I’ve never been a farmer, although I’ve had far away dreams of actually living off the land. Allergies and an aversion to doing mechanical things caused those dreams to be quickly waylaid. Still, I’ve had my turn at growing a few things over the years
I was reminded of this when I recently heard someone say, “You have to stir up the dirt before you can grow the corn.” I chuckled when I heard it. It sounds a little funny, a tad hick-ish, and very down-to-earth. Like all earthy sayings, there’s a lot of truth packed into it.
If you want to grow some corn (or almost anything else), you’ve got to plow up a measure of ground. Hard soil doesn’t cut it. You need a place to stick the seed. Otherwise, it will blow away or have no place to root.
When I heard this statement, however, it wasn’t in reference to farming. It was in reference to growing the church. That’s another reason why I laughed. I’ve been present to see a little stirring in my time. It’s not always pretty.
“Coasting is not the optimal existence…”
The easiest thing for any congregation to do is coast. There are certain minimum requirements that need to be met, of course. There must be a worship service of some integrity. The building should be in some semblance of upkeep. The flock needs to offer up at least enough money to pay the bills (winter worship can be rather cold).
Coasting is not the optimal existence for any body of believers, however. As you’ve probably heard, if you’re not growing, you’re going backward. Once coasting sets in, the proverbial ground gets hardened. No seed can be planted, and fruit becomes rare if not impossible.
Getting Our Hands Dirty
The ground needs to be tilled, the field plowed, and the dirt stirred up. This doesn’t come without effort and at least a few aching muscles. To make matters worse, it comes with a price—dirty hands.
Many in today’s church would rather not get their hands dirty. They like the way things are—clean and neat. What they often don’t notice is the dust that’s settling across the congregation. A white glove test would reveal a whole lot of non-movement. It’s a test we avoid like the plague—sometimes until it’s too late.
Stirring up the dirt requires change. It requires keeping up with the times. It requires some hard work and some step taking. It requires us to evaluate and re-evaluate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what new pathways should be traveled in the future.
A Declining Church
The church in America is in decline. People are leaving by the droves. Some sit around and are puzzled by it all. They look at the way things are and think everything’s fine. Why would anyone leave?
Unfortunately, thing’s aren’t fine. People are leaving because the terrain has been hardened. It may be comfortable for you, but it isn’t for many others. It’s time to begin breaking up the fallow ground again.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]