“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23)
We’re all familiar with Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus makes it clear there are different types/qualities of soil upon which the gospel seed might fall. But do we ever pause to think about the quality of the seed itself—not so much the incorruptible word itself, but the spiritual quality of the human messengers called to deliver it to the world…us?
A.W. Tozer offers one of the most convicting paragraphs I’ve read recently. Daniel Henderson quotes it in his book “Old Paths, New Power.” It goes like this…
“It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them.”
If you’re shaking your head like you just got jacked by Mike Tyson, I can relate! “Did Darin actually post this in Hope Notes?” Yep! Tozer doesn’t pull punches. Here’s the rest of what he says…
“Each generation of Christians is the seed of the next, and degenerate seed is sure to produce a degenerate harvest not a little better than but a little worse than the seed from which it sprang. Thus the direction will be down until vigorous, effective means are taken to improve the seed…. To carry on these activities [evangelism, missions] scripturally the church should be walking in fullness of power, separated, purified and ready at any moment to give up everything, even life itself, for the greater glory of Christ. For a worldly, weak, decadent church to make converts is but to bring forth after her own kind and extend her weakness and decadence a bit further out…. So vitally important is spiritual quality that it is hardly too much to suggest that attempts to grow larger might well be suspended until we have become better.”
I don’t think by “better” Tozer simply means we need to work on being more moral Christians. Better morality is in fact a by-product of the kind of better-ness he’s referring to. For our churches to be less decadent we must lead them to be more dependent. The root word of “decadent” is after all decay. And what decays except that which has been cut off from its source of life?
I bring to the role of associational leader certain priorities for Cleveland Hope (e.g., “A.C.T.S.18.”: Advancing Current leaders, Cultivating church health, Training new leaders, Starting new churches, and 1:8 Multiplying our mission to the nations.) I shared these core priorities with the search committee in Fall 2017; they embraced them, and here we are over a year later moving (yes, at times very slowly or seemingly not at all) towards these aims. I get frustrated sometimes with low participation, low buy-in from churches and leaders. I can also understand if some of you get frustrated with me and the time/availability constraints of having a part-time associational leader. That’s fair. Many of you are leading your churches bi-vocationally and experience these two-way frustrations at the church level as well. Again, so am I…so do I!
But I’m wondering lately if perhaps slowness at Advancing, Cultivating, Training, Starting, Multiplying, etc. (whether associationally at Cleveland Hope or in fulfilling our priorities for growth at the local church level) isn’t actually God’s way of saying we need to be better before we get bigger. I don’t think “A.C.T.S.1:8” are bad priorities for an association, or that they need to be thrown out. Likewise I doubt your priorities for kingdom advance in your local context are demonic in origin. However, I do believe there’s an (unfortunately) assumed and unstated priority for many leaders, churches, and networks that should be stated from this day forward: PRAYER. I’m talking about the one endeavor, the one practice, the one discipline, the one strategy, the one (and ONLY) thing that we can do together that signals and substantiates our utter submission to and dependence upon God’s power for accomplishing the Great Commission. Teamwork can’t do it. Leadership finesse can’t do it. Books, conferences, organizational training, techniques and tactics will never foster better Christians—a better disciple-seed to be sown into the world. They just can’t! Apart from a radical commitment to collective prayer these things only serve to perpetuate an increasingly degenerate gospel.
I love fellowship. I love learning together as leaders. I love sharing encouragement and providing resources. I love dreaming together about ways to claim new gospel territory in greater Cleveland through new and established churches. I don’t want to drop any of those good things. But I want to build a culture of praying together into EVERYthing we do. I ask your forgiveness for not stating and making praying together THE explicit priority of my associational vision thus far. And I ask your help in making (and keeping) it so going forward.
What might this look like? How might we foster an Acts 1, upper-room intensity and expectancy across our family of churches? Last year we held three all-call, association-wide worship and prayer events called Hope Together. We’re doing it this year as well in February, May & August. Those efforts are good, but instead of promising a detailed set of new prayer objectives or events, I will simply affirm what Henderson says, we’re going “build sidewalks where the footpaths are.” In other words, I am going to begin intentionally seeking to infuse more prayer into our every gathering, from our annual October meeting, to Hope Togethers, to pastor/planter breakfasts, to even fellowship events like this Monday’s couples’ night at Forest City Shuffle, right down to lunches and phone calls. No opportunity when we’re together should be allowed pass without uniting to call down God’s power for His churches. Please join me by taking even the small initial step of finding one or two pastors in your area to meet and pray with. If you already have this, find another who doesn’t!
O that a quantitatively rich harvest of souls may be gathered into the Kingdom from our communities. But by God’s grace may we seek first (and jointly) His purifying and empowerment through prayer in order to be a more qualitatively rich batch of seed and seed sowers!
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