The Emergent Church Will Wither And The Church Growth Movement Will Fade, But The Word Of The Lord Endures Forever

Picture by Steve Dawson
Text:  Mark 4:26-34

To Him who loves us and has washed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

All over the world people know how seeds work.  Otherwise stated, they know that if a seed is planted, then trees or fruits or crops will grow. 

All over the world people understand that mankind cannot make a seed germinate and mature, that is to say, mankind cannot get into the ground to manipulate and force the seed to develop and spout. 

All over the world people understand that when a seed is planted, a farmer must wait patiently to harvest the crop. 

All over the world people understand that if a good harvest is desired that one must first start with planting good seed.

This common knowledge about seeds and farming help us to understand Jesus’ parable before us today in our Gospel reading. 

In the parable from the Gospel of Mark, the good seed is the Word of God.  The person sowing and planting the seed is the Lord.  The ground and earth are those living under God’s reign and rule.  Therefore, what Jesus is attempting to do is grant us faith and encouragement that the Word of God is powerful.  The Word of God is planted in the lives of people through the preaching of the Word.  This preached Word has the power to not only convert sinners, but to cause us to live a Christian life as well.

Keep in mind though, only God can produce life.  He does this through seed, both physically and spiritually.  At creation God put seed into plants, animals, and humans beings for reproduction.  Seeds from plants fall to the ground; a man plants a seed into a woman; life is produced.  Likewise the Word of God is a seed as well.  It is cast out into the world from pulpits just like this.  It is cast out into the ears, into the minds, and into the souls of people just like you and me.  And through this powerful seed—the Word of God proclaimed—faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation are created and take root.[1]

In our North American context though, we are rather impatient with seeds taking root.  All of us are like impatient little children.  The day after corn seed is planted, we expect blades of grass.  The day after that we look for leaf sheaths.  Then the next day, expect nodes to develop.  By week’s end, we hope for ripe kernels that have fully emerged. 

This is so because we are surrounded by a culture that expects instantaneous results.  With hyper-speed technology, modern commercialism, fast-food restaurants, and advancements in traveling, we have come to expect things instantly.  Even in our small town of Gwinner, Fargo is only an hour away and Amazon ships in two day.  We really don’t have to wait for anything anymore.  Everything is at our finger tips.

I mention this because we then carry these expectations of instantaneous results into the church, which then creates tremendous problems. 

Permit me to explain. 

As Christians we can acknowledge that it is good when the Word of God is preached into hearts and lives—that the Gospel seed is cast into the soils of ears, hearts, and minds.  However, like impatient children we want to see things happen right away.  Pastors, like me, often feel discouraged when they do not see the immediate fruits of their proclamation of the Word.  Parishioners get frustrated when the pews don’t fill up; they want to see their small congregations grow overnight. 

Indeed, as the church we can all agree that planting seeds—that is to say, proclaiming the Word of God—is noble and good.  Seeing the ultimate end of a fruitful crop—that is to say, new converts and full pews—is also gratifying.  However, waiting and trusting that the Gospel seed will germinate and grow is the difficult part.  It is difficult to wait and it is difficult to trust that the Gospel seed does the work by itself.

Because of our expectations for immediate results, more often than not, our impatience does not speed up the growth of seed, but hinders it.  Otherwise stated, when our impatience drives us nuts, we may be tempted to try and help the Word of God along.  However, in doing so, we typically uproot the seed—make a mess of things—and ruin everything.  This was the case in the 1990s. 

In the 1990s a movement began that was called the Church Growth Movement.  It was a movement that enticed me as a young Christian, as well as many pastors across our country.  This movement developed ways for the church to grow and grow right away.  It guaranteed results.  It implemented business principles, strategic goals, SWOT analysis, and so forth.  In the Church Growth Movement, simply preaching the Word was not sufficient enough—the Gospel seed needed help.   Therefore, the church was encouraged to create sports programs, have praise band concerts, create daycares, put rock climbing walls in the narthex, have bouncy castles outside the church for children, give away free food, put coffee houses in the back of the sanctuary, have raffles for flat-screen TVs, create target markets for evangelism, and on and on and on.  Churches that wanted to simply preach and teach the Word and did not want to do all of this extra stuff were accused of being behind the times, irrelevant, not loving, and not caring about reaching the lost.

