How God Uses Pruning to Grow a Church

Pastor Pilgrim is the lead pastor of Reality Church Tampa, a Calvary Chapel church plant located in downtown Tampa. For more information about Reality, visit www.realitychurchtampa.com.

 

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21

We all know that the word “grow” means “BIGGER”. My son Aiden is 10 years old, but was born two months premature. He was literally the size of a peanut butter jar. For some reason the nickname “Peanut” didn’t…stick…(pun intended). Within a matter of months he was skyrocketing through the growth charts. The doctor must have said “100th percentile” at least a dozen times. Our baby was becoming “bigger”. He was growing. We hear that companies are “growing” and that usually equates to expansion: bigger customer base, bigger reach, more locations, increased revenues. Grow means bigger. Right?

When I was growing up I bought a pack of foam dinosaur “pills”. The box promised that if you got them wet, they would expand into huge foam triceratops that I surmised would wreak havoc on your little sister. So I dropped them in the tub with me half expecting to be mauled by a T-Rex before my feet turned into raisins. I was gravely disappointed.

Thankfully I had tear-free shampoo.

Growth Doesn’t Mean “Bigger”

What if when we spoke about churches, assuming that a growing church meant a “bigger” church, we had it all wrong? What if a “growing” church instead actually meant a “healthy” church? Job seemed to lose everything, and yet at the end of literally the worst day of his entire life, Job uttered the worshipful assertion, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. It was in the midst of loss, of losing almost all that Job held dear, that he worshiped. Why? Is this some sick sarcastic attempt at mocking God?

Not at all.

What if a “growing” church instead actually meant a “healthy” church?

A Lesson From Job

Job knew what many church planters have come to discover after a few months or years of faithfully tilling the soil. He came to understand what Jesus would say centuries later in John 15: “and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Job understood that God is the giver and the taker. He prunes that we may bear fruit.

Job understood that God is the giver and the taker. He prunes that we may bear fruit.

A Lesson from Jesus

I don’t pretend to understand gardening. My wife Jenn just planted a beautiful organic garden in our backyard and I’m working hard at helping her make it a success, but I don’t have anything close to a green thumb. What I do know is that if we want a healthy garden, it needs our attention. It needs our tending. It needs sweat and effort and lots of water. Jesus said He was the Vinedresser, the faithful gardener. He’s paying plenty of attention to His garden! And Jesus said if a branch is bearing fruit, it must be pruned. Not to punish it. Not to cut it off. But to cause it to bear much more fruit.

A Lesson In Media Res

In the last two months God has been pruning His church. I have counted over a dozen people who have left the church I pastor for various reasons, and it can be very discouraging and challenging as a pastor trying to pour into people’s lives when they remove themselves from the community. A church planter has sacrificed his (and his entire family’s) life to make investments that seem to be trivialized and expendable by the very people he is wanting to “do life” with. To get a dozen nonchalant “we’re leaving, but we love your family” conversations is enough to decry counseling or some wayward counsel from Job’s friends.

It is hard to grow “big” when you are seeing a net loss.

Unless “grow” meant healthy.

And if it is indeed God’s church, they are indeed God’s people, and you are indeed God’s servant, then you must submit yourself to the realization that He has the right to give, and the right to take away, and His name will continue to be blessed.

Even if the foam velociraptors are smaller than you expected.

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