Speaking metaphorically, the apostle Paul describes our ministry efforts in terms of planting and watering seed (I Corinthians 3:6-9). In the recent past, we’ve focused a great deal of those efforts on the presentation of our planting and watering to the exclusion of depth. Cultural relevance was the object of the game and to that end we filled our sermons, talks, and answers on Q&A panels with as many pop culture easter eggs as possible, working hard to build bridges for the world outside the church.
But bridges are only helpful if they’re crossed. Acts 17 features some sensational bridge building, but Paul doesn’t stop with the altar to the unknown God. He proceeds to move beyond it to proclaim Christ and his resurrection, thereby losing some members of his audience, as is inevitable whenever we get specific about Jesus.
On a sobering note, Paul makes it clear that the fruits of our labor will be tested: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (I Corinthians 3:12-13)”
Looking on the large-scale decadence of so many influential churches in North America, we’re in a unique position to appreciate that our slick presentations have not fostered men and women of spiritual maturity. Why? Because by and large we still don’t believe Paul when he says, “If anyone among you thinks he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. (18)” This age is precisely what is passing away. It’s characterized by restlessness and desperation because it’s shot through with impermanence. We, however, are the men and women who await the Day of the Lord, the Day that will bring every hidden thing to light and we are to live in the light of that reality, rather than the twilight of this perishing moment.
How do we escape the morass of performance and worldly wisdom that’s infiltrated so many of our ministry efforts? Dallas Willard once remarked that he stopped trying to get people to do things, to somehow cajole them into eternal life. Instead, he focused on planting and watering and left the growth to God. It’s high time for us to do the same.