After a quarter of a century in fulltime ministry, I have to admit something. I don’t believe in aspiring to growth the way it seems most churches and ministry leaders do. I don’t see Jesus pushing the purpose of bigger and better. I don’t read one single verse where we’re called to upsize anything. How then have we gotten caught up in idolizing and emulating those who we deem are “doing it right” by virtue of their mega-size and seemingly impactful ministry platform?
I’ll refrain from naming names, but I’d bet you know of one or two. We have celebritized men and women who should never have been placed under the weight of that kind of attention, adoration, and scrutiny and then wonder why they collapse under that weight. We shake our heads, wag our fingers, and marvel at what must’ve gone wrong. When in all likelihood, what “went wrong” (at least in part) was us; placing them on a pedestal.
So I look at the gospels and I see Jesus teaching, talking, healing, hearing, sharing, and serving. But in my own ministry attitude I have to tell you that humanly speaking, I feel much better when the room is full then when its not full. I have to confess that it feels much more like “God is moving” when its standing room only instead of a sparse crowd. Its only natural, right? And to some degree, I think that’s the fallacy: That we place natural metrics on supernatural ministry.
One particular passage of scripture comes to mind. Look at John 6. Start in verse 25 and just ride it to the end. Or read the whole chapter. So much is going on here, but let me get to the point. It is beginning around verse 60 that we start to see things unravel. In our current American church perspective, we’d equate this to Jesus’ ministry effectiveness winding down or coming to a close. We might even say the wheels were falling off and it might be time for Jesus to dust off the resume or find another job. After all, those who once followed Him are now taking off and turning away. What He was teaching was too far. Too much. Too crazy to swallow. So an entire crowd of disciples basically said, “Its been real. Peace out.”
Notice that there’s nothing to indicate that this was a bad thing. Jesus didn’t panic (yes, I know He never does), He didn’t circle the wagons and try and strategize on how to get these deserters back. He didn’t make follow up calls or conduct exit interviews. He simply turned to His still-following followers and asked “What about you?”
Three simple words that speak absolute volumes and give us a clear view into Jesus’ heart on people and ministry effectiveness. Let’s get this straight: Jesus just watched swaths of people turn tail and walk away from Him. Mere minutes prior, a large crowd was there and now only a few are left. I’ve seen people walk away from church and faith for some–let’s be real–stupid, asinine reasons. But to look Jesus Himself in the face and turn away from Him? Can you even imagine that?
I used to hang my hat on the latest number of young people that showed up to the event I planned. I used to allow my sense of momentum to be linked to what I saw instead of what I knew. I used to measure “success” on how many were coming instead of how many were being sent out. But growing down ministry seems to be more in line with scripture. Let me pound this out and see if there’s anything to it. Hang in there with me and add your thoughts in the comments section.
I know about the early Church in Acts. I know that thousands were added to their number of various occasions. I understand fully what Jesus meant when He gave us our “Great Commission”; “…Go and make disciples of all the nations…” ALL the nations? Sure seems like bigger and better talk, right? Sure seems like worldwide coverage is the focus here, right? Sure seems like a bigger crowd of disciples is far better than a smaller crowd of disciples, doesn’t it? Sure it does.
And let me add something just by way of full disclosure. I’m currently serving at a far-bigger-than-average local church in central Virginia. I love it. I love the people. I love the students. I love the scope of ministry we have. I love the many doors in our community that God has opened. You’ll not hear me say one disparaging thing against our church or any church for that matter. But I will say that our ministry worth and fruitfulness doesn’t rest on how big the crowd is. Quite the opposite actually. It rests on the fact that we prize eyeball to eyeball interaction, disciplemaking, and worship above all else. We view growing down and increasing personal accountability, fellowship, and Kingdom teamwork far more important than being known, noticed, or applauded. The church I serve at will likely never even blip the radar of popularized Christian spotlight on the national or global scale. And I’d dare say we’re 1000% fine with that.
To bring it back to my personal convictions… I, as a pastor to students, don’t seek ways we can get bigger. I seek ways we can more effectively reach and disciple young people. I’m not looking for the increase. I’m looking for God’s next opportunity to love and serve anybody anywhere. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reminded us, “What then is Paul? Who is Apollos?…” He was saying that the servant isn’t even an issue. There’s no aspiration in the servant’s heart for anything but that his/her master would say “Well done.” I have zero investment of energy, emotion, or time in making a name for myself. To do so is to undermine the calling God has placed on my life. He called me to serve people, not to build my own platform. I reject the ideology that says “But if you invest in self promotion you’ll get a bigger platform and be able to reach more people.” The logic might be sound, but haven’t we seen enough times where that seems to go horribly sideways? I’ll ALWAYS see out the opportunities that God might be opening so that I can serve more people, but that will NEVER be my ministry motivation.
So yes, I’m in full endorsement of growing down. I’m in complete lockstep with Jesus’ perspective of challenging the resolve and conviction of those who were following Him, and I’ll sleep soundly at night regardless of the latest reports, analytics, or likes on my posts.