Not Giving Up

joelLast week on the JCG blog, I wrote, “I can make my best effort under His sovereign grace to write the best books possible and to minister to people in the most effective, diligent way I know how. But then I have to leave the results to God.”

You’ll remember I highlighted book sales and church growth as two areas in which I often start demanding God to do what I want him to do. God is teaching me, however, that I need to do my part and then leave the results in His hands.

About a year ago, I ministered in a cell church in the Midwest. The church was a model of cell church growth for a number of years, but then it stagnated. The founding pastor felt like he should be seeing growth each year and began to feel like a failure when it stopped appearing. I was very impressed with the life and excitement in the church, but the pastor was down on himself because he didn’t feel successful. “I’m fed up,” he told me. “I’ve just lost interest. Maybe I should be doing something else.” I preached in his church on Sunday and was encouraged by God’s work in the church. But once again the pastor began to condemn himself because the church wasn’t growing each year. He told me that he felt like a failure and that perhaps he should simply leave the church. I listened intently, but eventually I found myself saying, “Who brings the growth? You do many thing well, but you have a problem in trusting God’s sovereignty to bring growth in your church. You need to hang in there until it happens.” His wife, knowing I had hit a raw nerve, encouraged him to listen closely.

When I arrived home in California, I still felt burdened by my conversation with the pastor. Why? Because he’s not alone in his struggles. So many pastors don’t hang in the saddle long enough. They don’t trust God’s sovereign hand to bring the growth and give the eventual victories. They leave too early.

Is there a time when God calls pastors and leaders to move on? O yes. However, moving on when we feel like a failure is not the best time to move. My counsel is to hang in there. The blessing will come. God wants to reach lost souls and make disciples. And He also wants to use you and me in the process. I’ve discovered that leading a church is often more about what God wants to do through me than others. When His lessons are finished in my own life, He then brings the desired growth. God is going to move, but He will do things in His timing. Are we willing to hang in there until God moves? What do you think?

Joel Comiskey

36 thoughts on “Not Giving Up

  • Wonderful, Joel! Growth is more than swelling numbers. Are the people God has sent you growing spiritually? The Lord builds His church as we learn to shepherd and steward His flock faithfully.

    Pastors are such a precious gift to the Body, yet rarely encouraged. Thanks for what you are doing for the church!

    Melissa Flores
    Grantsville, MD

  • I must confess that your write up really impress me that i dont want to stop reading them. Well you said it, we all are humans and as such we have emotions but where it ll be wrong is allowing this emotion of ours into our situations. With this frustration becomes inevitable. Please encourage them the more. God bless you, sir! Abuja,Nigeria.

  • Jerry Kinard wrote:

    “Joel, thank you a million times over! This needs to be said again and again. I hope this “strives a nerve” with many more pastors. Well said, brother.”

  • Thanks for all your encouraging comments here. As you can tell, I’m really burdened with so many leaders who want to jump ship too early. Often in the painful non-growth times, we as leaders grow the most. And if God really is sovereign, He has the best plan for us.

  • Joel,

    You ask, “Are we willing to hang in there until God moves?”

    Jesus was willing to go to the cross to fulfill God’s purpose in His Life. God has revealed His best plan, which involves being a primary-vision-carrier of cell-based ministry, for my life. The least I can do in return is be willing to hang.

  • Thanks, Joel. It’s a great encouragement for me.
    We all should realize that we are only servants to the Lord.
    But only God who gives the growth.

    1Corinthians 3:5, 6,7
    5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.
    6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
    7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

  • As Yanko wrote:… 1Corinthians 3:7
    So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
    It takes a full year for a harvest! Then a new full year for a new harvest… This is what God wants in the nature system… Although the time is quite different when it is about the Church… We need to plow every 4 seasons, spread the seed, wait until the seed die, wait the dead seed to grow then give its product… It always take 4 seasons! Praise the Lord when winter is there!!! This means Spring will come soon! And then the harvest! Then if we feel its time for us to leave and give the field to another farmer to plow it, fine! why not? But when you have done all the job it would be a shame to leave it before the harvest…

  • Please hear me, my Brothers & Sisters in the name of Jesus Christ!!!

