A couple of weeks ago a friend asked a question: "How would you encourage a faithful brother who had been pastoring for several years and has not, in that season, seen a conversion directly from his preaching, though the church is growing and health with saints being built up and believers joining the church?"
It is a good question, and one which many faithful men might face. In itself, the question makes a number of what are good and proper assumptions, as well as wrestling with some significant issues that cannot be avoided. Here are some thoughts for pastors and preachers in such a position:
1. Do not underestimate the work of building and equipping, for this is fruit, and it can be - as well as an end in itself - a means to the end of reaching others with the gospel.
2. Do not presume that what you are preaching is not the gospel, but do not presume that you are preaching that gospel as clearly and pointedly as you might. Go back to your Bible to ensure that you are preaching truths rooted in the person and work of Christ, but also preaching the person and work of Christ in themselves - preach Christ, not just about him!
3. Are you preparing the way by a thorough and plain explanation of the problem of personal sin and impending judgement? Are you preaching the law in the good old-fashioned sense?
4. All your preaching should be evangelical, but consider whether regular and specific evangelistic sermons might be an extra avenue of pursuing this end.
5. Is the church actively and specifically praying for conversions in its public meetings (Lord's days and prayer meetings) and its private occasions (personal and family worship)?
6. I think it is worth considering whether or not there is any sin in your life or the life of the church that might be a reason for God to withhold a blessing. I say this not to cripple you in conscience, but because it is worth taking into account.
7. Do not fall into the mentality that 'the nation is under judgement' and that therefore, in effect, your labours are doomed to failure - the gospel remains the power of God to salvation for those who believe. Preach it in that confidence. You must cultivate this confidence actively.
8. Consider whether and to what extent these growing members are personally engaged in making Christ known in their families and among their friends and neighbours and colleagues.
9. Consider whether there are specific evangelistic avenues that could be pursued e.g. home and personal (1-2-1) bible studies, door to door, open air preaching. As we engage in such, the Lord sometimes sends blessing by another route.
10. Are you setting a personal example of evangelistic endeavor (not merely pastoral-professional duty)?
11. Are you equipping the saints for this work in your public ministry? Is this one of the areas in which they are being built up?
12. Are you giving the impression that the church is a place for those believers to come and rest (it is) but not also to work (that too)? Some believers who seek out a faithful ministry do so because of weariness. They need, under God, to be healed, equipped, stirred up and sent out.
13. Are you yourself given to prayer for God's blessing upon your ministry in all these respects?
14. Consider that Satan will particularly assault the church and ministers who particularly pursue this. Expect it to be hard, and to bring hardships.
15. Are you prepared to accept that this could be a testing time in which the Lord is challenging your faith as to whether you believe God's promises, and so will go on relying upon God's means to accomplish God's ends in God's time? Such patient persistence is one of the hardest things to maintain.
In offering such counsels, I convict myself over again. None of them are accusations, but examples of the kind of questions I would ask and continue to ask myself. When you do so, preach in the prayerful expectation that God will bless his gospel.