Content in Pastoral Obscurity

Taigen Joos

black wooden house

About every six months, a small group of pastor friends and I get together to discuss a Christian book and pray together. It is a great time of ministerial camaraderie and encouragement. All of us are pastors of relatively small churches. None of us has a church with more than two hundred attendees, and several of us have fewer than one hundred in attendance on a Sunday morning. For some evangelical pastors, these small numbers would seem like ministerial failure. However, faithful men like the ones I meet with serve the Lord faithfully and are content with their pastoral obscurity.

Let’s face it, the evangelical world is rife with big-named “celebrity” preachers, many of whom are no doubt faithful servants of God. Yet those few who get national notoriety do not accurately represent the vast majority of pastors in our nation. According to a Lifeway study done in 2020, most churches in America have fewer than one hundred people in attendance.

I am the pastor of one of those churches. In the nearly forty years of our church’s existence, we have never averaged two hundred attendees in any given month. I pastor in relative obscurity, as do my friends in ministry, and we are content with that, by God’s grace.

Faithfulness in ministry is not about numbers. Yet most of our evangelical brethren use the “A, B, C” checklist of gaging the success of a ministry: Attendance, Building projects, and Cash flow. Are we so results-driven, business-oriented, and shallow-minded that we have become clouded to God’s assessment of success?

As an example, who was more successful in their ministry for God: Peter or Jeremiah? Jeremiah was faithful in his ministry for God, yet very few, if any, believed and followed his words of warning from God. Peter preached mightily on the day of Pentecost and thousands of people were converted. Which man was more successful? Of course, making a choice between the two would be rather foolish. We would never say someone like Jeremiah or even Ezekiel were not successful in their service to God. But I fear that in modern evangelicalism, we play the numbers game, to our own detriment.

Most of the twelve apostles of our Savior ministered in relative obscurity. While we might be able to remember their names, we know very little to nothing about their post-ascension ministry. We don’t know what their numbers were, but were they any less “successful” than the apostle Paul, whom we know planted a multitude of churches and saw many people come to Christ?

How many faithful, godly, evangelical pastors are there who get no national attention, who will probably not have any book published, or be “followed” by thousands of people on social media, yet who will plod along faithfully in their small corner of the harvest field that God has given them? They are content in relative obscurity, and we ought to praise God for them.

God told the prophet Zechariah, “for who has despised the day of small things?” God does not despise them, nor should we. Evangelical Christians should not look disfavorably upon those churches who are “small” in number, nor upon the pastors who seek to faithfully shepherd them. I offer a word of encouragement to those men or their church members who may be reading this: faithfulness to God and his Scripture is a better gage of ministerial success than raw numbers. While a number represents a person, it is God’s job to save people and build his church, not ours. Be faithful as a steward of the mysteries of God, and let God do what only he can do. Be content to serve the Lord in relative obscurity. Minister to the best of your ability for the glory of God. If your church crests over one hundred in attendance, do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Continue to serve faithfully and give glory to God, for he alone deserves the credit.

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