“If we’re not growing, we’re actually declining.”
Have you ever heard that before? The cultural business trends and models have crept into the Church and given pastors and congregations a skewed view of successful ministry. It’s easy to fall into, really. Numbers equal success and expansion is the fruit of faithful ministry; or is it?
We all want to grow. We want to see fruit and we often times consider numerical growth as fruit and a blessing from the Lord. But what if decline is blessing? Can a shrinking congregation, a downsizing small group, or a program being completely eliminated actually be a blessing? Pastors, could you rejoice in this? Congregants, could you encourage each other in this?
Most of The Publicans readership is familiar with Ahab and Jezebel from 2 Kings. Their partnership in leading Israel was wicked through and through and it was in this wickedness that “growth” was rampant. When anything goes, often times, an increase in numbers will result. But God raised up Jehu (2 Kings 9-10) to deliver His judgement on the wicked house of Ahab.
But it’s not Israel’s growth during idolatry that drew my attention. It was 2 Kings 10:32 and the sovereignty of God that jumped off the page at me. Here it is in several versions:
ESV—“In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel…”
NASB—“In those days the LORD began to cut off portion from Israel…”
HCSB—“In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel…”
NLT—“At about that time the LORD began to cut down the size of Israel’s territory…”
Why would the Lord reduce the size of territory? Why would the Lord intentionally hamper growth? Perhaps it’s because the Lord didn’t understand then what we know now, namely, that if we are to be successful then we must be growing. And growth is up to us: how we present ourselves, whether or not we are relevant, and making the masses comfortable (I hope you can read sarcasm).
Don’t misunderstand me, I pray that God saves all 13,241 people who reside in Greene County, Illinois (we’re pretty small, huh?) and that Christ’s Church explodes in genuine, heart-exuberant, God pleasing praise and worship until the glorious appearing of the Lion of Judah! But is that God’s plan? What if God’s plan is to cut off parts of Eldred Baptist Church? What if God’s plan is to reduce the size of the local body in our area? What if God’s plan is to prune Greene County and in so doing enrich worship in Spirit and in Truth in those who belong to Christ thereby bringing purity to our worship, a pleasing aroma to Him? What if we started defining successful ministry by the accuracy of the presentation of the Gospel, the authenticity of the heart in worship and adoration of the King, with humble submission to God’s perfect will and way, regardless of what the latest Christian magazine or best-selling book on growth tells us is success?
Brothers and sisters, I pray to encourage you in times of growth and decline, the Lord is Sovereign. Preach the Gospel and praise God as He grows or declines the church; after all, the Church is Christ’s and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
C.H. Spurgeon: Of all I would wish to say this is the sum: my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him…We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.
John S Hammett: …a successful church and a successful pastoral ministry is one that pleases Christ by honoring God’s Word and his design for the church…If God has given us instruction in his Word concerning his people, he is honored and a church is successful to the degree that it follows his instruction. Thus, the successful church is the faithful church.
The Holy Spirit through Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.
 Lectures to My Students, vol 1, 1897
 Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, pg. 352-353
 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, ESV