    2000 years ago 3000 people(to the best of my knowledge) received the Power of the Holly Spirit & spoke in Tongues…Today we have 2bln.new born Christains (estimate) not counting Catholics, Orthodox & Protestants. I hope noone will argue with me about tremendous progress even this number is $1bln. I do not need to mention to you countries that did not know anything about Full Gospel churches just about 10 years ago, became leaders in their regions(Ukraine, China, Venezuela)

    If it’s not for Christianity there will never be United States of America or Democracy in general. Think about it. This world will not live in relative peace as it is today. There will not be Lincoln or Truman or MLK. The intregrity demand of this nation will not be going up & up over time. The people of this nation will not be so nice to newcomers as myself & we will not have so mucah care for other nations as we have had for long time. State of Israel mostly populated by unbelivers perhaps will not be as successful to fight the enmies & only relatively civil prosperous democratic state in the Middle East.

    However is it about the numbers or the quality? I would like to state this with the full confidence & my very limited knowldge of the Bible:

    It is about quality descipleship (leadership with love, knowledge & integrity)

    This is exactly what is missing in the Body of Christ, which started to get caught up in the Principles of the Devil’s eocnomy of this world based on numbers, wich is built on deceptions, misconceptions & lack of truthful information on every subject possible.

    Let’s just look at last week reports: JP Mortgan Chase, Bank of America & Citigroup (the major receipients of the Bailout money, which were borrowed from differnt sources) announced profits growth. Where did the profits come from: we did not hear much about it?

  • I wonder (not to condemn this Pastor you spoke of) if sometimes Pastors get bored or feel like things are not growing because we have believed and live a mindset that this is my church and there is no other leader able to do what I can do. I have been guilty of this in the past at times. I think we need to reconsider this idea that a Pastor should be in one place forever. At least challenge it with making it our goal to work ourselves out of a job.
    I’m sure this idea I am presenting can be balanced out but having one child was great and challenging to our faith. However, after the 2nd, 3rd, & 4th child we usually came to the conclusion after each child that this is the last one. But if we really had the love for family quality and multiplication quality maybe our mindset on how we do church would be different? Family seems progressive to me. Acts 1:8 seems progressive to me. Jerusalem did not seem as having as much momentum as Antioch did. Does this make sense I am trying! I don’t want to ramble but we are called to go not to park it. Any thoughts?
    Again I do not want to sound condemning to anyone but in America we may not believe in abortion but we really don’t fight it by having more kids- like going against the grain in an extreme way. It is one thing to say I do not agree with something and another thing to show why we do not agree with something. If we really believe in the go make disciples missionary lifestyle that we are ALL called to then I feel like the church like a family should be growing and we should be willing to change as we grow.

  • Hey, Eric, I don’t believe that God necessarily wants us in the same place forever. I don’t believe that God wants us to leave with a feeling of failure because we didn’t produce the growth, or something like that. . . .

    And by the way, I always disguise the pastors I’m talking about, so that no one reading this blog would be able to recognize this particular pastor.

    I also agree with you about making adjustments and having a vision for multiplication. Great point.

  • The longer I live the more I believe that God is not as interested in building giga congregations as much as he is with blessing smaller churches who are extending his Kingdom to those who will never darken the door of a brick and mortar church building.

  • I love that point Randall.
    Thank you for your comments Joel.
    The idea that even a small church can extend the kingdom beyond their locality seems so backwards to the mindset that without a big church we cannot do anything. It seems to me the greater unity a church has the greater their ability to advance the kingdom. It should always be a faith walk shouldn’t it?
    Being a missionary I am looking for people and places we can see the kingdom advanced. I guess a good question is what is maturity in a local body? If it is not just numbers than the quality of believers being discipled I believe is just as important. Thank you so Joel and Randall for not being untouchable. And thank the Lord for blogs!

  • Randall, it was great visiting with you over my bike in Waco!

    You wrote, “The longer I live the more I believe that God is not as interested in building giga congregations as much as he is with blessing smaller churches who are extending his Kingdom to those who will never darken the door of a brick and mortar church building.”

    Thanks for that post… I received a blessing from it. My wife and I planted and pastor a cell-based church in an area comprised of mobile homes in a rural region southwest of Fort Worth, Texas, with hopes of ‘extending his Kingdom to those who will never darken the door of a brick and mortar church building’ [statistics show ONLY 4% of people living in mobile homes claim affiliation with a church].

    Just last week, an insurance adjuster noticed our church facility, stopped by to thank us and said that in all of his travels in spite of the plethora of mobile homes within this region, he has noticed the absence of church buildings. He then informed me of who he is. I immediatey recognized his last name. Turns out, he is a son of one of the ‘ex-big-dogs’ who has wreaked so much havoc in one of the mainline denominations here in Texas.

    When I informed this man that I was once affiliated with that mainline denomination and that when I was, I had personally met with the Missions Director seeking support for our church plant prior to planting but was informed that “the social class of people within this region could never financially support a church”. It was then when my wife and I received confimation from God that we are to extend His Kingdom to the 96% of people living in mobile homes who will never darken the door of a brick and mortar church building.

