Article: The Ebb and Flow of Ministry

AlikGriffin_Victoria_Beach_Low_Tide_Beach_Photos_0-900x600Genesis 8:22 While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven..

One of my favorite hymns, “He Keeps Me Singing,” has a wonderful line that is admittedly a little hard to sing (try it):

Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

Life has it’s ebb and flow. The phrase means to decrease and then increase, as with the tide. Life has it’s times of decrease, followed by times of increase. Harvest follows seed-time. If you’ve plowed and made the ground ready, and planted the seed, a time of harvest will follow (barring a natural disaster). Ecclesiastes reminds us that there different seasons, and different times for different purposes. Life ebbs, and flows.

The same thing takes place in churches and ministries. Yesterday, I computerized our church’s record books, which had been kept in longhand. I typed them into Microsoft Word, and then compiled 13 years worth of stats and numbers. The numbers tell a story with a definite ebb and flow since our first service with eleven people. People have come and gone as they always do, especially in suburban areas. People die, move, change memberships, get mad, drop out or backslide. In most churches, this attrition adds up to as much as 20% per year that has to be replaced to maintain growth.

I don’t know if this is typical or not, but over thirteen years since being started from scratch, our church has seen nine years of increase in average attendance and four years in which the attendance average took a slight setback. Ebb and flow. Seed-time and harvest. In our experience, each time of pruning or setback was followed by a new time of growth – leaving the church stronger than it had been before.

I don’t know if every church goes through such times. Most that I know have and do. I am writing this because a lot of young preachers may not know that other churches go through this sort of thing as well. In fact, enough of us do that it might even be considered normal.

Preachers and church members can get discouraged during the ebb and elated during the flow. Sometimes, during the times of blessing, we get prideful and even complacent. Sometimes, during the ebb, we get disillusioned, frustrated and downhearted.

When things ebb, preachers sometimes become desperate – and begin changing things that should not be changed, to try to “grow.” The growth that they achieve (if any at all) is not worth the price of the compromises that they have made. Some cancel soulwinning because “it doesn’t work any more” (it doesn’t work any less, either). Some park their buses and go after a “different demographic.” Some turn to a new generation of church growth gurus (of very questionable doctrinal positions and practices) and change their worship format for the newest fad or promotion. Some scrap their standards in an attempt to be more “acceptable.” And some just throw in the towel and quit the ministry, feeling like failures.

flowI would encourage my preacher friends and the members of their churches to stay by the stuff. Keep knocking doors. Keep preaching the Book. Keep praying, loving people, and reaching out to the lost. Continue raising money for missions and planning to do great things for God. Keep taking care of business. Renovate your buildings, print new tracts, fix up the nursery, get visitor packets ready, and do all that you can and trust God.

New people will fill empty places. Visitors will come and sinners will get saved. Families will come and new converts will begin to grow in grace. Some will surrender to the ministry. The work will go on because it is God’s work.

Remember the words of the hymn:

There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

Though sometimes He leads through waters deep,
Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
See His footprints all the way.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.

Thank you for reading. God bless.

About James Rasbeary

I am the pastor of the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Wylie, Texas. Check out my blog at
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2 Responses to Article: The Ebb and Flow of Ministry

  1. J. J. Wesolowski says:

    Well written & exceptionally practical. II Tim. 2:6 comes to mind from your writing.

  2. 4grace2blog says:

    Just found this post. Thanks for reminding us to remain faithful. Thanks for reminding us that there are periods of dry spells and blessings…ebb and flow!

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