Ten Possible Reasons
Your Ministry is Not Growing
The last few years I have received more and more requests for input on stagnant, declining, or failure to launch ministries. Through my own ministerial journey, and having personally known or observed a kazillion ministries along the way, I have witnessed clear precursors to growth and fruitfulness and clear precursors to stagnation, decline, or failure to even get going. Here are ten possible (but not exhaustive) reasons your labor in the Lord might not be producing the harvests you know is possible deep down.
The Design of Life
If it is living, it is supposed to grow! That is how our Intelligent Designer designed life. The Word opens by telling us Elohim commanded all things in nature to "bring forth" and "bear fruit" and "teem" (Gen 1). As the divine narrative develops, this same mandate is extended to individuals (Ps 112), families (127:3-5, 128:1-4), the people of God (Deu 28, 3Jn 2), even entire nations (Jer 18:7-10). It would be quite the non sequitur to think New Testament ministry did not have the same driving concept and precept that permeates all things living.
The Eye Candy of Illegitimate Growth
What does it mean to grow, increase, be fruitful, in ministry? If you watch certain ministries on TV, you are led, subtly or brazenly, to the idea that a lot of money, a splendid facility, and swarming crowds equal growth and fruitfulness. None of these things are inherently wrong or unBiblical, but they are not the essential God-meaning of growth. When these ministries send the message, subtly or brazenly, that fruitfulness equals these things, they are sinning gravely and will be held accountable by the Lord (Jas 3:1, Eze 34). Occasionally we see a displeased Chief Shepherd target these ministries punitively, with embarrassing moral or ethical exposures, overwhelming criticism and marginalization, crippling dropoffs in donations or sales, sometimes even curiously odd deaths. Do not be fooled by the eye candy of illegitimate growth. Money, facilities, and visibility can be gotten in many ways, not all of which are spiritually or socially healthy, or truly centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, or true to New Testament absolutes.
Our mental model of ministerial growth in the New Covenant era must come, logically, from New Covenant inspired writings--the New Testament. The Old Testament gives us timeless growth bits here and there, however, growth in the Mosaic era was intrinsically different. Israel was a militant theocracy, and thus, growth meant increase commensurate to that. The New Covenant church is a transformational theocracy, a divinely-led community specializing in the genuine, comprehensive transformation of human beings (Mt 28:19,20, 2Co 3:17,18, Gal 4:19, 1Jn 3:5-10). Ministerial growth, then, means increase commensurate to that.
If we have affluence and influence, but individuals are not regularly being transformed in a verifiable way through our ministry, to God we are not growing. If we do not have affluence and influence, but individuals are regularly being transformed in a verifiable way through our ministry, to God we are growing. Read Luke's numerical growth notes in Acts: Acts 2:41,47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7, 16:5. His language specifies these increases were transformations. Never once, from Acts to Revelation, is ministerial growth presented in the Old Testament way: indiscriminate head counts, the constant tallying of militaristically-acquired or politically-acquired wealth, possessions, and real estate. From Acts to Revelation the ministerial growth emphasis is the regularity and increasing number of transformed individuals.
The Role of Money, Facilities, & Visibility
Peter had no money to give the lame man at Beautiful, but he gave him what money could never buy: the ability to walk again. Paul had no air-conditioned facility with velvety pews, so he used a muddy riverbank to launch the church at Philippi, and used a secular school building to launch the hugely important church at Ephesus. Lydia and the precious women at Philippi had zero recognition or visibility in the Christian world, but their wrestling and persevering in prayer brought the great apostle Paul right to their prayer meeting! Enough whining and idolatry of money, facilities, and visibility. Get supernatural power from intense spiritual growth, fasting, and new levels of prayer.
There is nothing inherently wrong or unBiblical with affluence or influence. These simply cannot be authoritative metrics of ministerial growth. They can certainly have a pragmatic role, depending on the nature and goals of your ministry. There is nothing more confusing than a gigantic or glamorous ministry that does not consistently shift you with real power or other-worldly wisdom.
Ten Possible Reasons for Low or No Growth
I implore and charge you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to humbly soul-search as you read the following. If there is a tiny seed of spiritual sensitivity in you you will know which points apply to you. Ignore your emotions and act remedially, or however that particular issue requires. We'll start with practical points, then move towards spiritual and character points.
(1) You are not called to what you think you are called to.