    As I recently wrote in another blog… We are sure that if we continued doing exactly the same things as we are doing now and simply change locations (i.e.; some major Interstate highway intersection) we would have a huge giga church. BUT… We would also be GUILTY of doing nothing for “the social class of people within our region could never FINANCIALLY support a church”.

    P.S. I pray this post speaks to someone!

    Sharing the Journey,
    Rick Diefenderfer

  • Hi
    I’m from the north of the UK and last night in church we heard from a couple who have lived in Iran for the last 25 years. There is pretty much only a house church in that country (bit like China) and it’s growing really fast, so no church buildings or lot of organised activities. Lots of amazing stories of God’s healing, salvation. Some great posts, there are some principles we can draw from Acts about church growth, but in every situation and culture, it will express differently – here’s some – all age, real care expressed to christians and non christians, meeting regularly, Holy Spirit led appointments and directions, Paul also had a day job (controversial one this?) House church plants with people who have day jobs are self supporting . .
    Sometimes some activities have to die and this can be painful for people involved, then new works spring up and we see growth again – or people have time to interact with people ina natural way instead of being over busy in church ?

  • Comparison is a deadly game. It either makes us feel prideful (I’m better than you or my church is bigger than yours) or it makes us feel like a failure (I’m not as good as you or my church isn’t as big as yours). The Lord has been showing me that I just need to put my hand to the plow under his power and grace and find my success in doing what he wants me to do.

    And as these recent comments have indicated, the soil and circumstances are so totally unique. How can we compare? Well, we simply can’t. God simply wants us to be faithful and rejoice in the work He’s given us.

  • Like that ‘Comparison is a deadly game’
    There is a verse in Ecclesiastes somewhere about, ‘whatever is to hand, do that work’
    The course I’m doing is about drawing out supra-cultural principles for church planting from acts, however, a couple probably aren’t supra cultural! But, hey no one is perfect! And we see the Acts church learning. As an aside is scripture ‘all sufficient’, or ‘sufficient’ Timothy ?
    William Seymour spent up to hour with his head in a wooden box in the Asuza street revival services between 1906-09, so I’m off to start my ‘Head In a Box’ church or the HIB denomination for short, 🙂

  • This is a battle most every pastor, starting with me, face. I completely agree with the thesis. Many times, as a worship leader I have been discouraged because the music seemed to fall flat, usually because we were not playing our best and I was a little embarrassed, but sometimes because it was flat! Our responsibility however, is to do our best and leave the results to our Lord who gives the increase.
    Good reminder Joel and I will pass on a verse to you which blessed me greatly recently – 1 Corinthians 15:58

    Bill Blancke

  • Totally agree! In my church (JVE Tabasco) we felt that way two years ago when we declare 500 cells as a year goal (we only got 400) Now we still go on on God’s timing as you said. I am supervisor of two cells and had my own group with two recent baptisms. Bless to share with you all. Mike

  • Hi Joel!

    Right On! Based on my experience I couldn’t agree more. Our job is to be faithful. If we base ministry success on the number of converts, I guess Jeremiah would have been an abject failure — yet he wrote two books of the Bible! Who knows? Maybe we have just been called to work in an exceedingly difficult area and God wants us to do the “ground work” for someone else who will follow and reap a great harvest based upon our faithful efforts. One sows another harvests. That just might be the case. In my ministry God has used me in some places to plant, in others to cultivate, and it others to harvest. So I would say your comments could not possibly have been any more “on target” than they were.

    God bless, Bob Hale

  • Two years ago, I had a local business owner encourage me to stay in my church for at least five years. He said every enterprise needs at least that long to make it. The last few years were extremely difficult but we’re seeing an amazing turn-around spiritually and numerically at just around the five year mark. I also read that the average U.S. pastor moves about every 4 years. I don’t know how spiritually significant the 5 year mark is, but I’m sure glad that I stayed that long.

  • I hope we will have a more balanced understand of church “growth.” I empathize with that pastor because that is one of my personal “growth” areas too. Thanks, Joel, for your coaching.

