Years ago, I was on staff at The Tabernacle Church which was the largest church in our county.  Often, when interacting with other church pastors and their staff, the pastors or office staff would say to each other, “Remember. Do not act cocky.  We are the largest church in the county; but we all know it is only because of God’s favor.  We know that we don’t do everything right and we didn’t really do anything to deserve the growth that God has given to us.”

Because I knew how true the statement was, I didn’t realize how important the sentiment was.  That is, until I  interacted with a pastor from a large church a couple of years ago.  Pastor Bill had been invited to a ministerial meeting.  His fellow pastors had asked Pastor Bill to come and share what he believed had made his church so successful. 

Pastor Bill came on time.  However, he spoke to no one except another pastor from an equally large church.  Pastor Bill chose a seat away from the other pastors.  Because he was new to our fellowship, I spoke to Pastor Bill and sat in the seat next to his.   I had known him for years but I didn’t expect him to remember me.   So to start a conversation, I reminded him of our connections.  Without looking away from his food, he said in a curt tone, “I don’t remember you at all.”    Then he smiled at the larger-church pastor and returned to his conversation with the larger-church pastor.

I laughed, “Oh, I didn’t expect you to remember.”

“That’s good,” he said, still not looking at me. 

When he spoke to me, his tone was condescending and monotone.  Because not everyone is outgoing or personable, I wasn’t offended by his reaction to me.  However, when he began to share with the other pastors, he kept the same tone and the same attitude.  I was embarrassed for Pastor Bill.  I sat under Pastor Bill’s sermons for about six months.  I know about his teaching skills and techniques.  I’ve also heard most of the pastors who were attending.  They are equally good exhorters of God’s word. 

Without pulling any blows, he told them that if they would begin to preach God’s word they would be as blessed as he and his church were.  He told them that they were compromising in their lives and in their ministries or they would have the same results he was having.  There was  nothing humble or helpful about what he said. 

I sat with my hands in my lap, examining my knuckles. I was hurt for my friends who pastor small churches.  I was concerned for them.  When I looked up, their faces showed deep hurt and even shame. 

Humility must be the hallmark of all church growth–especially continuing growth.  If you get into the heart of all growth, it comes because of God’s unmerited favor.  God’s favor isn’t an outcome of anyone being greater or doing better.  It comes because God desires to use a Jacob or a David–both imperfect men.  Our hearts must be humble before the Lord.  And success doesn’t mean that humility can be thrown out the window.  After killing Saul, the man came to David to inform David that he had killed Saul.  David had the messenger killed.  “How dare you raise your hand against the anointed of God,” David said.

The heart of growth isn’t programs or systems or smiles or handshakes.  It is God’s outpouring of grace on a people who don’t deserve his incredible mercy.

Pastor Bill’s church continues to grow.  In fact, it is now about three times the size of what it was when he spoke to the pastors’ fellowship.  God’s favor continues to be poured on his congregation.  However, Pastor Bill’s impact doesn’t reach into the lives of the men who labor along side him in the community. 

Within the small pond of disability ministries, The Special Gathering is a fairly large fish.  But we know that we are in a small ministry pond. Led by our executive director, Richard Stimson, our continuing goal has been to fellowship and learn from the men and women with whom we share a common ministry around the world.  When I first came into this ministry, I wasn’t sure that these extreme acts of humility were genuine or appropriate.  Over the course of year, I seen the wisdom and joy of this important policy.