June 18, 2007

Waiting for a BLT

I have been thinking lately about tomatoes—not least of all because June is the perfect time of the year for one of Tobey’s delicious bacon and tomato sandwiches! But even more so, I have been thinking about growing tomatoes as an analogy for pastoring Christ’s church.

Now I am no expert at growing tomatoes. We have put out a few vines over the years—with mixed results. So I don’t know a lot, but here is what I do know. The best tomato crops usually come with diligent prep work. The soil has to be tended; the vine has to be properly planted; the lattice-work has to be put in place; the vine has to be carefully tangled in the lattice, keeping the plant upright; and, if you live in southwest Ohio, a net has to be draped over it all to keep the deer away! Then, just add copious amounts of water and a healthy dose of patience…and before long, you will have some pretty tasty BLTs!

Now here is the point: pastoring, believe it or not, is much the same as tending tomato vines. In fact, Paul compares pastoring to growing tomatoes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor 3.6). OK, maybe Paul was thinking of grapes or wheat. But, either way you slice it, pastoring is a lot like cultivating plants!

So…here is the big lesson I have been learning in recent days: God must cause the growth. For the last four-and-a-half years, my church and I have done a lot of planting and watering together. So many good things have been put in place—a more biblical leadership structure, higher membership expectations, a better understanding of Christian community, deeper doctrinal roots, and so on. All these things are wonderful accomplishments—for which we should be very thankful to the Lord!

So then, the structures are in place - the tomato vines are up; the lattice is doing its job; the leaves are out; and the sprinkler is running. But now we must wait for God to cause the growth! Now we must wait for God to grow stronger families, better disciples, and new believers out of all the prep work that we have done. I hope this is what all of us want to see. No one does all the work of setting tomato vines except to grow tomatoes! And we haven’t done all the work of re-forming our church just for the sake of structure. We want, now, to see spiritual fruit!

But God is the one who must cause the growth. That is where I have gotten sidetracked recently. I started thinking that, as soon as we got all the vines in the right places, we’d wake up in a day or two and see fresh ripe tomatoes. But that isn’t how tomatoes work! And it isn’t how spiritual fruit works, either. Growing tomatoes (and churches) takes patience. I hope I am finally starting to learn that!

So, we have done the preparatory work (and we must continue to tend the vines, and water the church with prayer). But, most of all, we must wait…and plead…for God to cause the growth. And so must you...

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