In the early 2000s another movement came about called the Emergent Church Movement.  This movement told young pastors like me that the office of pastor and doctrine and sermons should be downplayed.  If the church was to grow, it wasn’t enough to simply invite people to come to the church to hear the Word of God, but the church needed to be involved in all sorts of projects and deeds in the community.  As a result, churches services were canceled on Sundays and parishioners would venture out into the community to rake leaves or clean up garbage in ditches, in order to make a difference and somehow grow the church by proving to the world our robust love.        

I mention these two movements as examples of the church being impatient.  These two movements are the attempts of people, like you and me, wanting to have immediate fruit and results in the church.  While the original intentions of these movements may have been good, we must confess that after 25 years, these two movements have had little impact on the attendance and membership numbers of the church.  In fact there is considerable evidence that these two movements have actually hindered and uprooted the seed of the Gospel—the Word of God.  Personally I wonder if the Lord God may have just thwarted these two movements as a way of showing us that we are not in control. 

Given these points, attempts to help the Gospel seed along are no guarantee of growth my friends.  In fact, history and the scriptures have shown us that the more we press ourselves to work harder, the greater the danger becomes that we think our work is what matters most, as if the Kingdom depends on us. Furthermore and in blunt terms, we in the church can get so focused on the end results of the fruit and matured crops that we actually neglect the planting of the seed in the first place.  We can get so focused on programs and gimmick and strategies and plans that we either forget the Word of God altogether or we drown and smother the Word with all sorts of meaningless stuff.  It is like we are saying to the farmer, “Stop fretting about good seed!  Be concerned about good fruit instead!”[2]

Dear friends, if you and I are concerned about good fruit and good crops, you and I are concerned about good seed as well.  And in considering good seed, we hear from the Gospel reading today that the good seed is powerful.  It is ‘all’ about the good seed of the Word of God! In other words, Jesus is illustrating in our Gospel reading from today that it is the Lord who does the work of converting, sustaining, and growing His church and the Lord does His work ‘through’ His powerful proclaimed Word—this seed that is planted into hearts, minds, and souls. 

Listen carefully, it does not depend on you and me and our efforts and our additions.  It is all about the Word of God—this powerful seed.

It is as Martin Luther preached: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26–29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything. … I let the Word do its work. What do you suppose is Satan’s thought when one tries to do the thing by kicking up a row, [by trying to help the Word along through human effort]? He sits back in hell and thinks: Oh, what a fine game the poor fools are up to now! But when we spread the Word alone and let it alone do the work, that distresses him. For it is almighty, and takes captive the hearts …”[3]

What this means is that, “Jesus gives us the comforting assurance that responsibility for the Kingdom’s growth does not rest on our shoulders.  Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to supervise the scattering of the seed that is the Word of God.  Perhaps He will give you the privilege of scattering the Word of God by confessing your faith to your family … your friends … your associates.  Perhaps He will work in some other way to scatter the Word of God.  The point is that the Holy Spirit will see to the scattering of the Word of God, and He will attend to the growth.  The growth will not come as the product of [your] efforts and [skill].  The Lord of the harvest is in control.  There’s no need to worry.”[4]

Truly, dear friends, it is God’s Word, not ours.  The Lord is the one who converts souls and grows the church.  He uses us when and where He pleases to proclaim and plant the Gospel seed.  And as we confess this Gospel we do so knowing that the Gospel does the work.  It will not return void.

Baptized Saints, be confident, it is about the Holy Spirit through the sure Word of God, the Word that has called you, granted you faith, enlightened you, sanctified you, and kept you in the true faith.  You are forgiven all of your sins for Christ sake.    

Baptized Saints, do not let your ears be tickled by the gimmicks of mankind, it is about the Word of God proclaimed from this church in season and out of season. 

Baptized Saints, stand firm for it is about the Word of God proclaimed whether it is popular or not, whether politically incorrect or not. 

Baptized Saints, take comfort, it is all about the Word of God—for you and for the world.  The powerful Word will not whither or fade, but will stand forever.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Harold Buls, “Buls Notes on the New Testament,” (accessed June 11, 2015).

[2] C.F.W. Walther, Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010), 25.

[3] Martin Luther, Against the Heavenly Prophets (1525).

[4] James t. Batchelor, “Third Sunday after Pentecost,” (Accessed June 12, 2015).

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Jean Dragon said…
"The point is that the Holy Spirit will see to the scattering of the Word of God, and He will attend to the growth."

That's not the way St. Paul saw it: Human beings plant the seed as well as water it. From the beginning, God has included His image bearers in His creative, as well as redemptive, work.

Thanks for your comment. I would encourage you to re-read that phrase again within the context of the paragraph. :-)