How do those in Christian ministry and leadership ever really know that they are doing a “good job” or have done a “good job”?
Can Christian ministry be ever “measured”?
By the numbers of those “led to faith” in Christ?
By numbers “attending”/”not attending” worship on a Sunday morning?
By the health of the Parish/Ministry’s financial well being?
By the number of ministry “projects”,” initiatives”, developed and maintained?
For those employed as a lay person in Christian ministry… in hitting funding, programme initiative and strategic development targets?
For those in ordained and serving in a Parish/Congregational context…able to carry the majority of the people with you? (And in Anglican polity, avoiding a troublesome Easter General vestry?)
By a growth in…. (insert here what metric you think is an accurate measure of Christian ministry….).
Don’t get me wrong, an ability to know what impact or outcomes one’s vocation, one’s support for a ministry, one’s belonging to a local Church and it’s ministries is important, really important.
If we don’t know where we are and where we want to go too and what “signposts” we need to look out for on our journey towards our destination, then, well, difficulty arises. Real difficulty of course arises when an end destination (hoped for destination) is unclear, confused and at times difficult to communicate.
Our deepest, deepest prayer as Christian believers (my deepest prayer, I hope…) is always that all activity and direction of travel is in response to God’s invitation to join in His work of redemption of the world. No small destination or task it must be said!
And it is amidst a world that in every sphere of human activity seems to need to justify itself, above all, through quantifiable measures, the latest set of “metrics”, through being “successful”, that Christ offers this teaching as to what the “kingdom of God” is like.
I must confess this passage makes uncomfortable reading….
The Gospel reading.
26-29 Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!
30-32 “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like an acorn. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge oak tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”
33-34 With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.
(The Message, Petersen. http://www.biblegateway.com).
As noted above, I find Christ’s words troubling, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens”.
The “suggestion” is that the work of God’s kingdom of love, justice, healing, proclamation, prayer, service, teaching, faithful everyday Christian living (the seeds you might say of God’s rule made real) only needs to be “sown” and then “forgotten about”. Ask any first century middle eastern farmer, then, if growing a crop was quite so simple and I am sure they would have raised a quizzical eyebrow.
But that’s not the drive or thrust of Christ’s teaching here, from my reading at least…
We each, as ministers of the Gospel are uniquely called to sow the seeds of the Kingdom, and those seeds vary in the crop they produce across the seasons ,the climate, soil conditions and whatever “metric” we use to assess the growth/outcome of our Christian witness. Paul exhorts the Church at Galatia to “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6 v 9).
Maybe that “metric” at one level is all we need.
The liberating truth of this Gospel passage is that even with our best effort, our “measurements” robustly established (and rightly so) the work of the Kingdom of God, in sowing the seed of God’s grace amidst the boulders of a broken world, will always at its core, remain unknown, hidden from view.
And deeply frustrating when trying to quantify the work of the Holy Spirit using a spreadsheet.
The seed may be sown.
But as it enters the darkness of the soil,
as it dies to itself and germinates,
as it sends forth a new shoot,
as new life and a new harvest emerges,
there is a lot of unknowing and hiddenness,
alongside a call to perseverance.
The work, the growth, the mystery and unknowing of God’s life amongst us is always beyond us.
And yet within our reach and participation…. in sowing the seed with perseverance.
Amidst the unknown, even the hiddenness, what new growth is Christ seeking for…. in your “everyday following” of Christ?
Picture courtesy of @savbrown