Grow to Shrink

It’s natural for pastors to equate increasing numbers with ministry success. I’d like to challenge that idea a bit, beginning with an illustration from my own family.

This summer I “married off” the oldest of my four daughters. When I finished walking my wife down the aisle, I whispered to her, “We did it.” I meant that for twenty-two years we have prepared Bekah for this day, or for some other expression of mature independence. In a way, our job was finished. By God’s grace, we believe we succeeded.

And yet, for the first time in nearly two decades, our family was smaller. Sure, we gained a son whom we treasure. But that evening, five people slept under our roof, not six. Success meant getting smaller. That makes sense to us when we’re discussing the home. We’d roll our eyes at a dad who boasted that he was such a great parent that his forty-year-old children are still living in his basement. Umm, that’s not success. 

At times, the church must be a slingshot, launching our best and brightest to serve the Lord elsewhere

In much the same way, I want the church I pastor to grow. And at times it does. But right now we’re going through a season of successful “shrinking.” Last year we sent a seemingly irreplaceable couple—two of our most effective mentors—to the mission field. This year we’re getting ready to launch our most aggressive evangelist to a separate mission field. And by God’s grace, we recently had two more vibrant young families commit to going to yet another mission field. It’s the stuff churches dream of and pray for—or at least should. And we’ll certainly discover that the only truly “irreplaceable” person in the church is Christ.

Your goal shouldn’t be just to get bigger

Our call is to make disciple-making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). At times, that means the church must be a slingshot, launching our best and brightest to serve the Lord elsewhere the way the church at Antioch sent out Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1-3). So pray for more members, especially through new converts. Praise the Lord for seasons of growth. But realize that your goal isn’t just to get bigger. It certainly isn’t to hoard your best people. After all, the kingdom we’re striving to build belongs to Christ, not us. Right?!