It’s very easy to get caught up in the go big, go fast, or go home mentality as a church planter. Almost every story you hear of church planting success is of how a gifted leader started with almost nothing and it just blew up overnight. If we changed the terminology just a little, it often sounds like we’re describing a high performance sports car and its zero to sixty time. Seldom do we hear a leader share about long years of faithful labor with little initial fruit, but how God was still at work anyway. I have to admit that I am also often enamored by the bigger-faster-is-better church stories.
I believe the issue is that in ministry circles we often focus on reaping as opposed to the tilling, sowing, watering, and cultivating that must occur before we reap. In other words we want to see the result of people embracing and pursuing Jesus without putting the work into the rest of the cycle. Something that feeds this mindset is that we hear amazing stories of people responding to Jesus and ministries growing and all too often even the people sharing the stories may miss that this is most often the byproduct of a long-term investment in people’s lives.
On Wednesday mornings I meet with a small group of ministry guys here in Burlington. One of the guys was sharing from John 4, where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the well. I won’t go into all the details of why that alone has great significance, because something else stood out to us. This Samaritan woman responds quickly in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and her need for Him. The scripture also clearly says in verse 39, “from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman…” A lot of people were deciding to follow Jesus.
But Jesus says something very interesting to his disciples in the verses preceding this: 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Jesus wants the disciples to know that the spiritual harvest they are experiencing is the result of a long-term process and other people’s labor. Other people have gone before them- tilling the ground, planting the seed, watering the soil, and now they are seeing the harvest.
Big Question: How does this apply to you and me? I’ll answer this for me and hopefully that will help you answer the question for you.
*I need to be faithful with the small but significant doors God has opened in people’s lives around me. With each relationship people are at different points in this process. In Burlington the focus is overwhelming tilling and then sowing. This practically means serving people sacrificially, opening my life to others, building long-term relational credibility, and sharing about Jesus as they are open and willing to listen.
*I need to have a long-haul view of investing in people’s lives. I’m not a farmer, but I’m pretty certain the people hearing Jesus’ words from agrarian lifestyles 2000 years would have instantly connected Jesus’ words about sowing and reaping as real work. If I’m go to invest in people who have a negative perception of Christianity and little knowledge of the gospel, then I must be willing to make a long-term investment as I walk with them through this process.
*I need to recognize and celebrate God moving in people’s lives. I often focus on celebrating the reaping phase without taking the time to celebrate all that God has done in someone’s life leading up to when they decide to follow Jesus as Lord. Each relationship, each opportunity to sacrificially serve someone, each conversation about spirituality, each opportunity to pray for someone, each sharing of my story and more importantly God’s story is evidence God is at work.
Pray that we’d be sensitive to what God is doing in our relationships. We meet people everywhere from cafes to the YMCA kids gym. We want to make the most of these friendships.
Pray that we’d be wise with how we serve the Old North End’s refugee community- especially through the Kids Alive ministry and beginning an English class with Somalians in the Riverside housing community.
Pray that I would be discerning as I build relationships in Burlington’s community service and non-profit sector. I want organizers, volunteers, and those we serve to see that Jesus defines how and why I serve the least of these.
Pray for God to draw others to join our core group who are passionate for Jesus and willing to make a long-haul investment in others. We’re launching our initial Home Fellowship on March 13!
BTW, check out my wife’s latest post: http://www.gainingpounds.blogspot.com/
4 thoughts on “Tilling, Sowing, Watering, Reaping”
Kevin, I really appreciate your focus here, and pray with you.
You are on the right track. I will be praying .
Thanks for your post. We have been in central Vermont four years and it seems that growth happens when we least expect it. God continually reminds us that it is in His timing and strength that His church is planted. It keeps me humbled but also is a major stress reliever…to know that I don’t have to “keep up with the southern church Joneses”. All I have to do is to be faithful with who God brings into our path. Thy Kingdom Come, O Lord!
Thanks for this thoughtful comment – recently, I wrote: “The few verses from the Book of Acts that highlight the early church’s spectacular growth are cited as the sine qua non of the church’s life today. But we have to be careful, lest we make statistics the final proof of our faithfulness to the gospel.”
Ever since 1972 and the publication of Dean M. Kelly’s book, Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion, a fateful link was made between numbers and a particular faith-stance. Yet, as a wise friend notes, Kelly’s book “… had some major flaws in its assumptions, but enough of it rang true that it became almost the byline assumption of the conservative movement, and the embarrassing footnote of the liberal movement.”