Summary: To thrive is “to grow vigorously.” The opposite of thrive is “failure to thrive,” which is often the predecessor to death. It’s only when we fully embrace change that we can thrive.
What comes to mind when you hear the word thrive? It’s a really positive word, isn’t it? (That is, unless is has to do with weeds…). If someone or something is thriving, that means it is doing well, right? Full of life! To thrive is to grow vigorously. Plants can thrive, businesses can thrive, people can thrive; and when they are thriving, great things are happening. But not everything goes so perfectly all the time. The opposite of thriving is what we call, “failure to thrive.” And as positive as thriving is, failure to thrive is really scary.
When my niece was born almost three years ago, she, like the majority of new babies, was perfectly healthy. She was a touch on the small side, but so are her parents, so it was really not a concern. Everything was great the first two months of her life. Then things started changing. Her growth charts weren’t tracking the way they should. She went from being in the 20th percentile, to the 12th, to the 5th, and finally she “fell off” the charts entirely. She wasn’t growing the way she was supposed to. Her pediatrician had my sister supplementing with the heaviest formula she could find. Then, the pediatrician had her eating formula exclusively, but it wasn’t making a difference, the doctors had no idea what was going on. So right around the time she turned three months, my sister was told that her daughter was “failing to thrive.” It was devastating for my sister. I remember her asking, “How could the doctor say that? She’s not growing, but she’s happy, and she sleeps well! Everything else is fine! I don’t understand why she’s ‘failing to thrive’.” It was an incredibly scary time.
Well, it took many doctor’s visits and appointments with specialists, but the professionals were finally able to figure out that my niece had a rare disorder caused by the fact that her esophageal muscles were not fully developed when she was born. So, when she would try to eat, her esophagus would basically collapse and the food wasn’t even getting to her stomach. The doctors had to teach my sister and brother-in-law how to feed her on her side so that her esophagus wouldn’t collapse, and my niece had to begin a regimen of antacids. It was not easy, but it worked, and eventually she grew, her esophageal muscles firmed up, and today she’s a happy, healthy, THRIVING two-and-a-half year old. This was her playing in a man-made puddle just about a week ago (show picture).
Without a doubt, failure to thrive can be a very scary thing, and it’s especially scary when it happens to the people we know and love. I was thinking about that this week; about how human beings can fail to thrive, but also how systems can fail to thrive, even churches. That’s a scary thought, too. Ken often raises the question, “What do you think the church will look like in ten years?” It’s a question that every church leader ought to be asking right now because here in America, the writing is on the wall. The Christian Church in America is failing to thrive. We are not growing vigorously. And so there can be no question that it will look different in 10 years, but the question is how? What will it look like? Dead is certainly one possibility, the scariest one. But I chose to believe that we will simply look different; that we will find a way to thrive again. Yet I know that if we are going to thrive again, we are going to have to make some changes.
Change is what we have been considering in our worship together throughout this month. We’ve acknowledged the difficulty of change. We’ve considered the ways that we have changed in the course of our lives. And we’ve lifted up the need for change both in our own lives and in the life of the church. What I want to do today as we delve into this “Parable of the Sower,” as it is known, is to see and celebrate the possibilities of fruitful change.
I know that I am relatively young, and that I am still pretty new to this ministry thing. But in the last two to three years, I have come to believe whole-heartedly that the only way the church can thrive moving into the future is by embracing change. And we have to begin by getting rid of everything that doesn’t thrive. This is like weeding out the stones and the rocks in the soil before planting the seed. Seed that bears fruit takes work. The problem is, often what is happening in the church works for us, it helps us grow, and so we don’t think about the fact that it might actually be choking out others who are seeking to connect and grow with God. This is a really difficult step for us. It’s not easy to give up the things that we love and that are working for us. But the thing is, ultimately, it’s not about us. Our life as disciples is all about connecting people with the thriving life of God’s Kingdom!