Pastor, if your church is slowly dying, its cause of death is most likely because you and your people are not, as the Bible says, bearing fruit. And, your church may not be bearing fruit because you keep preventing Jesus from pruning you, and it.
First, let me address an important sidebar to the statement above… can we really prevent anything that Jesus wants to do?
The short answer is, yes (for a while anyway). In fact, our God given ability to prevent God in some things is a central fact of the gospel.
Ok, track with me here: God wants to have relationship with us. He does not want to be separated from us. But did we not prevent God from being among us and walking life with us? Did not our sin separate us from God? Otherwise, you would be imputing that God desired to be separated from us and that it was actually His fault that the separation between us and Him even happened. He didn’t choose to disobey himself and thereby use His God given power, creativity, and authority to introduce sin and death into the world… we chose and did that. And didn’t mankind’s sin(s) prevent God from remaining among us, remaining as He had before we sinned? There was no need for a temple before we sinned. It all changed when we chose to sin.
Again, doesn’t the Bible tell us that sin separated us from God? The answer is a resounding yes. So much so that God Himself had to take on the form of a human and die on the cross with our sins upon Him, so that we didn’t have to face God with our sins upon ourselves.
If mankind’s sin didn’t prevent God from being among us and having relationship with us the way that He had originally wanted to, then Jesus’ death was for nothing.
But Jesus’ death was not for nothing. If we will accept it by faith, His death and resurrection redeemed us back to as if we had never been born into sin.
But, make no mistake, it was our God given ability to prevent what He wants, that put God himself in that awful predicament to begin with.
And Pastor, I want to submit to you that you still have that same ability to prevent God (and put Him in bad predicaments).
Now, don’t mistake this biblical theme of “we can prevent God for a short time”, with the lie that we can ultimately control or stop God. That, we cannot do. He will ultimately have His way, as He did with the salvation story. He will work out circumstances to assure that His Will is completed. But, if we don’t get onboard with His Will, the circumstances that He works out may not include us.
Again, if you personally don’t submit to His Will and His Way, then you personally may not be a part of His Way and His Will, whether in part or in whole. In fact, John 15 tells us that He takes away branches IN HIM, that do not bear fruit. In horticulture, this type of pruning is called thinning. The entire branch is removed right down to where it connects into the rest of the tree.
“Whoa. Why cut the whole branch off? Why not just gently cut the branch back a little bit, so that it isn’t as much of a problem?”
That type of pruning is called heading. Heading is VERY tempting to us pastors. Why? Because heading is a much milder pruning, that is not only easier on us, but then actually causes extensive tree growth!
“What? Then why on Earth would I not want to only do heading pruning? And why would Jesus do thinning pruning?”
Because excessive tree growth will make the tree much, much bigger, but it can also make the tree not bear any fruit.
(Sidenote: do you know what else causes excessive tree growth that can prevent the tree from bearing fruit? Over-feeding. Let that one sink in for a moment in prayer!)
“It isn’t the same thing in the church as it is with fruit trees!”
Then why did Jesus use the fruit tree analogy? Thinning and heading are not new concepts. Taking care of fruit bearing trees is not a new thing. In fact, these are all very old practices that surely predate Jesus’ time here on this Earth 2000ish years ago.
“Ok, but a couple branches that don’t produce fruit are not a big deal.”
They are when each piece of fruit represents a soul coming to Jesus. He is VERY serious (though patient) about that. Remember when he cursed the fig tree for not having any fruit?
Pastor, there are programs in your church that need to be pruned; a thinning pruning.
“But that will be painful!”
Don’t kick that can down the road any longer… it won’t be nearly as painful to you as it will be if He has to move you aside to get to those branches.
Pastor, there are people in your church that need to be pruned; a thinning pruning. Before you tell me that that isn’t Biblical, read John 15 again. Read how Paul actually handed people over to Satan, for the destruction of their flesh that would hopefully lead to the salvation of their soul.
“That’s not in the Bible!”
“I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB 1977)
“Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:20 (NASB 1977)
“Those were egregious sins!”
And many of you reading this article have similarly egregious sins happening in your congregation. We have seen enough to know how sadly true this is! And if you as the leader, only actively handle egregious sins within the people of your church, your people will most likely continue to not bear fruit!
Look, I am not even telling you to do the pruning work yourself (not yet anyway) … just stop preventing the Lord from doing it.
Pastor, I mean this firm but lovingly – get out of His way! Which means stop being out in front of Him. Get behind Him and let Him do what He wants to do.
“How exactly am I preventing Him from doing this pruning work?”
Good question. Are you doing or have you done any of these:
Personally leading a program that has no other person to lead that program, so that the program won’t die.
Allowing/encouraging someone to stay leading a ministry, who you know probably should not be leading a ministry, because you have “no one else”.
Allowing/encouraging a ministry to remain ongoing, that has repeatedly not bore any visible fruit, including and especially bringing people to Jesus.
Thanking people because you fear losing them if you don’t thank them. On that note, thinking that your church cannot survive without them, nor their financial support.
Not addressing sin that you see within your congregation.
Even those so called “little sins”.
How about calling out an openly divisive congregant(s)? I cannot tell you how many times I have seen those openly divisive folks allowed to stay in place, with their continuous derision flowing freely.
Allowing/encouraging people to remain, that have repeatedly not born any visible fruit, including and especially bringing people to Jesus.
If this one got you riled up, understand that you are not helping these people by letting them just sit around in your services. You aren’t helping your church at all either. Jesus promised that His people would bear fruit!
“So what, kick them out?”
Nope. Disciple them to bear fruit and reach people for Jesus. Only then will you know if they are playing games with Jesus or not.
Staying as pastor of the church longer than you should be/God wants you to be.
Your preventing of God VERY MUCH may be tied to your own life and sins!
"But I can’t afford to leave.” But I don’t know where else to go.”
You need to obey and trust Him!
Saying no the what the Lord wants to do (especially within a service), because it makes you feel uncomfortable.
There are a lot more, but hopefully this relatively short list has you thinking (and praying)!
Look, pruning is not usually a comfortable process. But Jesus is VERY serious about bearing fruit. Let Him do His work!