Summary: Growth can come by pruning, cultivating, or simply letting it happen. God wants the church to grow, and all these methods are used.
Growth takes place in one of three ways. Things grow because one of three things happens.
First, some things grow just because it is in the very nature of those things to grow. You don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to feed them or nourish them or encourage them. Some things just grow. Weeds, for instance. Weeds grow without your help or mine. Debts ... debts grow. How did I possibly run up that much on my credit card? Taxes, of course, taxes. I do not for one moment believe any politician who campaigns on a tax reduction promise. Not on your life. Weeds, death, taxes. Some things just grow on their own.
But other things grow because they have been nourished and fed, they have been cultivated and encouraged. Just before Halloween, Ed Mitchell walked over here ...I should say staggered over here … with an enormous squash from his bountiful back yard. That monster was no accident. That took some cultivating. Now Ed will deny that, being a modest man; but if you compare his produce with the scrawny stuff that comes out of my back yard, I think the results speak for themselves. Some things grow when they are nourished and fed, cultivated and encouraged.
Oh, by the way, when I said monster, I did mean the squash, not Ed.
But did you know that there is a third way in which things grow? Some things grow best when they are pruned and cut back; some things grow best when they are trimmed and reduced for a while. At certain seasons of the year, if you cut back your roses or you trim back your vines, then next year they will flourish. When you cut them back, the growth energy gets channeled into new growth rather than just maintaining the old. Cutting and pruning, trimming and reducing, painful though it may look, actually promotes growth.
Today I want to think with you about personal growth and church growth. About the growth that is possible for you and me as persons, and the growth that is possible for our church. And to do so I want to nail down one very important premise:
If we grow as persons, then the church will grow too. And if the church grows, then we will grow as persons.
Did you get that? It’s a circular argument. One thing reinforces the other. If we grow as persons, then the church will grow too. And if the church grows, then we will grow as persons. If you and I become more and more mature, then we will be able to help our church grow, both in numbers and in ministries.
But the reverse of that is true, too. If the church will grow, if the church will offer more ministry, then you and I will grow as well.
Each reinforces the other. One hand washes the other. Growth.
But remember, some growth just happens... weeds, debts, taxes ... usually unwanted growth. And some growth takes tender care and feeding and cultivation. But some growth takes painful pruning.
Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, wants us to understand growth. He wants us to see that the growth of the church and our own personal growth are intimately bound up together. Like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other.
Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
One of the first lessons to be learned about growth is that good growth requires a goal. Growth needs a mark to aim for. If you are going to grow something, the idea is not just to get it as big as possible. The idea is to get it to hit the mark, to reach the goal.
When Margaret and I spent an afternoon at Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago, we were especially intrigued by the bonsai display. Do you know about bonsai? It’s Japanese gardening. It involves cutting and pruning trees so that they become exquisite, perfect miniatures. Some theorize that the Japanese developed this art because there is so little space in their land. Through creating miniatures they can have their gardens even in very small spaces.
Now the important thing to know is that a bonsai tree is not just a little tree; it’s not just a very young tree that hasn’t matured yet. It is a mature tree … in fact it can be quite old ... but through constant shaping and reshaping, pruning and clipping, it has hit the mark. It has attained its goal of being a complete specimen.
But did you notice? Its growth came about by pruning and cutting. It hit the mark and attained the goal of what it is supposed to be because someone was willing to subject it to the pain of pruning.