I had a talk with a friend this morning about our recent visit to an area where an outreach of our church was established. He was a bit dismayed about quite a lot of things and I admit that at some points, we shared the same sentiments. While our concerns, or to boldly say it, complaints, are out of frustrations to make a more organized and "ideal" ministry, both of us knew that they flowed out from our hearts which are stained by self-centeredness and impatience. 

It is easy indeed to get trapped inside the bubble built by the desire to take control of everything including the circumstances revolving around the ministry. As a result, when things don't go as planned, we get disappointed and at times, deeply discouraged. 

As we slowly started gathering again this year, new hurdles both in physical and spiritual aspects were thrown at us individually and as a congregation. With this, we acknowledge that we are nothing apart from the grace that God continues to sustain us with and His Word which brings fresh encouragement when our spirit is low. 

Growth beyond Numbers 

    Like any other ministry, one of the few things that my friend and I discussed was attendance.  Of course, who wouldn't want more people to show up at church? After all, what we want is to see a city being transformed by the Gospel. 

    A full house is such a wonderful sight to behold yet, there is also a danger in associating it as the only basis of a thriving ministry. 

    I remember wondering years ago why people kept coming to PAW, our church's youth ministry. I assumed then, that it was because the environment was "fun and energetic" and the program was well-organized. Then came the weeks when only ten or fewer people would attend (excluding the staff). Back then, I would think that there must have been a problem with the way we invited people or probably with the flow of our program, even though we had done exactly the same routine that we did week by week. 

    I needed to come to terms with the reality that there will always be a season where God would allow only a few people to show up despite the exaggerated efforts of messaging and inviting.  Of course, this does not mean that we drop the labor of reaching out to people but what I’m trying to point out is that the goal of the ministry is far beyond filling a certain number of chairs.

    What we want is to see growth beyond the quantity and that only comes in proclaiming the transforming power of the Gospel. No matter how big or small the audience is, we are to preach God's Word with faithfulness, to be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. ( 2 Timothy 4:2 ESV)  

    The gospel must always be the ground and heartbeat of our every toil and the rest, just like caring about the attendance which is not necessarily evil, must come only secondary in our priorities. 


Sanctified to Serve

I mentioned earlier how the spiritual maturity of the people must be given more importance than the numbers. While this is true, there are also times when, despite being faithful to the task, the seed would seem to have not fallen in good soil. You might probably be thinking about that one young man you are meeting every week to study the Word and yet, continues to use nasty language in his posts online. Or the young lady who you have spent your Saturdays with for months now and who claims to understand the gospel yet is still in a sinful relationship with an unbeliever. Or when the kids remain wild and inattentive a year after even when you have provided the best snacks and the most creative props for your storytelling. 

These can be such valid sources of discouragement. After all, it is easier to believe in God’s power when you see positive changes in somebody’s behavior in the timeline that you set. It even sometimes adds to our confidence that we are truly being  ‘faithful’ when someone gets saved.  

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, 

kindness, goodness, faithfulness” Galatians 5:22

Like how we expect the fruits of the Spirit to manifest in the character of the people we are ministering to, God also sanctifies us to produce the character of His Son - to be loving, patient, kind, and faithful.  Jon Bloom says, “The waiting teaches us to trust more in the truth of what God says than the impulses of what we see or how we feel.” 

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness …” 2 Peter 3:9

The Bible often uses planting as a metaphor to describe spiritual growth and it makes sense because we (my friend and I) are guilty of associating visible attributes to be the only signs of Gospel transformation rather than trusting the Lord as he causes the seed to sprout underground and be firmly rooted in His own pace. 

Christ, our Example and Hope

When ministry work becomes a burden in the heart rather than a joyful task, the remedy will always be to hold fast to God’s truth. Of course, the despair will not instantly disappear and it may take a little while for some of us to realign our perspectives but what our hearts and minds thirst for is a constant assurance that these hard times will make sense in the end.

“For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” Hebrews 6:10

Whether we are facing an underwhelming number of attendees or if the Bible studies do not seem to pierce through the hearts of our audience - whatever unique struggle each of us is called to handle, we are to press on. Let our lives be patterned by how the early disciples endured for the sake of the Gospel. 

Ultimately, let us look to the example of our Savior Jesus Christ who demonstrated obedience out of  His love for us despite being betrayed, rejected, abandoned and countless other reasons to be disheartened.  He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross for our sake.. (Philippians 2:8). Let us have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus ( Philippians 2:5). Obedience like Christ’s is made possible because His Spirit is in us - the same Spirit enables us to endure, love, and obey. 

My friend and I lost track of time and realized we had already spent the entire morning in the conversation. Before he left, we both settled our thoughts and agreed to run slowly and steadily amidst the “low response rate” we were getting.  There might be more muddy roads ahead and it might probably take us the entire day to talk next time but our confidence rests in the Lord who will faithfully strengthen us in our weakest seasons including the moments of discouragement. Not to mention, that brother was also a means of God’s grace to encourage me. 

Our complaints now turned to contentment and sorrows to prayers of trust. We are indeed nothing apart from God’s grace and His Word bringing us fresh encouragement when our spirit is low.