A Question I Was Asked:

I Am a Pastor but Sometimes I Despair...”

“....I am truly grateful that I can speak to you in confidence without fear of you quoting my name......I have been a pastor for many years. Occasionally we try to attract new people but do not really succeed. Our 'Prayer Evenings' turn into a constant plea for God to send us new people because without them we will certainly have to close our doors within two years. Yes, we are sincere about continuing to preach the gospel and that is what we do and our people are fed but – as a pastor – I sometimes feel a complete failure about our congregation being unable to attract new people.”

My Reply:

The problem is that all too many of you pastors have bought into a frame of mind in which success is only measured by the numbers who attend. But where is the biblical basis for that? There are various church growth strategies around and some may work to the degree that more people might attend – at least for a while – but I would still say: Be very, very wary of them!! Numbers are not the answer to achieving a successful pastorate! If you faithfully preach for many years without ever compromising on the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and if your flock feel comfortable about approaching you with their problems, then you are – in God's eyes – a successful pastor! Frankly, numbers have nothing to do with it. Do you want to be “successfull” in this world's eyes, or in God's eyes?

Yes, God has not been sending you new people, but He alone decides whom He will call and when He will call them. Please don't buy into this 'numbers and finance' game as relating to church congregation growth – keep your eyes on the Lord!

Now, of course, it is true that congregations such as yours should be careful to ensure that they are not actually putting people off by mishandling some really obvious things! That should go without saying. For example, two years ago I tried, ultimately without success, to get an elderly pastor with a tiny congregation to see that there were certain things which he certainly should change. The small group which attended were not the most gifted singers and there was nobody to play the piano or organ. To be perfectly frank, the congregational singing alone would have put most people off. To me it seemed obvious that the congregation should have sung hymns along with hymn CDs – there are many great ones out there – all kinds of hymns. That would have turned some lamentable 'singing' efforts into an inspiring experience – which hymn singing certainly should be! There were other problems too which could have – and should have! - been tackled but the very sincere – but very stubborn! - pastor was unprepared to budge. Eventually I gave up my efforts to help. That is sad.

If you say, your 'prayer evenings' tend to get into a rut of continually asking the Lord to send you more people, then try to re-direct things from your position as pastor. Pray for the country! Pray for the entire western world, which is currently in such a mess. And lead – from the front – by asking the Lord to clearly show you the way forward for your particular group. Ask the Lord to show you if you yourselves are doing things wrong, or have things you could improve. But be prepared to face the fact that that there is no Scripture which guarantees the continued existence of any particular congregation! The New Testament seems to strongly suggest that where a particular area continually rejects a Christian witness, then God may withdraw that witness. That would not be any failure on your part. See Matthew 7:6 and Luke 10:10-12. Modern evangelicalism certainly errs with the approach of pushing, pushing and pushing when the words of Christ are simply being abused and thrown back into one's face. Keep your shoulder to the wheel! We serve Christ – not men!!

Robin A. Brace, 2006.