  • Brother Joel, I think is a mistake to enfazise the word “growth” as the signal for a blessing church o minister. I’ve seem to many pastors be descouraged for that situation. When I started to become a cell church the vocabulary with this form of pastorate the curch and reach out the lost was “and yuor church will grow, grow and grow but in my experience the growth of any church as the living body of Crist it has to be naturaly based on the health of the church, if we see the growth of a kid, the parents can’t do nothing for your kid grows, if the child is healthy and feed good the qrowth will be naturaly. This is what I’ve learned as a pastor if I do my best with God’s help to have a healthy church, the growth of the church will be normal and constant. Why? because is healthy, when a pastor is trying to see a gowth in his congregation just because he wants a larger church in numbers if that church is not healthy, sooner or later the growth of the church will stop. Two years ago we started as a cell church with 80 members, now we are closed of 200, but our bocabulary is not we have to grow, our “principle” is to build a healthy church and if we are healty the growth will come naturaly by God’s grace.

  • Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

    I can only speak from our personal experience.

    I believe that a time and a season come when we see growth in our churches and we feel good because of the results of our efforts. But what happened to us is when we seen the morning attendance begin to stagnate we began once again to teach more about evangelism, cells and leadership training.

    We found ourselves growing frustrated because the attendance was not growing as before and doubt, and the feeling of incompetence sets in. We came to understand that numbers will never bring peace, joy, rest and satisfaction to our souls. Only the Holy Spirit can bring the joy and peace we are truly seeking. We have begun to deeply seek the Holy Spirit and we are asking Him to bring a revival to our city.

    The Holy Spirit has been quenching the thirst we had, He is bringing rest, peace and love to the church and the church has begun to move again. The Holy Spirit is bringing souls to the church!

    Pastors, come and find rest in the Holy Spirit. Rely on the Holy Ghost to revive your ministry and to keep you refreshed and let Him pastor your congregation. Seek the Holy Spirit and ask Him to take over and He will. Let Him comfort you.

    Hang in there Pastors,

    Blessings,

    Bro. Eli

  • I like what is being said about the fact that numbers never bring peace. so true. It’s also true that only God can bring true growth–otherwise it’s man-made. Oh that we might find our peace and significance in faithfully serving Him and doing His will.

  • Joel, leaving the results with God is one of the hardest things we do, but God calls us to be faithful, not (numerically) successful. The harvest belongs to God. He may call us to be faithful for fifty years to a congregation of 70. But that’s his business. The question is — will we serve him with no strings attached?

  • I love it, David, good word. I’ve somehow felt that I need to feel miserable if growth doesn’t occur or if my books don’t sell. How sad! God’s graciously been showing me I have my part and he has His (growth/sales, etc.). Yes, I have to work hard (like you mentioned–faithfulness), but only God can cause growth. Oh that I might live this. . .

  • Keep up the good work to help our leader built a strong foundation that could withstand any storm,war,etc that comes along.
    A pastor that strong in the begining and then start to give up hope because there is no more fruith,should pray for courage, strenght and faith
    when there is a sign of sickness you go to the doctor,the same way when there is no hope in your effort you call upon your doctor to give you that medicne,that doctor is Jesus Christ and your medicne is prayer,trust that medince to cure you

  • Amen! Only through God’s sovereignty we could draw all the strength that we need to go on and accomplishing for the glory of God. It’s a good thing that there’s someone like you who keeps on encouraging us pastors. God bless you more!

  • I gathered the members one day and told them to pack!

    I didn’t want them to stick around just because and I did’nt want them to stop growing in all areas.
    There were tears in their faces and a solid soft voice “we must continue, we must work harder, but we must continue”.

    They were holding me up at that point and we have continued since then.

    Some time later, God opened doors for us to continue.

    May God continue blessing your ministry, hermano Joel!

  • Good reminder, Joel.
    God calls us to love and to follow His voice, not to be successful or famous. The big church mentality has drained many pastors.
    Everytime I read your newsletters, I am inspired.

  • Joel, I have most of your books and some tapes you did at a catholic church in Pembrook Pines Fl. (pastor Ivers). I’m from Erie, PA. You’ve taught me a lot. And, I couldn’t agree with you more on “His sovereign grace.” I’ve been out in front of the so many times its a wonder that he still uses me — and he does. If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that he is sovereign and that we shouldn’t move too quickly and never when we get down on ourselves. Joel, keep up the good work. We need your encouragement and teaching. God Bless you and yours.

  • Dear Joel,

    I’ve been following your newsletters closely and am really blessed by what you wrote and will continue to write.
    Words of encouragements are few these days. The body of Christ, particularly in the cells need much encouragement to keep them from being discouraged.
    We shouldn’t allow ‘petty things’ to infiltrate our relationship with Jesus and with our fellow brothers and sisters.That can retard church growth, because others can get discouraged and stop whatever they are supposed to do for the glory of Him who died for us.

    Ben Ranis
    Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

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