“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
— 1 CORINTHIANS 3:7 (NRSV)
The evangelist, who lives for lives lost, lives a worthy life, but wise is he or she to leave ‘the fruit’ to the Spirit of God, for only God can grow the seed diligently planted and faithfully watered.
The Pressure on ‘Ministers’
The pressure on ministers, locally, in Paul’s time, was perhaps no different than it is today. Paul’s teaching not only corrects a very faulty theology, but it takes pressure off the minister for the results that only the Spirit of God can account for.
I am aware of the story of a para-church organisation that was held to account for ‘a lack of fruit.’ Its mission was to reach into the community in an evangelistic way and create converts to the gospel. The only problem with the mission was that it was at crossed purposes with the broader culture it was reaching into—as we would expect. Still, this organisation faithfully sowed into the work. And to be fair, there was fruit, but perhaps not really the variety of fruit the investors were after. It made lives and families better, but there were relatively few converts.
But this is the frustrating part: any church worth their salt is fervently reaching into their part of the mission of Jesus Christ—to make disciples of the nations; to evangelise the message of love, hope, and grace. And so there is a tension between the mission and the results. There always has been and always will be.
But here is the salient truth:
This tension brings too much pressure for the minister of God who faithfully plies their trade, which is a calling they cannot reject, for it is from God, not men. The right-minded minister is disgusted by a ‘groupie’ attitude that motivates some ministers, just as they are disappointed when there is a focus on key performance indicators that are the measure of God’s work and not their own.
They are called to account for something they cannot control. This is a madness.
I wonder if we are becoming too secularised in the church when we claim credit for church growth, and whether we are cheating the Spirit of God—not to mention ‘less successful’ ministers—who haven’t ‘achieved’ ‘the numbers.’
We, as the church, cannot have effective ministers if there is pressure on for numbers. Neither can we be glorifying God when we claim church growth as the work we have done.
Sure, there are strategies that God guides us to use, and, when they’re faithfully used, there may be success. Praise God. Yes, that’s an imperative.
We plant good seed and water it and hope it will grow, and we do so faithfully. But it is only the Spirit of God who can do the growing, just as it is only the Spirit of God who should get the credit for converts to the gospel or church growth.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.