A fundamental error is being made in our thinking about the church today. There seems to be a growing concept that if a church is large and prosperous, it must have God's blessing on it.
Certainly such reasoning makes sense if the growing message of prosperity is followed to its logical conclusion. But don't let the size of a church fool you. In the book of Revelation, the Lord writes of two very prosperous churches, Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) and Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), and while these churches looked great in the world's eyes, in the eyes of the Lord Sardis was dead (Revelation 3:2) and Laodicea was destitute. Now, lest you draw a wrong conclusion at the start, let me state categorically that a church's size (small or large) has nothing to do with its spiritual vitality. There are many wonderful large churches, but there are also many spiritually dead large churches as well. On the flip side, there are many faithful small churches, but there are also many dead small churches as well. The vitality of a church cannot be gauged by its size (or lack thereof).
"Why," you might ask, "are some churches which fail to proclaim a clear gospel message growing if it is not the blessing of God?" Scripture answers that better than I can. "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV). Do not mistake size (or lack thereof) for the blessing of God.
Study the life of the prophets. I don't believe any of them would have been considered a great success by modern measures. Now the false prophets on the other hand were the favorite of the people, but God's men were persecuted, condemned, ridiculed and even killed.
One quick example. The prophet Isaiah was called to preach a very unpopular message (See Isaiah 6 for background). He is not thrilled about this so he asks the Lord how long he'll have to do it. The Lord answers until everything lies in judicial ruin. Not a task I would relish, but there you have it.
Now if Isaiah lived today, I can imagine him coming to one of our ministerial meetings. The conversation might go something like this: "Brother, Isaiah, how'd it go this week?" Isaiah: "Oh, more of the same."
Ministers (perhaps with knowing) snickers: "What do you mean, 'the same?'"
Isaiah: "You know. No one came to church. They didn't want to hear the difficult message; they don't like much what I preach."
Ministers (setting the trap): "Well, brother, what did you do?"
Isaiah: "I did what I do every week. I went out and started to preach on the street corner. That is, until I was run off."
Ministers: "Brother Isaiah, we have been discussing you. This has been going on for 10 years now. Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe God hasn't called you to ministry?"
I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I suspect that pretty well would sum up the counsel of the age. Certainly no reputable denomination or church would hire such a man. But God did. Was Isaiah successful? Not for one minute in the worldly sense (eventually he was killed for his message), but in God's eyes he is a shining crown. Why? He was faithful in difficult times. He stayed faithful to the message and did not waver, something that is true of all God's faithful servants.
There is much more I want to write, but space eludes me. Let me close with a word of encouragement to God's faithful people: hang in there, don't quit. God sees, and like Isaiah there is coming a day when what may look like hopeless failure will be shown to be glorious success.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org