I'm recalling lately the opening worship service agony I put myself under in my previous life as a not-wired-to-be-a-church-planter pastoring a floundering church plant. There were plenty of gatherings where our worship band outnumbered congregants. I would read our call to worship and as the music began, I would make my way back to the building foyer, prostrate myself on the floor and beg God to send a few more people before I had to preach the word. It was a soul-wearying battle with pride, with unrealistic expectations, with distrust. Our church began as a young adult ministry in a megachurch, and preaching gospel-centered expository sermons each gathering was like re-landing an alien mothership every week. Once we'd gone out to find our own way as independent community, people stayed away in droves.
Then I moved to Vermont. Entered the pastorate of a 200-plus year-old church in a tiny, rural town. Our church attendance more than tripled during my time there, with people driving from spiritually dry areas for up to an hour to come to our services. Our giving outpaced our budgeted need each month. People were excited, sparkling about the eyes and bringing their lost friends. We were baptizing adults and enjoying the exclamatory gurgles of babies in the service.
And I was not doing a thing differently than I did in the lean Nashville days. I was in a different place, sure, and ministering to different people, but my preaching, my counseling, my leadership, everything else was the same ol' same ol'. In fact, I was in a much more irreligious area in Vermont than in Tennessee. And I was the same guy stubbornly doing the exact same thing every week. I was insanely repeating the same "methods" and expecting different results. And it seemed to work.
This proves to me it has nothing to do with me (which is quite liberating, actually).
I believe there is an "in season" and an "out of season."
In my pride, I wish I could take credit for having devised a new system or appropriated the right model. When I am tempted (often) to glory in accomplishments and visible signs of success, I remind myself of those agonizing floor-of-the-foyer moments in the olden days, when I wanted to trust stuff God takes away as easily as he gives. I recalibrate my spirit on the gospel often, beating it into my head continually so that faithfulness to its proclamation is my measure of fidelity, my gauge of success. Everything else can be taken away like that.
What I am reminding myself is that we are not charged with creating fruitfulness but preaching the Word. The growth is up to God. Luther remarked that he simply studied and taught and then the Reformation happened while he was sleeping or drinking in the pub.
Brothers, let us be faithful to simply, as Spurgeon said, open the cage and let the lion defend itself. The word will not return void in God's time. The gospel will create its glorious disorder among God's people according to the movements of his Spirit.
preach the word; be ready in season and out of season . . .
-- 2 Timothy 4:2