Seed and The Sickle
I would be lying if I said that planting this church has been easy. Truth be told, it has been everything but easy.
When my family and I moved to El Paso last year I was so high on faith I didn’t realize the journey that lay ahead. I suppose I thought that because God told us to move here to plant the church that meant everything would fall into place and the church would grow immediately. Well, I was kindly reminded by the Holy Spirit that in order to grow anything, it requires time and patience. Jesus taught His disciples and the crowd that surrounded Him this kingdom principle of growth that has brought encouragement to me personally and rest to my soul. In the book of Mark 4:26-29 Jesus said the following: “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.” I’ve heard and read this scripture before, but this time I saw something that I hadn’t seen before. As pastors, it’s easy for us to get caught up in the numerical growth of our churches. While numbers are important, it’s not what we are responsible for, nor should it be our focus. Listen, I know the argument that’s out there in church planting circles in favor of focusing on numerical growth; “Every number is a person and every person has a story.” That sounds really good, but notice at what Jesus said: “...A man scatters seed...the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how...as soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Nowhere in this parable did Jesus say the man was responsible for the growth of the seed. In fact, Jesus said the seed grew and the man did not know how. That must mean growth is beyond our control. With that in mind, what are we responsible for? The seed and the sickle. Let’s put on our farmer’s glasses to have a better look into this parable as I believe it is important for us to identify a few things first. The Lord said that a man scatters seed. What does this mean? The man represents the pastor, the seed represents the Word of God, and the scattering of the seed is the sowing of the Word of God. Now then, notice how the Lord did not say the man scatters seed in the barn, but rather on the ground. The barn is where the harvest is gathered and stored. One could even call the barn the storehouse or the church. So, if the farmer sows or scatters seed on the ground, then the ground must represent the field or we’ll call it the community. When we put it all together, here’s what it looks like:
Man = Pastor Scatter = Sow See = The Word of God Ground = Community Barn = Church
Now, let’s read the passage again using the key:
“The Pastor faithfully sows the Word of God into the community the Lord has entrusted him to manage day and night. The Word sprouts and grows, although he [the pastor] does not know how…”
If Pastors are responsible for sowing God’s Word in the communities they have been entrusted to manage, who is responsible for the growth? The answer is found in the book of Acts chapter 2:47. Now, prior to this verse, Peter just delivered a heart-piercing message that resulted in thousands of people repenting of their sins, putting their trust in the Lord Jesus, getting baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, these new believers devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread from house to house, prayer, gathering together in the temple, and sacrificial giving to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44-46). This is what is written in verse 47:
“...Every day the Lord added to their number [the church] those who were being saved."
Did you see that? The Lord is the One who added to the church, not Peter or any of the apostles. All Peter was responsible for was sowing the Word. I also want you to notice what the Lord considered to be growth. The scripture says that the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. So, church growth is measured by salvation, not the amount of people who come into our churches or tune in online to hear us preach. Instead of asking how many visitors/weekly attendees we have, perhaps a much better question to ask ourselves is how many people are getting saved, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit? “Modern religion focuses upon filling churches with people. The true gospel emphasizes filling people with God.” AW Tozer This is true today. There is a heavy lean towards numerical growth over the emphasis of people being filled with God. The problem that occurs far too often is an expectation to reap a harvest in our barns (our churches) when we have not been faithful to scatter the Word in the field (our communities). We come into cities with a “grow first” mindset rather than a “sow first” mindset. Sadly, because no one wants to be faithful to scatter and wait for the crop to grow we resort to using strategies that manufacture growth — a growth that is measured by weekly attendance. As pastors, we must be careful with what we choose to place our emphasis on. If we choose incorrectly, we will fall into a trap. The trap that can be seen in so many modern churches today is consumerism. This trap is viewed as a modern approach to ministry birthed out of an emphasis on filling our churches with people. Sound biblical doctrine and a total reliance on Jesus to add to our churches have been replaced in many churches with wordly business models and crafty marketing strategies to manufacture "growth." When you analyze these models, you will clearly see that the emphasis is on doing what appeases or attracts the consumer. You must identify your targeted consumer first, then conduct studies to determine their wants. Based upon the data, you simply craft your brand, packaging and presentation around the strategically targeted consumer. Before you know it, people will flood into your churches because you have given them what they want. This is the business of church growth today, and it's a very dangerous path - a path Paul instructed Timothy not to take. 2 Timothy 4:2-5 CSB “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Paul warned Timothy of the selfish appetites of the people who would turn away from sound doctrine in favor of teachers who would teach them what they want to hear. He then told Timothy to exercise self-control in everything and to do the work of an evangelist. The appetites of people today who only want pastors and teachers to tell them what is appeasing to their ears and selfish desires can be seen all throughout modern Christianity. Sadly enough, plenty of pastors fall into this trap to continue to have captive audiences and a steady influx of consumers. What I find to be interesting in this text is what Paul tells Timothy after warning him of these people. “But as for YOU, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist…”
The reality is, it can be very difficult to resist the temptation to appeal to the appetites of the people who frequent our churches, stream our online worship services, and give financially. After all, what pastor wants to preach to an empty congregation or post a video that gets very little views? It can be extremely deflating, and unless that pastor is very secure in the Lord they become vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. In many cases, these attacks are the pressure of conformity. It’s much easier to swim downstream than upstream, isn't it? However, Paul told Timothy to exercise self-control in this area. Why? He knew how incredibly difficult it would be to resist the pressure without it. Therefore, we too must build ourselves up to the point where we are able to resist the pressure of conformity so that we may appease God over the people.
Secondly, Paul told Timothy to endure hardship and do the work of an evangelist. An evangelist was the name given in the NT to those heralds of salvation through Christ. Essentially, Paul told Timothy to expect hardships to come as he does the work of a messenger of salvation. You see, when you do the work of an evangelist, hardship will come because many people do not want to hear the part of salvation that requires them to humble themselves and repent of their sin before a just and holy God in order to receive salvation. Most would much rather be told how much God loves and accepts them, and how God has a wonderful plan for their lives, etc. They want to be told messages that make them feel good about themselves. They don’t want to hear messages like the one Peter gave on Pentecost that caused their hearts to be pricked by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. If pastors preached messages like that who would fill the seats? How many views, likes and shares would you get? Very few, comparatively. I’ll tell you what you will get, however - hardship, trouble and affliction. Being a pastor of God -- not of the people -- who does the work of an evangelist is a one-way ticket to hardship. The question is, are you willing to take that path? For those pastors who are, I implore you to pull up your bootstraps, get your seed in one hand, your sickle in the other, and keep your focus on sowing the Word of God faithfully in the field you have been assigned to manage. Then, watch the Lord of the harvest grow that seed and bring increase to His Church daily those who are being saved!