our ministry. Furthermore, Instead of comparing ourselves to the unique outcome of other churches around us, perhaps we call up our fellow church leaders and thank them for their service—even if you don’t agree with all their programs and methodology!
Do the hard work and don’t become complacent
Notice in the passage, Paul says he and Apollos planted and watered! Though we are called to be content where God has placed us, it does not mean we are called to be complacent. There is a large difference between contentment and complacency. Many times we don’t see growth because we are not willing to do the hard work! Paul says elsewhere:
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.(Col. 1:29). The word translated “struggling” is where we get our English word “agonize” from. We can’t complain about stunted growth when we fail to put in the hard work.
Contentment is a settled conviction and resolve that you have given it your best. Complacency is settling for mediocrity but expecting the result of hard work.
Thom Rainer offers Characteristics of a complacent church in his book “Autopsy of a deceased Church.” If these characterize your church perhaps you are placing personal comfort over Purposeful growth.
- The Past is the hero—“we’ve never done it that way before.”
- The church refuses to look like the community—“We don’t want new visitors taking our seats”
- The great commission becomes the great omission—These churches are internally focused.
- The Preference –driven church—These churches are never open to change in methodology.
Trust that God will give the growth
Notice the passage again, Paul says—“But God gave the growth”And again in Colossians 1: For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.(Col. 1:29)
This is what should keep every Church leader in check—no matter what happens in the church, all the glory, and all the praise, for any success, deserves to go to God and Him alone!
Additionally, when we realize that God is the one who ultimately grows the church we can rest at ease when it comes to the results. If we are giving it our all and willing to “struggle” for the ministry, we should rest our heads on the pillow of grace every night, knowing God will take it from there! And as Al Mohler has said, “Leaders often overestimate what can be accomplished in a single year, but underestimate what can be accomplished in a decade.” (Mohler, Albert, The Conviction to Lead, 194.) Keep persevering fellow Pastor! You plant and water and let God grow the church.
I absolutely love verse 7: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
If you ever get to a point where you think the success of your ministry is because of your talent, skill, and charisma, you have arrived at the very opposite end of where God wants you.
The healthy church leader always recognizes that we are merely servants of Christ (see 3:5) and in reality ‘nothing.” It is God who gets the praise!