Growth in ministry
Pope Shenouda III | 27 June 2010
Growth is a principal condition for successful spiritual ministry, and it may take various forms: increase in the number of ministers or those ministered to, growth in the type or character of ministry, or spiritual growth.
Increase in number: A prominent example is the ministry of the Lord Christ and His holy apostles, for He started with twelve disciples (Mt 10), then seventy others (Lk 10). When choosing Matthias there were about a hundred and twenty (Acts 1: 15), then over five hundred brethren to whom the Lord appeared at once after His resurrection (1Cor 15: 6).
Multitudes thronged the Lord, and thousands listened to Him (Jn 10: 6). On the Day of Pentecost, the number increased, and three thousand were baptized (Acts 2: 41). After healing the lame man at the gate of the temple called Beautiful, the number of the men was about five thousand (Acts 4: 4). The number continued to grow, for, "Believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." (Acts 5: 14)
Every day new believers joined the church, "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2: 47) Seven deacons were chosen for the ministry, and the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6: 7).
Then whole cities and nations accepted faith, not only in Jerusalem, but also in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. Even those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8: 4). As Samaria believed, the apostles sent Peter and John to them that they might receive the Holy Spirit after having been baptized (Acts 8: 14- 17). "The churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied." (Acts 9: 31) How beautiful are these words about growth!
Evangelism moved to "Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch," "A great number believed and turned to the Lord". Barnabas and Saul assembled with the church of Antioch for a whole year where they taught a great many people, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11: 19- 26). The activity of St. Paul and his assistants caused the growth of the church, and a great multitude of Greeks joined them in Macedonia, Thessalonica, Philippi and Berea, and others. Many believed, prominent women as well as men, and faith reached Athens (Acts 17).
Faith moved to Rome, and there St. Paul preached and dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him (Acts 28: 30, 31). The word extended to Egypt and the East, and the numbers multiplied greatly, and the words of the Psalm came true, "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." (Ps 19: 4)
In thirty-five years from the Lord's Resurrection the Church could fulfill the command of the Lord Christ, "You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1: 8) "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them …" (Mt 28: 19) "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." (Mk 16: 15) They succeeded in spite of all resistance from the Jews with their conspiracies, or from the synagogues of philosophers (Acts 6: 9), in spite of being cast into prisons, and in spite of the trials by the Roman Empire, the severe persecutions, the hard martyrdom ages, and the poor provisions they had. We say this to blame not only those who do not grow, but also those whose numbers decreased due to the growth of the activities and temptations of other denominations!
Speak the word to whoever you meet, whether an Orthodox or not. Cast your seeds on every ground, like the Sower who sowed the seeds, some on the good ground, some on the stony places, some on the thorny land, and some on earth that had no depth (Mt 13: 3- 9). Remember the word of the Lord God at the beginning of creation and in the days of Noah, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen 1: 28; 9: 1)
We should search into the spiritual meaning of the words not only the literal. The words "subdue it" mean spiritually to subdue it to the word and commandment of God. Therefore we pray everyday, "… that Your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations." (Ps 67: 2, 3) Amazing indeed that David the Prophet said these words, praying for the salvation of all nations, at a time when the Jews were claiming to be the elect people of God! It was probably a prophecy revealing God's love for the Gentiles and for everybody, and showing the spreading of faith everywhere.
Examples of growth: The Lord gave us as example the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, "When it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." (Mt 13: 31, 32)
This Parable of the small seed is a reproach to many ministers. Have you likewise as a minister grown into a tree where birds nest in your branches, or you are still a seed in the ground?
Another example is the grain seed: "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head." (Mk 4: 26- 28) Has the seed of your ministry sprouted and became a full grain, while you know not how, for the Spirit of God worked in it?
A third example is the Parable of the good crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirty fold, some sixty, and some a hundred (Mk 4: 8). How beautiful are the words, "sprang up, increased and produced"!
A fourth example is the lilies of the field. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these, but more important is how they grow (Mt 6: 28, 29). Not only the lilies that grow, but also every tree; whether the parts above the ground or underneath.
A divine and biblical teaching is that the more you grow and bear fruit, the more the Lord will prune you that you may bear more fruit. The Lord says about the vine and the branches, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (Jn 15: 1, 2)
Another example of growth you ought to follow in your ministry and spiritual life is the palm tree and the cedar, "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." (Ps 92: 12) Spiritual growth: The father priest says in the Litany of Meetings in the Divine Mass, 'Let Your people be with blessing thousands of thousands and ten thousand of ten thousand doing Your will.' What avails is not the thousands, but doing the will, not the increase in the number but the growth of spirituality, as in the early church of the apostles, "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2: 47) Therefore, struggle to grow in the ministry, and remember the words of the apostle, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor 15: 58)
It is evident then that growth in ministry is a biblical commandment. The Lord said, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." (Gen 9: 1) Again, "Preach the gospel to every creature." (Mk 16: 15) See then how far do you contribute to the ministry? Let your ministry grow in number, in spirit, and in place. If it does not increase in number, let it not decrease, and give it spiritual depth even if the number is so little, only your household, as Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Josh 24: 15)
It is not sufficient that the number of those who go to church increase, but the number of those who repent, confess, and take the Holy Communion. Do not rejoice at those who listen to your teaching, but at those who comply to it and fulfill God's commandments, as the Lord Christ said at the end of His Sermon on the Mount, "Whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Mt 7: 24) Therefore, we say in the Prayer for the Gospel, 'Let us be worthy all of us, O Lord, to listen and act according to Your holy Gospels.'
Growth in knowledge is not enough, but it should rather be in work. Job the Righteous said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You." (Job 42: 5) And David the Prophet said, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good." (Ps 34: 8)
This is what you ought to achieve with those to whom you minister, to move from mere hearing to seeing, then to tasting. How that can be, and how you can achieve growth in your and their life, this is the subject of the Article of next week, God willing.