I’ve served our church as pastor for over eleven years now and one thing I’ve learned is deep must come before wide. At my home, we love to plant plants that produce fruit. We have a couple of citrus trees and one of them hasn’t produced any fruit in the few years it’s been there. In fact, it’s about the same size it was the day we put it in. What can often happen when a tree is planted is that the roots remain balled up and don’t spread out. They don’t grow deep, they just sort of stay in a big tangle. This stunts the growth of the tree and can keep it from bearing fruit. In our desperation to grow our church, the same thing can happen.
Too often we try to grow our churches big before we grow them deep. There are times where I’ve lacked the patience to nurture deep roots and pushed to do things that would get people in the door. In those cases, we see more people for a time, but they don’t stay–not because they are lukewarm Christians who don’t like the message being preached, but because there is no depth, and therefore no fruit … and therefore no reason for them to stay.
Take the time to grow your church deep. Explore the Gospel and its implications. We all want to move on from the elementary teachings and get into the meat…so by all means, do so. But never fail to preach the Gospel … the Good News. Too often we can start at the cross and then wind up pursuing health, wealth, prosperity, power, signs, wonders, and a wealth of other things absent of the Gospel, its context. People might spread wide, learning a little about a great many things, but there is no value in being wide and shallow.
The church needs to learn again how to be loved by God, and how to love. This week we began a small group at our church using the Becoming a Contagious Christian material. In the first session we discussed that though we are not all called to be evangelists (euangelistas, see Ephesians 4:11-13), we are all appointed to be witnesses (martus, see Acts 1:8). Being a witness requires us to see or experience something which we can then declare and demonstrate. To bear witness to the love of God, we need to first encounter and receive the love of God. As we are filled, then we can pour out. It seems that very often we assume our people to be full and preach pouring out. Empty people can’t pour out. They can fake it for a while…but eventually, that does more harm than good for everyone involved.
Jesus tells great parable about a farmer. He prepares his field, scatters his seed, and plows it in. He goes to bed and gets up each morning, working the field, but does not know how the seeds grow. What he does know is when it’s time to harvest. For us that means we plant, water, and work the soil. We care for and nurture the plants, which can be a long and arduous process, but it’s God that causes the growth. We need to be faithful as we enrich the soil and care for the plant, making sure those roots go deep and that they stay watered and well nourished. God will cause the growth … and that takes time. Our culture bombards us with all kinds of things–weeds, thorns, rocks–that serve to stunt our growth and choke out the Gospel. Pastor, we need to faithfully clear the field and work it.
I know we want our churches to get bigger, but we cannot sacrifice depth, especially now in our day and age. As the roots grow deep, the church bears fruit and we will see growth. More than the size of a plant, it’s the fruit that matters. Through fruit are these plants productive and re-productive. One big tree in an empty field is not as good as a field filled with small fruitful trees. God will bless your faithfulness … and he may even change your perception of what it means to be a healthy, thriving, powerful church along the way.