This week I shared something that I am passionate about, with several leaders at our church – the privilege of leading others into the joy of a deep relationship with God!
We have been blessed to see God adding new people to our church every week. Many are young in age, many are young in faith. All have a desire to get to know God better.
Our leaders have been working tirelessly to help new people become part of a team that will make a difference in the lives of other people. As part of the process, we help people to know God, and to teach them the basics about our Christian beliefs and lifestyle.
In my determination to fulfil the mandate Jesus gave us to preach the gospel and make disciples however, I sometimes get feed-back from more mature believers in my spiritual community, that I am perhaps not “deep enough” in my focus and teaching, as far as their own levels of spirituality and understanding is concerned.
A great resource that helped me get my head around this issue, is a book by Andy Stanley, called ‘Deep & Wide’ (Zondervan: 2012).
If you will allow me to use the analogy of a garden, I will attempt a hopefully helpful and fitting explanation as to why I believe our ministry focus is the right one for our church and our generation.
As a leader and pastor, I believe that my primary calling is to cultivate new ‘shrubs’ in God’s Garden, the Church. Does that mean that I don’t care for the ‘mature trees’ in the Garden? No, of-course not!
They are an integral part of what the Garden is supposed to look like, and how the Garden grows, particularly in the impact they have on the development of the new shrubs in the Garden.
A healthy garden will always have both mature trees (endurance), as well as many new budding shrubs (legacy). This, I believe is where conflict could possibly arise – a misunderstanding of the role of every plant / tree / member in the Garden.
In my understanding of our mandate as believers, the ‘big trees,’ i.e., mature Christians, are called upon to contribute to the constant growth and development of new plants (new believers / disciples). The way in which they do this, is to make sure that they (personally) grow deeper in their relationship with God and the community they are ‘planted’ in. This however is their responsibility, not the ‘gardener’s…’
I have never seen my gardener at home spending time, energy (and water for that matter) to grow the big trees… No, the gardener spends most of his time watering and tending the new shrubs.
The way in which the big trees contribute (assuming they understand that the garden is not all about them…) is to personally feed the soil around them, by shedding their leaves and providing essential shade (a picture of personal service and sacrifice), in order to contribute to the health and nutrition of the whole garden. These trees do so without expecting to be constantly fed and watered from the surface, because they are mature enough to tap into the deep streams of water that flow under the garden (Jer. 17:7, 8), all by themselves…
‘Deep’ then, becomes a personal responsibility, and not the responsibility of the garden, or the gardener. In fact, the primary responsibility of the gardener towards the mature trees, is the seasonal trimming of dead wood and under-performing branches… at least according to my interpretation of John 15 and Luke 13:6-9.
Allow me to use a different analogy:
My family loves spending holiday times, swimming. When my boys were young, I spent a lot of time with them in the shallow end of our pool. I had a similar experience growing up, with friends and family teaching me to swim. What will always remain most vivid for me about this season in my life, was the day a friend challenged me to jump into the deep end. I knew I could probably keep afloat, I had the basic skills, but the deep end terrified me! Gathering up all my courage (and trying desperately not to show my terror) I plunged into the deep… and found with exhilaration that I could swim! And I loved it!
Many years later, and back to my time in the shallow end with my own boys…
Even though I am a seasoned ‘deep-end swimmer’ now, I still chose to spend time in the shallow end with my boys, because it allowed me the opportunity of being a part of their growth and development. I made sure they were safe. I held on to them, personally, as they grew and became secure and confident in the water. I held their hands. I put safety wings on them. I spent time teaching them to swim and to tread water.
A time came however, when I was confident that they could start navigating deeper waters. The irony of letting them go deeper however, was the way my connection with them felt more distant, the deeper they went. Why? Because if it didn’t, they would never learn to trust in their own ability to swim… by themselves… without me… in deep water.
In fact, this was the fulfilment of the purpose behind my ‘discipleship.’ They went off on their own, without me, and they went swimming in the deep end of our pool! I was ok with that… and my focus shifted to the point that I almost seemed to ignore them, in order to spend time with other ‘younglings’ (e.g., their younger cousins) who needed to learn to swim as well…
Now, for the sake of the analogy, I want you to imagine that my boys could have responded to my apparent disconnection from them in one of two ways, depending on whether they ‘caught’ the heart behind my actions, or not: they could either have surrendered their ‘right’ to be permanently immersed in deep waters (now that they’ve learned to swim) and join me in the ‘discipleship’ of the new swimmers, or they could have huddled around by themselves in the deep-end and complained about the fact that I (their mentor and father) were spending a lot of time in the shallow end lately… Perhaps they might even have begun doubting my own ability to navigate the waters of the deep end… as they struggled to process their feelings of disconnection and isolation.
Should they catch the heart behind the real purpose of the pool (or garden) however, and choose to be a part of the discipleship mission, they will begin to take personal responsibility for their own deep-end experiences, and join the leader / pastor in teaching others, in the shallow waters. This way there will never be a relational disconnection. In fact, their relationship with the leader will grow, strengthen and develop into a unity that is powerful, effective and purpose-driven!
In my understanding of a healthy church community specifically, God’s mission requires every member of His Church to discover their individual purpose, in order to make a difference in the lives of others – especially those who do not know the love of Jesus, yet.
So, my encouragement to every precious, beautiful, deep-rooted “oak of righteousness” in God’s life-giving garden, is not new – it is more than a thousand years old:
“Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.” (Ephesians 1:15)
“Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” (Romans 12:16)
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:9, 10)
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11)
The Word of God is given to us, so that we can measure up our own lives against the glorious standard of a life in Christ. For me, this means that I need to regularly choose to submit myself to the call of God upon my life, which is,
1. To make disciples of all nations, teaching them the truth of God’s Word, so that it may impact their every-day living.
2. To teach and empower the church to do no. 1, effectively.
So, if you’ re looking for me, you will probably find me among the young, the ‘shallow’ and the ‘lost,’ hopefully surrounded by the hearts and hands of a community of mature ‘oaks,’ who are as ready to serve the mission of God, as I am. That is my purpose. That’s my call.
I encourage you to discover your own purpose in the same ‘Garden’ or pool. Take your next step in your personal growth and then go there… don’t wait for someone to take you there. Take the plunge and experience deeper. Then come join me, because although we have been given the capacity to grow deeper on our own, we cannot fulfill God’s great commission, alone. We need each other. For the sake of the Gospel; the freedom and transformation of people’s lives, and the fame of His name, we need each other!
As a Pastor, the only other thing that would increase my joy and satisfaction, as I serve my Creator, is if I can do so right next to you.
So, let’s grow together, so we can “go” together.