Nimrod is radioactive with meaning. As long as he did what he was called to do--hunt--he was "a mighty hunter before the Lord" and "became great upon the earth" (Gen 10:8,9). Young's Literal Translation renders this passage tremendously: He hath begun to be a hero in the land; he hath been a hero in hunting before Jehovah; therefore it is said, 'As Nimrod the hero [in] hunting before Jehovah.'
Then, all of a sudden, we see him building two of the most depraved, anti-God, anti-Israel geopolitical entities in human history: Babylon (v10) and Assyria (v11). It gets worse. He is then implicated as the leader or inspiration of the Tower of Babel, which happened in his area, Shinar (11:2, 10:10). What happened to the hero who hunts with Jehovah? Heartbreaking.
You may do several things well, like Nimmy. Some talents are transferable to diverse contexts. That does not mean you are divinely called to those other things. God may be blocking your ministerial fruitfulness because you are not truly called to what you are doing. You must pinpoint your calling directly from Him, and stay there unless He modifies it or unfolds a new dimension of it. To get this kind of information from Him you have to have a level of prayer conversation with Him that would make Him want to talk like that. Furthermore, you have to pass His mini-tests that show Him you can be trusted with inheritance information.
(2) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, in a design-role mismatch.
Psalm 33:15 (NKJV) says, He fashions their hearts individually.
Your design is fashioned to your life calling (Ps 139:13-16, Zec 12:1, Eph 2:10, Php 2:13)--things you do, or would do if you let yourself, with instinct and fire. This design, however, is throttled without an enabling role. Design and role have to be well-matched for maximum increase to happen. Do not force-fit (or let others force-fit you) into roles that frustrate or dumb down your design. Are you a Pug? Do not try to herd sheep. Are you a Greyhound? You'll go insane without something to chase.
(3) You are in a hopeless or impossible environment ministerially.
If you are at a "positive faith confession always and only" extreme, then you probably cringe to hear me say that some ministry environments are hopeless or impossible. You might snort back at me, "With God nothing is impossible! Just keep believing and speaking in faith!"
You should correct Jesus, then, for not believing enough and speaking in faith enough to get better results in Nazareth (Mt 13:57,58, Lk 4:24-30). Gosh Jesus, don't you realize with God nothing is impossible? You too Isaiah (Isa 6:9,10). And you too Ezekiel (Eze 3:5-9). And you too Paul (Ac 13:46). Gees guys, all you have to do is keep believing and speaking in faith!
Beloveds, it is time to mature theologically beyond simplistic, silly extremes. The God who does the impossible and speaks universes into existence is the same God who deliberately limits Himself to the cooperation and partnership of human beings. The Biblical term for this is obedience, or tereo in New Testament Greek; it is used about 75 times in the New Testament. That is a lot. If the environment you are ministering in is perpetually unwilling to obey kingdom absolutes, no amount of positive faith confessions on your part, no amount of "decreeing and declaring" that you do, will override their disobedience or polite resistance.
You may not be lush and fruitful ministerially because you are ministering in Nazareth, a hopeless and impossible environment, or Jerusalem, who rejected every apostle, prophet, teacher, and sage sent to her. You may need to find the guts to say, "Behold your house is left to you desolate; you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is He.'"
(4) You are a firstfruit of a dispensation that is not yet here.
This point is the most profound. A dispensation, in simple street language, is the specific way God does something in a given period of time. This could be a significant period mentioned in Scripture, like the dispensation of law or grace or the last days, or a period relevant only to the church of a certain time or location, like the Finney outpourings or the Reformation. The Lord has all kinds of dispensations or distinct phases in His overall program, some large and universally relevant, some smaller and narrower.
Your ministry may be experiencing low or no growth because you are actually ahead of the current dispensation, a firstfruit or early budding of a kingdom phase not yet here. For example, the Twelve (Eleven) were a firstfruits of the New Covenant church, but they were still in the Old Covenant period when they embraced the Savior and received the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22). They were ahead of the current era. In another example, James refers to all Jewish Christians as firstfruits (Jas 1:1,18), because, only at the End will "all Israel be saved" (Ro 11:26,27) when they see the One they pierced (Zec 12:10).
If this concept applies to you, your ministry is from a future time, a future dispensation God has not dispensed yet. It is possible, until then, your only growth or greatest growth will be to other firstfruits of that dispensation. If the dispensation is in your lifetime, your hundred-fold harvests will occur during that time.
(5) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, depending on business tactics and techniques over anointed ideas that come from deep intimacy with the Lord.
