Earlier this week, I wrote about one of the first temptations planters face–not starting because we assume that it’s not harvest time. In our journey as a region, we’ve had to confront this temptation again and again as we set foot on new campuses and take Jesus at his word that “the fields are ripe with harvest”!
But what happens after you’ve succeeded at starting something new? Then what?
In the early stages of our work of planting, it can feel like there’s a threat around every corner. Our work often hangs by a thread and our emerging ministry feels exposed to all kinds of problems–running out of money, interpersonal conflict, sin among our leaders, and exhaustion loom around us, looking for opportunities to exploit our vulnerable state.
But something changes once our work has become established; the threats to our existence become far less tangible, the temptations far more insidious. The urgency that once fueled our radical dependence on Jesus is replaced by a cool assurance that we know what we’re doing–”we’ve got this”–and almost imperceptibly, our motivation shifts from taking new ground to protecting what we’ve got. We become less and less concerned with anything (or anyone) that isn’t already a part of our system, and we spend a majority of our time trying to secure resources for the thing we’re (or, ahem, “God”) is building.
Central Region’s Dilema
Five years ago, our regional staff team struggled to believe that God could use us in any kind of substantial way. We’d witnessed more than a decade of consistent decline, and like the Israelites in Numbers 13, we felt like “grasshoppers in our own eyes”. We were in the middle of the first temptation– “Is it really harvest time?”
By God’s grace, we responded with faith, and Jesus has been on the move in incredible ways. We’ve gone from the smallest region of InterVarsity in the country to one of the fastest growing, and at the end of the last school year, we marveled at the fact that our region had never been bigger, broader, or more fruitful than it was right now!
But in the midst of this unparalleled growth, I believe Jesus is confronting us with a new question. We no longer struggle to believe that it is harvest time–we’ve seen the way that God had been providing for us and are filled with faith that there is more. The question is no longer “is it harvest time?” but,
“What will we do with what we’ve harvested? Will we build a bigger barn, or buy another field?”
Five years ago, when our region was bare, we had to face the temptation of not starting, but now that we’ve grown, we’re being confronted by a second temptation of not sending–instead of prioritizing a “new field” where we can sow what we’ve harvested, we risk succumbing to the opportunity to build a bigger barn to make sure we protect what we’ve got.
The Church at Antioch
If ever there was a church that had something to be protected, it was the church in Antioch. After being started by nameless planters from around the Mediterranean (11.20), the church demonstrates dramatic evangelistic growth (11.21, 24), marked multi-ethnic fellowship (11.20, 13.1), and the gifts of the Spirit (13.1-2). After arriving from Jerusalem, Barnabas sees what God is doing, and goes in search of Saul to bring him to this new hotbed of Holy Spirit activity, and as a result Barnabas and Saul spend a whole year teaching great numbers of people in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians (11.25-26).
Books could be written about this church, but two decisions demonstrate the apostolic nature of this community:
- In 11.27, the community receives a prophetic word of a famine that would strike the whole Roman Empire (including Antioch!), and the response of the gathered community borders on recklessness. Rather than starting a ration of food for themselves, they take up an offering and send it to the church in Jerusalem.
- In 13.2, the Spirit again speaks a word about resources, but this time, what’s requested is their two most experienced leaders– Barnabas and Paul. Without batting an eye, the community fasts, prays, and sends them off!
Through these decisions the church in Antioch blazed a decidedly apostolic trail–rather than hoarding resources for the great things God was doing among them, they defied the threat of scarcity through sending.
Scarcity is an almost constant companion in leadership–almost never do we have more $$ or leaders than we know what to do with; almost always the task before us is more than we know how to accomplish with the resources at our disposal. In response to this perceived scarcity, the mistake so many ministries make is to increase control and cling to what we’ve got in the hopes of self-preservation. But the way of Jesus sounds a markedly different note (“if anyone would save his life, he will lose it”), and genuinely apostolic communities will always send, especially in times of scarcity, as a manifestation of the missionary spirit entrusted to us by Jesus.
To close, let me try and bring this home.
- Many of you reading this are likely in the midst of starting something new, and scarcity is the air you breathe. My challenge to you is to best the temptation of “not sending” NOW before you have a respectable ministry to protect. Settle in your soul that you are called to far more than planting one thing–you are called to plant things that plant things–know that this will require radical sending and own that reality now.
- Others of you are in fairly established ministries with more ample resources. I beg you to stand in faith against the temptation of self-protection and hold EVERYTHING you’ve got with an open hand before the Lord. Commit to being more than a big barn–use your resources to buy another field and embrace your calling to become an Antioch– a genuinely apostolic community defined to the core by costly sending.
Where are you being tempted to hold tight to your resources ($, people, etc.) as a means of self-preservation? Who in your ministry do you need to release to start something new? Consider what it might mean for you to send your way out of scarcity.