Ever so often most Conventions publish numbers from churches in relation to: Baptisms… Giving (Budget, Cooperative Program, Lottie Moon & Annie Armstrong)… Sunday School… Choir… WMU… Music… yada, yada, yada. Usually there is a top ten for each category. One of the “Top Ten” categories is something of a per capita ratio so that smaller churches can make the list too.
Gauging success for many regarding church is Baptism, Budget, Buildings. The “bottom line” of numbers is how people determine if a ministry (Pastor) is successful. I’m a little out of the ordinary when it comes to this because numbers is not the first determiner for success in ministry.
There is one, and only one, standard for success in the Christian life… obedience. If God chooses to bless with numbers in the context of being obedient to Him and His call… He will get the glory! But too many preachers… church members… and others swell with pride on the numbers thing.
Which pastor will be rewarded more in heaven: The bi-vocational pastor of a small country church who served faithfully for 20 years with little outward fruit, or the mega church pastor in the city who preached to thousands with many converts? Which ministry is more successful: Billy Graham or the Kenyan pastor who plants 20 churches a year in the bush country.
The answer is… that’s God’s decision. It is possible to be faithful with little and unfaithful in much. It is possible to be unfaithful in little and faithful in much. Numbers isn’t the standard… faithfulness and obedience are.
When Jesus ascended into heaven He had about 120 followers (Acts 1:15).
Noah preached for 120 years without a single convert.
William Carey preached in India for 7 years before he had his first convert.
Adroniam Judson wrote this about success in missions…
“If any ask what success I meet with among the natives, tell them to look at Otaheite, where the missionaries labored nearly twenty years and, not meeting with the slightest success, began to be neglected by all the Christian world, and the very name of Otaheite began to be a shame to the cause of missions; and now the blessing begins to come. Tell them to look at Bengal also, where Dr. Thomas had been laboring seventeen years (that is, from 1783 to 1800,) before the first convert, Krishna, was baptized. When a few converts are once made, things move on; but it requires a much longer time than I have been here to make a first impression on a heathen people. If they ask again, ‘What prospect of ultimate success is there?’ tell them, as much as that there is an almighty and faithful God, who will perform his promises, and no more. If this does not satisfy them, beg them to let me stay and try it, and to let you come, and to give us our bread; or, if they are unwilling to risk their bread on such a forlorn hope as has nothing but the word of God to sustain it, beg of them, at least, not to prevent others from giving us bread; and, if we live some twenty or thirty years, they may hear from us again.”
When it comes to ministry, here are some words of encouragement: Stay on course even when there are few converts. Remain faithful to your call even when baptism numbers are not necessarily good. Persevere until God clearly releases you from your call. In short, be faithful as Ezekiel was (2:3-9).
And (God) said to (Ezekiel): “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. 4 For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse–for they are a rebellious house–yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 “And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious. 8 But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”
Keep your eyes fixed and focused on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). He is your ministry, not numbers. Jesus is your Master, not your church’s ratio. Do everything as if you were doing it unto Christ. Do not despair. Love the praise of God more than the praise of men.