Many years ago, an article was put into my hands, at just the right time, in just the right place in my life, which has impacted me for many years. Most Christians can testify of a time they heard an old truth as if they heard it for the first time. These are truths that become part of us and stay with us through good times and the seemingly difficult ones.
In December of 1983, Maurice Roberts wrote an article in the Banner of Truth magazine entitled, “On the Excellence of Plodding.” My own church can testify to the fact that I have used that phrase dozens and dozens of times since. I was starting my second year as an elder in a reforming Baptist Church. My co-elder and I were doing our best to bring Biblical truth to a church that had strong Fundamentalist roots. As I said, we were trying, but we ourselves were still learning. As we were trying to better understand the reformed faith ourselves, we were leading, but admittedly did not fully know where we were going.
While in this process of reform, we saw many more individuals leave through the back door than were coming through the front. By the time reform had come to our church in 1985 (yes, always reforming, but we finally were settled on the 1689) we had seen our attendance go from an average of 120 to about 50. This decline came about generally by a couple of families leaving together and inevitably in a few months a couple more leaving. These were often discouraging times. Some new folks would come, but then even many of these new folks would leave. We never had a mass exodus, but it seemed no family was ever content to leave without taking someone with them, with the exception of those moving out of the area. Other circumstances would eventually leave me as the sole elder in 1989, with an average attendance of about 40.
During that time, and ever since, “plodding” has been my personal theme of ministry. In spite of the fact everyone nods their head in agreement to the famous parable of the tortoise and the hare, few Americans actually applaud “plodding”. Plodding is considered unsuccessful. In Bible College, I was taught that any fool could grow a church to 300! Something had to be wrong with you if you couldn’t do something as simple as that in the space of a few years. With that in my background, and the apparent lack of personal success, you can see why Maurice Roberts’ article was exactly what I needed during that time.
What is Biblical plodding? It is simply being faithful to the means that God has ordained. It isn’t being lazy, and it isn’t being passive. Instead, it is refusing the gimmicks and trends of the day. It is staying with the preached Word in an expository manner. It is a settled conviction that God is wiser than we are, and He has written a definitive Word that covers all of life. We can preach His Word with confidence, verse by verse and at times word by word, plod through it, and see God work by His Holy Spirit in hearts and lives. Some men are gifted to preach topically, but I know I do best by plodding. There are subjects I have preached upon that I actually did not want to preach, early in the week. However, these very subjects have often been to our congregation’s greatest profit. As a congregation, we plodded through them, and were the better off for it.
Now, I have seen churches in our area grow much faster than ours. A few miles from us, there is a church that started 14 years ago as a Home Bible Study with 12 members. Today, they have 7,000! Southern California IS the land of the mega church. Nevertheless, I have found my greatest joy in the ministry from “plodding.” The ministry is accomplished day by day and Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day. The work is accomplished slowly in the hearts and lives of others. What a blessing to visit a mom in the hospital, and hold her newborn baby and share in that family’s joy! What joy to see that same little one, raised up in the church, come to maturity and come to Christ in His time! Then, plod long enough and you get to perform the marriage of that same individual, and then eventually visit him/her in the hospital with their own newborn! What a joy to see a lost man or woman, begin to attend services, and continue to attend, and eventually come to faith themselves! It’s exciting to see a Christian, come to you from another place, begin to understand the doctrines of grace, and get for themselves a whole new Bible. All this is usually done one person at a time, one plodding step at a time.
Not every pastor gets the privilege to stay in one place long enough for that scenario to play itself out. God in His providence moves His servants according to His purposes and plans. God also moves individual members to new places of service. Instead of getting discouraged when a family moves, remember that now you have the joy of having brothers and sisters all over this great country, as part of other churches. They took a part of your ministry with them to their new place of service! You never know what God will do through them, and He often surprises the faithful plodder when fruit spring up in a different location!
A faithful ministry will most often be characterized by “plodding.” There are not many who have the gifts of Spurgeon. Most faithful pastors will labor for their entire ministry in obscurity. Only a few will become well known in this life, and some of those will come to regret it. For the vast majority, our greatest good will come by faithfully plodding, day by day, the same task we urge upon our people. We all know the race is not to the swift. The Christian life is an endurance race. So it is with the ministry. Endure, and keep running, even at your plodding pace, even when others are sprinting past you. You’re not racing against them. To their own master they will stand or fall. Keep running until you come to your appointed finish line!
The world, even the Christian world, does not always appreciate a plodder, but Christ will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” to those who continue to use the God appointed means in the God appointed way. God used that article by Maurice Roberts as one of the means to keep this pastor in the ministry, and to keep him “plodding.”Steve Marquedant Sovereign Grace Reformed Baptist Church Ontario, California www.sgbc-ontario.us