Monday, March 5, 2012
After 6 years of being on this field of ministry God has sent and assigned us to, I am beginning to see things a bit clearer. For one, I can see where we have been and how God has led and is continuing to lead us. Secondly, I am seeing the seasons of church planting that God has brought me through and wondering if that is the way He desires to lead all church planters...or maybe just me...maybe some CP veterans can help me out here. But,here is what I see:
Church Planting is much like farming and planting crops. There is a lot of work to be done before seeds are ever placed in the ground...yet we (I) just did not see that truth in 2006 when we moved to Troy. Fresh out of seminary, 11 years experience w/inner-city ministry, combined with the fact that I was born and raised in the community God sent us to, I thought we had all we needed to hit the ground running. And we did just that.However, as I now see, fallow (raw, unused, uncultivated) ground needs to be worked and broken up before seeds can be sown.And that is precisely the season we (me, my wife, and children) have been living in...a season of preparation and breaking up fallow ground. During this time God had been preparing us and pereparing the soil of this mission field for planting. We have led a few people to Christ and have baptized a few, but for the most part this has been a season of connecting woth people and building relationships...real,authentic realtionships, which will serve as bridges for the gospel as God continues to prepare the church planter anbd further prepare the ground for the next step or phase.
Matthew 13 (New King James Version)
3 Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!...18 “Therefore hear the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he whoreceived seed by the wayside. 20 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. 22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:3-9; 18-23) NKJV
I have read this parable and studied it many times...always seeing it from the same perspective; that of the receivers of the seed, and with good reason, because Jesus mentions the receivers and the various spiritual conditions or states they are in when the seed is sown.
But what about the sower? what is his responsibility? in the parable, the sower is the one who scatters seed, which is the word of God. The Bible also says that God's word does not return void...but shall prosper in the thing for which I have sent it (Isa.55:11). So, the sowers are those who deliver God's word through the ministry of evangelism. Four scenarios are spoken of here by Jesus, but only the fourth/last scenario is a fruit bearing one...when the seed (word of God) falls on good ground, and is received, and the one who receives it goes on to bear fruit (makes more disciples). The other three receive the word, but there is no fruit. Is the sower responsible for where he scatters seed?
Relating church planting to farming is a clear way for me to see, from a Biblical and practical perspective, how the process of making disciples moves forward.
Would a farmer just scatter seed anywhere, even on ground he knows has not been prepared properly for producing crops? As spiritual farmers, do we do the same? Just scatter the seed of the word anywhere...hoping that the Holy Spirit will do a miraculous thing and disciples will just pop up like wildflowers? Another side to this argument is that as ministers of the word, we are to just scatter and let the Spirit do His work. Is it ever our responsibliity to be discerning like a farmer and only scatter seeds where the ground has been cultivated enough to grow and produce crops?
I'm not a farmer, but I know a few, and they do not waste seed on ground that they know is not ready to grow crops. They take the time to cultivate such ground, while sowing seeds in fields that are prepared for planting and harvesting. Some ground may need to be broken up, while other ground may be broken up, but needs to be worked with fertilizer and other ingredients before seeds are placed in the gound. Then, once seeds are sown, there is after care that must take place; watering, weeding, feeding, etc.
Back in 2005 I was like a new farmer, having never planted a church before. That's not a bad thing, just that I had (still have) a lot of learning to do. In the very beginning we hit the ground running...sowing seeds in many places, and we had a similar experience as the sower in Jesus' parable had. Many of those we shared God's word with did not understand and the enemy came and plucked it away. Then there were some who did receive God's word and because they had no root, they fell away shortly after....but they did fellowship with us for awhile. And there were some who truly received the word that we planted and did stay and fellowship with us a bit longer...but their lives continued to be consumed with their problems and personal fears and the word of God was choked out of them. And then there were the few who received the word and have gone on to be baptized and are now bearing fruit, because thier hearts were ready (good ground) for receiving the seed.
I believe that Jesus equips us to be discerning, like farmers, and prepares us to know when to scatter seed and when not to scatter seed. Sometimes we need to wait until the conditions of the soil are at a point where crops will grow. But there is still much work to be done in those fields. Those fields are people's hearts which are not prepared by us, but by the Holy Spirit, as we, by faith, go to those people and love them and serve them the way Jesus did and commands us to. The only way to know a person's heart is to spend time listening and ministering to them. Disiplemaking, like farming takes effort and time and God will let us know, as we spend time with people, sharing our lives with them, when the time is right to share God's word with them.
Just my thoughts from my own great commission experience...would love to hear yours!