Discouraged? This is for you.
One of the recurring discouragements in deaf ministry is that there’s very little growth potential.
You’ve probably heard the challenge given at missions conferences, going something like this:
If just one person was to personally reach two people for Christ over the course of a year, at the end of the year there would be three people serving the Lord. If those three people reached two people each, the next year there would be nine people spreading God’s Word. At the end of the third year, there would be 27, after the fourth year, 81, after the fifth year 243, and after six years you have 729. At the end of ten years, you have over 59,000 converts.
Of course, we never reach 100% in ministry. Instead, these numbers depend on large part on the willingness and ability of your converts to share the gospel with others, who in turn share with others, etc.
In Deaf ministry you invest more of yourself to reach fewer people, and those you do reach often lack the education and resources to become multipliers. Second and third generation fruit becomes increasingly rare. It’s easy to feel discouraged.
Also, we know Jesus taught that more would reject him than follow him. Matthew 7:13 talks about the “many” who choose the wide gate to destruction. With only about 0.2% of the population fitting our target profile (Deaf using sign language), the numbers get even smaller.
In a city of 1,000,000 people, there might be around 2000 deaf users of ASL. Since fewer than one in 4 Americans regularly attend a church of any Christian denomination, your numbers are likely capped at an even lower 500 — and that’s before subtracting all the other denominations and even other churches of your own denomination. Considering the proliferation of deaf ministries across denominations over the past 50 years, it’s extremely difficult to draw more than 50 deaf people, even in a large city. If you live in a smaller town, say 100,000 people, your numbers are an order of magnitude smaller. Let’s face it; Warren Buffet wouldn’t buy stock in a deaf ministry.
Hence the common temptation: to switch to a more “rewarding” opportunity, one with more “potential for growth.”
Everyone wants success; everyone wants numbers; everyone wants to be recognized as a great leader. Deaf ministry isn’t likely to get you there. The church doesn’t call the deaf pastor to become the senior pastor, they call the youth pastor or the singles’ pastor. You might say Deaf ministry is a “dead-end” ministry path.
For this reason, I was particularly struck by the devotional I read this morning from Daily in the Word by Pastor Paul Chappell.
Pastor Chappell shared John 3:27-30, the passage where John declares his intention to glorify God above all else. John’s signature line, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” is a bracing reminder of our key purpose in Ministry and in life.
We’re not here for the numbers, and we’re not here for the recognition. We’re not here to win the respect and admiration of our peers. We’re here to glorify God by sharing his Word with every creature, and our specific ministry, for which God has prepared, equipped and burdened us, is to the Deaf.
If we don’t reach them, who will? Not everyone is called to reach this particular minority group, and not everyone can. We are, and we can. Don’t abandon your burden for anything short of a new burden — a clear vision of another calling God gives you. Pride calls us to the most prestigious opportunity, the biggest congregation. Greed and insecurity call us to the largest salary and the best benefits package. God calls us to something far different, yet much more meaningful.
Chappell cites a great quote from F. B. Meyer: “The only hope of a decreasing self is an increasing Christ.”
Our hope has always been in Christ. As long as we remember that, rather than be discouraged, we can stand with John the Baptist and trust that our labor of love has meaning and significance for our Lord far beyond the quantitative results.
Remember that next time you get discouraged.