Mark 4: 26-29 and Eccl. 3:1-3 June 24, 2018
We continue today with our five week focus on cultivated ministry. I am suggesting that we are the cultivators, the ones responsible for the quality of fruit produced in, through and from this gathered community of believers. Last week we looked at the need to till the ground of our traditional ways of measuring our success—the counting of people and dollars. I talked about the need to look instead at our productivity—that is the impact on the community inside and outside of these walls. We heard again the parable of the soils, being reminded that the good soil which is able to produce abundant, healthy fruit is free of obstacles and is receptive to water and oxygen and sunlight and all the nutrients found underneath the surface.
This morning we are ready to look at planting the seeds. In a series of seedy stories in Mark, Jesus told the parable of the farmer who planted the seeds and then left the growing to God. I think it is crucial to recognize that the seeds would not have grown if they had not been planted. For produce to be generated, there is a role for the planter of the seed and a role for the one who brings the miracle of growth and then a role for the harvester of the produce. God’s work depends on our work and our work depends on God’s work. We are mutually accountable.
This is one piece of the larger idea of measuring our productivity, or fruitfulness– mutual accountability to one another and to God. Unless we work together with expectations for each one to fulfill his or her part, any given program or project will not be successful. As your pastor, I want to share my observations– we have room for improvement in this area. One example: I very often have seen the clean up left to a very few people at the end of an event. I don’t think that people are unwilling to help, but it seems often to be our lack of clarity and communication around expectations for one another. It is very easy to assume that someone will make sure it happens. Part of it may be our fear of stepping on someone else’s toes—“I don’t know where the dishes go in the kitchen, so I will leave that to someone who does.” Or maybe our lack of expertise. “I don’t know how to take down the tents, so I will leave it to someone who does.” Part of it is our busy lives, and we either forget we have committed to help or we are unable to commit to help because we have to go on to the next event or activity on our calendar.
Creating a culture of mutual accountability takes time. It takes paying attention to the details, clarifying expectations, and building enough trust with one another that is okay to be honest about it when things have not worked out well. Let me share with you some ideas from the NEXT Church field guide to cultivated ministry.
Mutual accountability does not mean everything always goes smoothly. It is not to be equated with perfection or following the rules. When we hold one another accountable, we should experience the following: transparency, energy, stronger relationships and empowerment for continued growth and fruitfulness. When you are working together with a group to plan and implement something in our church, whether it be a pumpkin patch or a schedule for teachers or the events of Casual Sunday, it is essential to be transparent with the group you are working with—being clear about what your commitment is, being on the same page with the rest of the team, not working at cross purposes or doubling up on tasks due to lack of communication. Don’t say yes just because you think the pastor needs another volunteer to fill a slot. Say yes because you are passionate about the event or activity and see it as a way to share your gifts. Cooking, for example… every time I ask Carmen to consider preparing lunch for us when our ministry teams meet after worship, she readily agrees because she loves to cook and she sees it as a way to serve God.
When we are accountable to one another, we find our work together brings us energy, instead of draining us. It is when we leave too much to one person that ministry becomes too heavy and we start feeling burned out. Energy bubbles us as we look more to future and less to past. We don’t waste time with complaining, but instead look together at what we can learn from our mistakes to strengthen our impact.
When we are accountable to one another, we find that our work binds us together in new ways. At our Thursday evening Bible study time, just by taking time to share a bit about ourselves we learned that we had several master gardeners in the room, several who had lived in Baltimore all of their lives, and several who shared similar kinds of grief experiences. At the end of the class, the older crowd was invited to come down and share ice cream with the younger crowd… and they all accepted! You don’t do that if you have not begun to build a relationship with someone else. In a few minutes, we will take time to share the peace of Christ with one another. As you do that, I am going to ask you to find other members of your connect group. If you are not sure which group you are in, ask! If you have not been assigned a group, or if other members of your group are absent today, just hook up with a group near you. Please try to sit near each other so you will be able to talk as a group. This is another opportunity to build relationships. When we connect with people, we begin to care about people beyond the short term activities of a project or a class.
When we are accountable to one another, we begin to find that we are empowered in new ways—we can offer grace-filled support to those going through a tough time, we find that we have more talk of building leaders and less talk of filling the slots. Instead of looking for volunteers, we look for disciples who are passionate and energized and desiring to learn and grow.
We are the seed planters, God is the plant grower. Some might say that the point of the parable is that the seed, the kingdom of God, grows without any real effort on the part of the farmer. All he does is plant it. Only God makes it grow. And truly we can not take credit for the fruit which God grows in us and through us and sometimes unbeknownst to us. The kingdom of God grows gradually and automatically, doing exactly what God has designed it to do—grow. But the farmer does have a responsibility. And so do we. We plant the seed. Together with God we are needed in order to produce fruit—both the planter and the grower are essential. Think about the seeds you have been planting. The seed of an idea. The seed of a task well done. The seed of words of encouragement.
This week I have been thinking about the seeds of faith nurtured at the Massanetta Youth Conference. I have loved to watch the excitement about going to Massanetta spread through our young people. Four years ago I took three youth. They came back excited and told others it was a special time. Then we took larger groups—one year we “adopted” Joseph, a young man from a very small church near Harrisonburg, VA, who would not have been able to attend without hooking up with an existing group; and another year a young man from the Baltimore United Korean church joined us. This year we tried to include several of the youth from the Falam church, but a conflict is preventing them from joining our group. Perhaps next year! Now this three day faith building experience is a fixture of our summer schedule. The younger ones wish they could go. The older ones wish they could still go. Although they may not articulate it, I know that the 5th-8th graders who are going feel supported by you all who help to make it possible for them to experience a large gathering of middle schoolers who are growing in their connection to God and to one another. But not only the youth benefit. Despite the long hours, I believe the adult leaders find joy, surprise, enrichment in learning new songs, in having conversations with new friends and they definitely create closer connections to the youth in our congregation as they spend time on the road together, at the dinner table or in late night devotions. Each time youth participate and then youth return here to the church, they have an opportunity to plant a seed in the minds and hearts of another youth, encouraging them to go and to grow.
How are you selecting the ways you remain connected to Hunting Ridge’s ministry? I want to encourage you to be involved in activities that you are passionate about, that will bring you energy, that will nurture your relationships with God and with others, and that will empower you as a leader in this church family. Be clear about what you commit to and follow through on your commitments. Your church family is expecting you to be accountable, and you must hold others accountable as well. Our fruitfulness is impacted by the ways we hold one another accountable. Amen