If the Spirit wants you to use a particular business tactic or technique, thank Him and obey. But make sure, with submissive prayer and listening honestly, it is actually Him inspiring it, not your no-faith or low-faith dependence on flesh (Jer 17:5,6). Does God lack anointed strategies? There is nothing Spirit-empowered or supernatural about merely importing business methods to ministry. Many (but certainly not all) megachurches and megaministries have done this, creating confusing, compromising, money-craving monsters. Let God work in you to will and to act with anointing and technique to build something healthy and holy (Php 2:13).
(6) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, shunning God-orchestrated alliances intended to bring new growth and blessing.
No one fulfills their calling alone. If we do not latch on to destiny allies when God sets them up, we will wander in the margins of loneliness, barrenness, darkness, restlessness, even anger, with no end in sight. Destiny allies force us to be humble and warm, towards emotional and social health, towards symbiosis and synergy. Forming alliances is very difficult for those who are too competitive, or who hide their true self behind Maginot Lines, or have some bleeding cut or legalistic hangup. We love our Bible heroes, but often miss the fact that every single one became amazing because of providential allies. Read about all the allies David needed to reach the throne: Samuel (1Sam 16:13), Saul (18:5), Jonathan (chapter 20), the priests at Nob (21:1-9), the 400 (22:1,2), Abigail (chapter 25), the king of Gath (27:1-7), even an Egyptian slave (30:11-15)! Better think twice about that cold shoulder. I mean cold heart.
(7) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, parroting more visible ministries, blocking the individual fingerprint and distinction God designed you to have.
You sound no different than so-n-so. Heard that cute little teaching a zillion times. You wanna do what? Ho hum. Heard the exact same thing from twenty other people this month. How will you do it with a different attitude, technique, or level of power? Many ministries are groupies, mini-mes, surrogates of a larger spiritual or theological trend.
Surely you know everyone's fingerprints are unique...and have oil. What a parable. There is Anointing Oil already on your true individuality. So why play a tentacle for another ministry, instead of developing the Oil that is already on your fingerprints? We will always be blessed by others who are ahead of us in the Spirit. Amen. However, as you learn from others be conscious to develop your own fingerprint concurrently. That alone has maximum oil, and consequently, maximum power for growth.
(8) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, prioritizing giftedness or ability over intimacy with God.
Every ministering Christian has idolized their gift at some point, especially once they start getting meaningful results and rewards from them. God allows this for a time, not because He approves of this sneaky form of idolatry, but because He wants us to learn, by experience, both the potency and the limitations of gifts. That season of tolerance soon ends, and the Lord moves to purify our motives and ministry habits. And how does He do this purifying? He throttles our gifts and blocks further growth unless they are inspired by a daily heartfelt intimacy with Him. If we cooperate and drill into His presence with a new diligence, gradually our heart comes to love Him much more than our ministry abilities and ministry impact. Test yourself: do you relish ministry more than meeting with God in private intimacy, more than swimming in His presence? He may be blocking your fruit until you do.
(9) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, motivated by money or recognition over the genuine transformation of your audience.
Oh the seduction of money and recognition! Having personally known many ministries in my life, I have been able to occasionally peek into leadership hearts, not necessarily because of any special revelatory insight, but simply through good listening and observation. Affluence and influence are emotional opioids because, on some level, we need money to survive and recognition to blossom emotionally. If we grew up in a financial extreme--like poverty, wealth, or money ups and downs--we are likely to crave money beyond what is healthy. If our parents never taught us to manage and develop money appropriately, again, we are likely to relate with money wrongly.
Enter ministry. Ministry, then, becomes the mask or front we use to bring in money and relate to it in a way our deeper soul craves. This does not mean you do not have a genuine call to this or that, or a real born-again relationship with God. It only means the financial region of your soul has not been sanctified and straightened yet. If the Holy Spirit sees that we, knowingly or unknowingly, are motivated by money or recognition over the genuine transformation our audience, He will throttle or block our growth and purge the hidden sins in our heart first.
(10) You are, knowingly or unknowingly, persistently disobeying Biblical values, ways, or means.
Any area of persistent disobedience to God's Word can lessen or block ministerial harvests. A pastor I knew well in my early years was impatient and combative with his wife on a regular basis. 1Peter 3:7 says God blocked his prayer life as a result. The glass ceiling was obvious and felt at his small church. After several years of intense personal growth, and a new level of patience and composure at home, his ministry exploded nationally with richness and results. Whether it is a character rut, a secret addiction, emotional immaturity, hyperprivacy and isolation, church government errors, doctrinal extremes, whatever, however, we might be persistently violating God's Word will cause Him to put a menacing glass ceiling over our head.