What’s that sound? It’s a groaning and straining, even crying, coming from a nearby fruit tree. I didn’t understand it the first time I heard it, but have discovered over time it was the sound of extreme exertion. Those trees are working hard to produce more and sweeter fruit.
Okay, so this is all just my imagination at work, but it paints a good word picture. As long as a tree is in good ground, getting water and nourishment through the soil, as well as sunlight and seasonal changes, it will produce fruit. It just receives what is provided from its surroundings, and production occurs. It’s how it was designed.
This silly illustration enhances a simple reality check for me recently, dealing with church growth. It isn’t tied to one church group or denomination, but is at work in the great majority of the church, at large. When most of us refer to church growth, we are normally interested in ways to increase the numbers attending services. To help with it, much of our time, effort, and finances are spent on resources and seminars written or produced by large (in number) churches. We’re looking to man’s ways for increase, and when one style doesn’t work for us, we charge ahead to the next one. (This is when the sound of the struggling tree gets pretty loud.)
Maybe, just maybe, we’re never going to have success this way. Maybe, just maybe, our idea of success isn’t God’s idea of success. Maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t need our help. After all, the church is the body of Christ. The body of Christ. Not our body, but Christ’s body. When we are born again, we are brought into His body by the work of His Spirit. Why do we think He needs our help to grow His body – even to grow individually?
John 15:4-5 AMP 4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.
The fruit tree simply abides in that which gives it life, receiving all it needs to grow from a tiny seed into a full-grown tree. Likewise, we abide in Christ, the One Who finished completely the work needed on our behalf. As we abide in Him, we receive from Him all we need to become full-grown followers of Christ, producing fruit that brings Him glory. Simply through abiding and receiving. No self-effort required.
If we really believe God is able to grow His church, it messes up a whole lot of our plans and programs. We will find that when we look only to the One Who gives life and life more abundantly, there will be church growth – no doubt about it. He will draw through us. But it will never be due to all our self-efforts and best of intentions. It will be when God alone is glorified and magnified – the One Who gives us birth and fully sustains us.
The next time you find yourself trying to figure out what else you can do to “grow the church,” stop and listen to the trees. The sound you don’t hear will remind you to let God grow His church as you dwell in Christ.
Matthew 16:18 NIV And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
What do you hear?
Photo by Sura Nualpradid