Preaching Articles

I have worked for a long time to help pastors with growth barriers in their church. They can be anything from worship issues to strategy to theology and more. So many barriers can get in the way of a church growing, but a central one isn’t found in the processes of the church.

There may be a number of reasons a ministry grows cold and a church slows down. But often, the heart of the problem is the heart of the pastor.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one. A potential pastor hears a call from God. Full of natural talent and ministry gifts, the pastor plants a church or revitalizes a dead one. For a while the pastor feels the grace of God and the joy of ministry. And then the burst of youthful zeal loses steam. The farm-to-table-like newness turns into yet another established church in a cycle of ministry efforts that don’t get very far.

What’s wrong?

A church with spiritually unhealthy leaders will be an unhealthy church. If your church is reaching growth barriers and struggling to get beyond them, take a good look at yourself before you look at the rest of the church systems.

Dealing with Issues of Sin

A barrier-breaking leader doesn’t hide sin, but admits it quickly and repents.

Martin Luther was right. We are simul justus et peccator—simultaneously justified and sinful at the same time. But that is no excuse for remaining willfully in sin. We are in a battle, an ongoing effort to mortify sin as we follow Jesus. But the heart is an efficient idol factory.

Our response to having idol-making hearts is to have an idol-breaking God, and we have exactly that. He sends us His Holy Spirit to convict us (John 16:8).

There are some who should stop right now and repent. You may need to call someone, confess to your family or your church, or just cry out to God for forgiveness. For your soul and your church’s sake, don’t fear doing what’s right in God’s eyes.

But you may simply need to refocus your heart upon the Lord, whose yoke is easy and burden is light. Come to him. He has waited patiently for you.

Don’t just be a leader. Be a godly leader. Be a repentant leader. Be a leader who admits you are in a battle with sin too.

Always Be Identifying Sin - When you notice some time between seasons of significant repentance, it is never because you’ve become a much better person. It’s likely because you are ignoring your sinfulness and think too much of yourself. It doesn’t sound pleasant to keep pursuing the knowledge of our own sin. But it provides us with more reason to fall on our face in awe of the loving, forgiving, and sanctifying God.

Find Accountability- Find yourself someone, preferably not in your church, who is mature and can ask you difficult questions. This is someone you can meet with who help you identify sin and encourage you in the journey of sanctification. Here are some questions for accountability I’ve used. Transparency is crucial, but you also have to be willing to admit your sin beyond these times of accountability. You must extend them to those in your relationships, family, and church as needed.

Obey the Spirit Promptly- Pushing back against the Holy Spirit of God rather than dealing with conviction immediately is a dangerous thing. We know from Romans 1 that people get in trouble by failing to glorify God, so God delivers us over to the cravings of our hearts. May we hear and respond to the still, small voice of God and do it without reservation or delay.

The truth is, a repentant pastor with a repentant people is God’s most powerful instrument for ministry on the earth. And you can’t lead a people to repent if you aren’t regularly doing so yourself and keeping your relationship with God fresh.

May our daily reminder be 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


If you want to know more about breaking through growth barriers in your church, I’ve created a unique new web-based seminar to help which includes a focus on breaking these personal barriers. Check out Breaking the 200 Barrier.


Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for EvangelismPreviously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Ed recently started Mission Group in order to create unique and practical resources for church leaders. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

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