Faithfulness and fruitfulness

Several years ago, I was teaching at a leadership conference in North Eastern India. High up in the cloudy valleys of Meghalaya, I was working my way through the life of Nehemiah as we looked at the kind of qualities and integrity which are required of a leader amongst God’s people.  At the morning break over sweet tea, a young Pastor sought me out and confessed with a long face that he was doing everything I was describing, but still his church wasn’t growing. I encouraged him that  God requires faithfulness, rather then fruitfulness, from us – and he went away somewhat reassured.

I was reminded of that conversation again today when my  attention was drawn to an article by Pastor Tim Suttle in the Huffington Post. In his provocative post Pastor Suttle argues that churches who pursue sentimentality (making people feel good) or pragmatism (here perceived as savvy marketing of the church) are seeking growth in the wrong way. So far so reasonable.

However, he goes on to make a virtue out of rejecting these things which exalts the shrinking over the growing church. A church which is shrinking in numbers appears to be a touchstone of spiritual authenticity for him.  ‘Nowadays’ he writes ‘faithfulness, not success, is our only metric’. Must we really choose between these things?

I applaud the rejection of sentimentality and marketing for their own sake, but I reject the suggestion that a faithful church will automatically shrink in numbers. If we live faithful lives and preach faithful sermons, engage in authentic worship and conduct relationships of integrity with our communities – why ever would we expect the church not to grow?