A passion for growth

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A passion for growth

December 15, 2022 -

Water from a watering can is poured over a sprouting tomato seedling. © By Dusan Kostic/stock.adobe.com

Water from a watering can is poured over a sprouting tomato seedling. © By Dusan Kostic/stock.adobe.com

Water from a watering can is poured over a sprouting tomato seedling. © By Dusan Kostic/stock.adobe.com

I like yard work.

Better said, I like some yard work.

That makes me weird in the eyes of some. A more sophisticated way to say it is: “I like landscaping.” That sounds intelligent, innovative, and impressive.

The need for affirmation, esteem, and reputation are some of my besetting sins. I can’t claim a super green thumb, but I’m making progress.

Recently my wife said, “Every time we get our yard looking good with grass, flowers, shrubs, and trees, we move. I guess that’s how I’ll know moving is coming again.”

She’s learned to anticipate relocation by the landscape.

I hope to prove her wrong this time.

Is the church growth movement good?

Still, I like to see things grow. I think most pastors do.

As a pastor, I longed to see my church grow in every good way a church can grow: in holiness, evangelistically, in unity, and financially.

One of my biggest opponents in ministry expressed great angst at the “church growth movement.” He described it as a sinful idol and strongly indicated he thought I was a worshiper of this false religion. I never fully understood his concern and complaints, but years of reflection have made me wonder if he wasn’t totally wrong.

Pastors should have the holy ambition to lead their churches to fulfill the great commission of Christ (Matthew 28:16–20) wholeheartedly and holistically. If we have received God’s grace in Christ and we seek to know and love Christ more each day, our gratitude for his mercy and goodness will compel us to make him known to others (2 Corinthians 5:14).

However, on this side of heaven, we never have fully pure motives. Sometimes we want to see church growth for selfish reasons (Philippians 1:17). We need to regularly ask the Spirit to search our hearts and to reveal “any offensive way” that is in us (Psalm 139:23–24).

Growing the fruit of the Spirit

Pastors, like other healthy believers, love to see the overflowing fruit of the Spirit showing up in the mirror and in the congregation. God’s word through Paul in Galatians 5:22–23 never grows old as an aspiration: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Of course, there is no law against these things because they are inherently recognized as good and necessary. Would anyone want to live in a world where these things aren’t considered valuable?

Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message makes “such things” more relatable in today’s language: “But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Tending the soil of our souls

God guided Paul to tell us how the Spirit grows his qualities in our lives. Growing anything requires significant and consistent effort, attention, and participation.

Like landscaping, holiness is a holy collaboration between God, the willing disciple, and others. There needs to be a guiding vision. In this case, love for others that grows out of our awareness and appreciation of how we have been loved by God (Galatians 5:14).

Additionally, we have to commit ourselves (vv. 16–18) in the recognition that change is desperately needed (vv. 19–21). If we don’t tend the garden of our souls, the natural weeds of ungodliness will continue to take over and bare their ugly presence.

The dying Dead Sea

Recently, I traveled to Israel and Jordan. Our tour guide told us about some of the Israelis who live in a unique agrarian community called a kibbutz. People in the kibbutz live and work together in a defined area and share their resources in a unique way. These communities usually find a niche crop or product they can produce and sell to support their community.

We passed one kibbutz that was growing a huge crop of dates from date palms planted in the southern desert of Israel. With water piped in from the Jordan River, this barren land had become a productive industry.

The guide then told us that the Dead Sea, further to the south of this kibbutz, was dying! The Dead Sea is the lowest elevation on earth at 1,410 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is dead because water flows into it from the Jordan River but nothing flows out of it. Since there is no outlet, the “sea,” better described as a lake, is so full of minerals that nothing can live in the water.

But how can the Dead Sea be dying?

It’s actually a big problem.

The Dead Sea is shrinking by an average of three feet per year. If nothing is done, the Dead Sea will be dead in another way: it will have no water at all.

So much water is being diverted from the Jordan River upstream that there is not enough supply to keep the Dead Sea at a proper level. This phenomenon is so problematic that Israel and Jordan are working together to develop plans to pump desalinated seawater from the Red Sea to the south or the Mediterranean Sea to the west to replenish the supply into the Jordan River and down to the Dead Sea.

Crazy as it sounds, there is great effort and expense toward keeping the Dead Sea alive!

There’s more to this story, but I want to make two points of application.

We need Living Water

First, our lives devolve more and more into barren deserts without the supply of God’s refreshing Spirit and word each day.

Everything I’ve ever tried to grow in my yard required consistent water. The Texas sun and wind are powerful drying agents. The dark clay soil where I live also plays a factor. Without rain or irrigation (and usually both), everything withers.

Without the Spirit being welcomed consistently, our souls wither. God’s fruit will not grow in us and our churches without our consistent willingness to seek him, to depend on him. We must ask, seek, and knock with the confidence that he will answer, guide, and open his abundance to us. He only and always seeks our best (Psalm 23:6).

Second, we must be sure we are not diverting the Spirit’s supply into things God never intended for us.

Every pastor must learn and relearn the difference between good opportunities and God’s assignments. The pastor’s life and work are a combination of both.

God’s assignments must be our priority (2 Timothy 4:1–2), and some of the opportunities are OK. But learning what to say no to is essential so that the Spirit’s resource is not poorly diverted to lesser things.

Are you being refreshed?

At the end of 1 Thessalonians, the Spirit inspired Paul to include a significant list of imperative reminders. One of the most familiar is also the most needed as we celebrate Christmas and prepare to welcome a new year: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

That’s good guidance for the next hour, the next day, and the next year.

Take a moment to check the flow.

Have you slowed or stopped his work in and through you by giving into deception or distraction?

How does he want you to restore the supply?

When will you start?

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