A New Twist on an Old Parable
Taken from the parable of the talents (Mathew 25:14–30)
Every pastor has tried to motivate his congregation to faithfulness and productivity with sermons taken from this parable. Ministers would do well to learn from its principles, by replacing the references to servants and talents with references to pastors and people.
From that perspective the parable would read something like this.
The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a trip. He called his pastors together and gave them people to invest in on his behalf while he was away. He gave 50 families to one, 20 families to another, and 10 families to the last, dividing them in proportion to their abilities, and then he left on his trip.
The pastor who received the 50 families began immediately to invest in them, and soon doubled the size of his congregation. The pastor with 20 families also went right to work, and doubled the number of families in his church. But the pastor who received 10 families focused only on keeping the families he had. He was not willing to risk losing any by investing them in ministry.
After a long time their master returned from his trip and called his pastors to give an account of the families he had entrusted to them. The pastor to whom he had entrusted 50 families came and said, “Sir, you gave me 50 families to invest in ministry, and I have double their number.”
The master was full of praise, “Well done, my good and faithful pastor. You have been faithful with a few families. I will give you many more families to be responsible for. Let’s celebrate together in the joys of ministry.”
Next came the pastor who had received 20 families, with the report, “Sir, you gave me 20 families to invest in ministry, and I have doubled their number.”
The master said, “Well done, my good and faithful pastor. You have been faithful with a few families. I will give you many more families to be responsible for. Let’s celebrate together in the joys of ministry.”
Finally the pastor with 10 families came and said, “Sir, I know that you are a hard man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant, and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose the families you gave me if I invested them in ministry, so I carefully guarded them, and protected them from involvement, and here they are.”
The master replied, “You wicked and lazy pastor. You think I am a hard man, do you, harvesting crops I didn’t plant and gathering crops I didn’t cultivate? Well, you should have at least put these people to work in the church, so when I returned they would have grown a little. Take the families from this pastor and give them to the one with the 50 families. To those who invest well in the people I give them, even more people will be given to them, and they will have an abundance. But from those who are unfaithful, even the families they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless pastor out of the ministry. His life will be filled with heartache and sorrow.”
We can learn several lessons from reading this parable in this way.
1) Some pastors have more God-given ability than others to grow a church, but every pastor can grow a church. Not every pastor will have a megachurch, but every pastor can have a growing church.
2) God expects every church to grow under the dutiful care of its pastor. God doesn’t expect big results from a small church, but He does expect results. God expects growth proportionate to the abilities He gives each pastor, and proportionate to the people He gives each pastor. There is a direct and undeniable correlation between church growth and pastoral diligence.
3) God rewards only pastors who invest in people and increase the kingdom of God. If we don’t grow people in ministry, God will direct them to pastors who will grow them.
4) The fastest way to gain more people is to invest in the people God has already given us. When we experience a decline in church attendance, there is a temptation to say, “The Lord is pruning us, so we can bear more fruit.” While it is true that on occasion some people have to leave a church before it can grow, eventually we must bear fruit and produce a harvest.
5) God’s expectations of His pastors may seem harsh. He expects a harvest of people even when in the natural there appears to be no opportunity for a harvest. Fear is no justification for failure to yield a harvest. We may feel there are some things we can’t do, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
6) However obvious this statement may seem, it remains true, pastors of growing churches are happier than pastors of declining churches. If we want ministry to be rewarding, we need to find a way to make our churches grow.
We should never envy the congregation another pastor has. Nor should we assume there is no potential in the congregation we have. Most important, we should never make excuses for any lack of productivity we may experience. When we invest ministry in people, and when we invest people in ministry, we will reap a harvest divinely proportioned for us.
Stanley E. Holder, Kentucky District Secretary/Treasurer