Monday, April 29, 2013

The Secret of Growth

One of my favorite children's book series is Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad.

The funny thing is that I didn't discover this fantastic set of short stories until I was an adult. If you've not read them, you should pick up a copy as soon as you're able. The stories are about two friends, Frog & Toad. Frog is green and wears brown. Toad is brown and wears green. They are good friends, who work through problems and have simple adventures. To be honest, I think the simplicity of the stories is what drew me to them. Toad is somewhat of a bumbler. He means well, but he's a complicated character, fighting more base urges like gluttony and sloth. He's also a bit dim, often making mistakes or misunderstanding things. Instead of bothersome, though, his faults are endearing. Frog, on the other hand, is a amphibian without pretense. He enjoys simple pleasures in life - a fine friend, a clean house, a good cookie, a healthy garden...

Actually, the story about the garden happens to be one of my favorites.

One day, Toad stops by Frog's house and finds him working in his garden. Toad admires the garden and wishes for one of his own. Frog offers him a bag of seeds, and gives him a very short lesson in gardening 101. The rest is both funny and heart-warming.

I need to confess that I've been a bit discouraged lately.

I'm on the leadership team of a new Young Adults Ministry (YAM) at my church, and things haven't been growing so well in our garden.

We've been meeting with increasing regularity since last November. However, as our event frequency has increased, attendance has decreased. We had only two people attend our last meeting - the time before that it was three.

I know people will say that you shouldn't focus on the numbers, and I understand that. I'm not trying to build a mega-YAM here. However, if no one's coming to your events, what's the point of hosting them to begin with? So, in that sense, I do want to see good attendance at our events.

In another sense, the more people who come, the more people will hear the Gospel, experience the love of God, the beauty of Christian community and the more lives will be changed - so in that sense, I want a huge group... because I want to see more lives changed.

Granted our group is still young. We've been working at this for only around 6 months. In addition, we've made a few mistakes along the way - poorly chosen programming, unpredictable dates and venues, bad communication.

We're also not the only group focused on this age group. There's another small group for young adults in our church that has been meeting for a couple of years. They've seen a lot of growth, encouragement and relative success with this group. My wife and I are a part of it, and have benefited from the community there.

One question that has been lingering in the minds of some of the people on our leadership team is "why has the other group had such success, while we're struggling to grow?" The other group only represents a small segment of the total population for this age group, so it's not that we're falling prey to program cannibalism. So, what then is it?

To be honest, I think this is an unfair question. For multiple reasons, the two groups are very different. However, it's usually not healthy to compare the growth of any two groups, because ultimately, we're not in control of whether or not the community grows.

We can't control it.

A friend and I were discussing this just the other day, and he directed my attention to a very short story Jesus told in the book of Mark:

Mark 4:26-29
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” 

Notice the bold text: whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows though he does not know how.

The farmer scatters the seed. He goes to sleep. He wakes up. BOOM! Crops have grown. He grabs his sickle and reaps the harvest.

Like Toad, he had no control over it.

To be sure, he had a part to play. Could the crops have grown without his having scattered the seed? No. However, once the seed was scattered. He could do nothing to make the seed sprout, to make the plants grow or to speed along the process.

Now, one could assert that the growth happens naturally - that with the proper combination of environment and element, plants grow by themselves. From a scientific standpoint, this is true. However, in another sense, the way in which life begins is still a mystery to us - how something new exists where it did not before is nothing short of a miracle.

Likewise, we know not how spiritual growth happens. We cannot fathom the mystery of how or when God transforms one dead in their sins to someone spiritually alive in Christ. The same is true for our young adults group. The same is true for your church. We cannot cause growth. We can do nothing to make the seed sprout, to make the plants grow or to speed along the process. That's all on the Holy Spirit. All we can do is provide the right environment for growth, do our best to ensure that all the elements are there, and plant the seed...

Then be prepared for the harvest.

1 comment:

The Traveling J said...

This is such a pertinent, insightful blog entry for anyone who is involved in ministry. The hardest thing to deal with in ministry is not seeing any growth. It makes you frustrated, it is discouraging, and it makes you question what you're doing. Thank you for the reminder that God is in control of growth, and we are only responsible for our own faithfulness in spreading seeds.

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