30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
I had a bit of an insomniac night last night so was thinking over the implications of the “mustard seed” principle for our future. Mark (our Mark not Gospel writer Mark, though I guess both are saying the same thing) in our discussion talked about how these small seeds grow and multiply covering a lot of ground comparatively quickly. I was thinking in contrast, acorns are large seeds which certainly grow massive trees however when you plant them you discover oak trees grow slowly and ultimately provide less foliage and cover.
It seemed to me at 3am that this is mustard seed idea Jesus is describing could be a “kingdom principle,” that is it is an example of how things happen in the Kingdom of God. If it is, does that then mean that we will see greater growth for the kingdom in aiming to plant small things that multiply than planting larger things that grow more slowly? What implications does that have for church structure and where we aim our energy?
Think about the life transformation groups we are experimenting with at the moment, they are very simple and small, just three people meeting with no great need for resources or venues. A group of three people adding one more doesn’t seem much, I think probably all of us think we could do that in a year. Yet if we had 10 groups of three and each added one more person that would 10 people. Even as a mathematically challenged person I know that is about a 33% growth rate which is incredible! Those ten people would allow you to kick off more groups and so the multiplication effect would be greater in the next time period.
Its the same with missional groups. If a missional group of about 20 people add just 5 people in a year, which doesn’t seem much, that is a 25% growth rate, which again in terms of church is an amazing figure. Missional groups are slightly larger so maybe allow for more “kingdom activity” so perhaps the Kingdom fruit they grow in the more intangible and less measurable areas of the Kingdom of God could be greater?
Now I know that numerical growth is not the sum and substance of growth in the Kingdom of God but I have quoted it because its the most tangible and easy to see. As I hinted already I strongly believe that this principle applies in all areas of Kingdom growth. Lots of missional communities promoting justice, or serving and caring others, must surely have a bigger impact than just one big group? The smaller the group proportionately the more people who would be involved in serving. These groups would also be more flexible and adaptable to new needs and change.
Funny the things you think of at 3 in the morning! The other part of what I was pondering was what implications does all of this have for where we direct our energy and resources when it comes to mission? Would love to hear your thoughts on that one.
It seems to me, and I may be reading the situation through the lenses of my own bias, that most new churches put nearly all their efforts into planting acorns hoping to grow an oak (a church service in the hope of building a large church) rather than planting mustard seeds hoping to see multiplying growth (missional communities/ life transformation groups in the hope to see a people movement growing) Aiming at planting oaks is resource intensive, it takes a lot of resources and money to aim to have an all singing dancing multi media service every week if you are a church plant. It doesn’t take many resources to have people meeting in homes, coffee shops or pubs. Now in case I am misunderstood I am not suggesting that you rule out the “service” there is something inspirational about gathering with inspiring worship music and good biblical teaching, I am just saying maybe its not the thing you make your main priority and pour most of your resources into.
Alan Hirsch wrote an interesting book a few years ago called “THE FORGOTTEN WAYS.” In it he asked a good question, why is it he asked that the early church and the contemporary church in China, both of which don’t have the resources we have as Christians in the West have, made a bigger impact for the Kingdom of God? We have money, we have resources, the freedom to worship without persecution, bible college etc etc yet we don’t make the impact that the first generation of believers did or that contemporary christians in China are making. I have come to the conclusion that a large part of the explanation for that conundrum must be this mustard seed principle of organic growth, the apparently small and insignificant turning out to have greater and more significant impact?
The more I thought about it the more I thought isn’t that just like God? He so often uses what seems insignificant to us to create incredible impact. I can see it in Jesus, everything about Jesus communicated unimportance and insignificance from a worldly point of view, born in a stable, poor parents, working class, lived in despised town of a backwater region, in a small insignificant nation at the edge of the Roman Empire yet just look at the impact He made! The mustard seed Jesus eventually had an impact on this world far greater than any acorn caesar.
So what do you think? You don’t have to wait till 3 am to do your reflecting!