John Piper offers good counsel for the pastor experiencing the "lean seasons."
Sometimes It Rains
We always think of Billy Graham’s crusades as full and successful. It was not always the case. The London Evening Standard recounted “a rain-soaked service on Streatham Common where Graham’s music director, Cliff Barrows, had to give up trying to play his trombone, and heavier members of the platform party had to move to the center as the stage sank in the mud” (Alister Chapman, Holy Ambition, 48).
If you live long enough, and serve faithfully enough, you will have rain-soaked seasons, and feel yourself sinking in the mud. But Graham survived. And look what God wrought.
There Are Hard Years
People look at Bethlehem’s growth over the last 30 years and think it is a success story. But things are more complex than that. And all growth is ambiguous. Numbers don’t equal faithfulness.
What is so easily forgotten are the lean seasons. For example, in 1993 our average Sunday morning attendance was 1,064. Then came the crisis when two of our staff were removed for moral reasons. The shadow this cast was long and painful. In 1994 our attendance fell to 943. In 1995 to 906. In 1996 we struggled to 941. And only in 1997 did we reach our former high. Attendance reached 1,102. No growth for three years. People wondered if the dream was over.
There were joys. And there were blessings. But in many ways the three years from the end of 1993 to the end of 1996 were heavy and sorrowful. They were the Lord’s chastening.
Then the darkness was lifted, and from 1997 to 2001 our attendance doubled.
The point of these two stories is this: Lean seasons come. And if you keep your hand on the plow and pray with patience, the merciful God will bring a new day.