So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven. You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:26-30 NLT)
I’m a pastor. I’ve been in vocational ministry since 1990. At times, the ministries I’ve led have grown. At times they’ve gotten smaller.
I must admit that I like the former and not the latter. As a driven person it’s hard to watch something I lead shrink. As soon as there’s a decline I start looking around wondering what I’m doing wrong. It keeps me up at night. I become frustrated. I get discouraged. I’ve sometimes even been depressed…even to the point of attending counseling.
How did John the Baptist do it? When his ministry shrank, his disciples were in a panic, but he was not. In fact, he was filled with joy. Can a church leader have that kind of peace today?
I’m learning the lesson of John The Baptist. We can all learn it. If you struggle with discouragement, fear, doubt, or even depression when your ministry declines, take the steps below.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR MINISTRY DECLINES
1) Read John 3:26-30. Read it again. Read it regularly.
2) Recognize that increase comes from God. Your ministry does not grow because of you. It grows because of Him.
3) Recognize that decrease comes from God as well. The reasons for decrease are His. Maybe God is sending people to another shepherd because of failures on your part. Maybe He is chastising you. But maybe the decrease is for other things altogether. Maybe God is pruning your church before another season of increase. Maybe He is preparing another leader in your city to become the next Rick Warren. Maybe God is moving people to environments that are better suited to His plan for their development.
4) Rejoice at Christ’s success. Whenever you see victories for Christ’s Kingdom, rejoice!! Especially when those victories come in other ministries. Why? Because it’s not about you. It never has been and it never will be. Do you celebrate when you hear that the church across town is growing? Do rejoice when other ministries flourish? Why not? If you cannot celebrate God’s victories that happen outside your jurisdiction, then the real condition of your heart is revealed: your jurisdiction is most important to you. In other words your kingdom takes precedence over His Kingdom. Those words sting a little don’t they?
5) Practice getting better while becoming less. You SHOULD practice sound leadership principles. You SHOULD live righteously. You SHOULD have sound doctrine. You SHOULD study. You SHOULD always strive to improve and get better at the work of the ministry. But you should NEVER take any of the credit for increase. You should NEVER be so arrogant as to think that your ministry grew because of you. Live humbly and be holy, but not for the sake of increase. Do so for the sake of God’s glory. Let your ego diminish so there’s no question who deserves the glory: Jesus.
6) Quit beating yourself up. You should never take the blame for the decrease. Yes, you are to blame for your own sin, ego laziness and pride. But God is responsible for the rain and the draught. Flagellating yourself and hurling abuse on yourself is what I call “reverse arrogance”. If you shoulder all of the blame for decrease, you are subliminally feeding your ego. If you you blame yourself for every decrease, you’ll take credit for every increase.
Evaluate yourself today. What’s your biggest ego problem: is it the obvious arrogance of “I made this church grow”? Or is it the reverse pride of “I made this church shrink”? Kick your pride to the curb altogether and remember the words of Job:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.” (Job 1:21 HCSB)