Who is responsible for the health and growth of a local church?
Is it all up to the pastoral leadership? As one former megachurch pastor used to say, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”
Or is it all up to Jesus who said “I will build my church”?
Obviously, the ultimate growth of the church is in Jesus’ hands, but he’s given church leaders certain responsibilities for our local congregation.
So, while we should never take on a burden that isn’t ours, we also need to be careful not to act as if we have no responsibility for outcomes at all. If leadership means anything, it has to include that.
What Are We Responsible For?
Take a look at the instructions for church leaders (pastors, apostles, teachers, deacons, presbyters, and so on) in the New Testament.
There are passages about
- Moral purity
- Caring for the church
- Reaching the lost
- Discipling believers
- Raising leaders
- Theological integrity
- Family life
- Financial stewardship
- Church unity
- And more
But there’s one thing missing.
With all the instructions church leaders are given, there’s not a single instruction about getting our attendance numbers up.
Not a word about breaking growth barriers.
Not one verse linking the value of a church to the number of people attending it.
Not even a suggestion that if a church isn’t growing numerically we’re doing something wrong.
The Tasks We’ve Been Given
Throughout the New Testament, we can find numerous detailed instructions for how to help a church be healthy, effective, loving and prayerful, but nothing about how to be bigger this year than we were last year.
So maybe we should take our cue from that.
As church leaders, we are responsible for the tasks we have been given, but not for tasks we have not been given. And we have not been given the task of causing the numerical growth of a local congregation.
But that does not absolve us of bearing any responsibility for outcomes.
Measuring The Immeasurable
For instance, in what I call the Pastoral Prime Mandate of Ephesians 4:11-13, church leaders are not just given an instruction to “equip his people for works of service,” the rest of the sentence gives us an outcome to aim for. Namely, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Unity and maturity in Christ. This is the standard by which we need to measure our progress, and an outcome that we bear some degree of responsibility for.
So why do we either avoid this responsibility or take on other responsibilities that we have not been given?
I think it’s because the outcomes God is concerned with are impossible to quantify. How do you measure unity and maturity on a graph?
Certainly there are indicators that can give us a few ideas, but most of it is far more subjective than we’re comfortable with. So we default to factors that have a numerical value. Attendance, baptisms, small group percentages, and so on.
All of them are good to keep track of, but none of them will give us an ultimate reading of the true level of a church’s unity or maturity.
What To Carry, What To Drop
So what’s a church leader to do?
Take on the responsibility we’ve been given but drop the burden that’s never been ours to carry.
Equip God’s people to work toward unity and maturity in Christ (including regular assessments of our progress), but don’t obsess over numerical increase.
Carry one. Drop the other. But keep walking.
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