Grow! Grow! Grow!

I am not a gardener though I aspire to be one. My father and his quick temper were always responsible for bringing beautiful things from the earth. He’s the one I call when I get brave enough to plant tomatoes in early summer — and who I call when they die. It was a talent he gleaned from his mother and her impatience. It’s their tempers that amuse me because (let’s be honest) I inherited this trait. I am also fiery and impatient. I can relate to the desire to stand amid those things hidden beneath the earth cajoling: Grow! Grow! Grow!

This was taken on a recent visit to the
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

I don’t think my father or my grandmother ever did this — but it’s the image that always comes to mind when I hear churches talk about growth. It’s a hot topic these days as all churches want to grow. We all want to cultivate something beautiful that will offer that burst of color to change our landscape — but that’s not what churches say. When churches talk about growth, we don’t talk about the beautiful people that will transform our garden. No, we don’t talk about that. We talk about the church budget. We talk about how those extra dollars from those new flowers will contribute to our institution. To me, this sounds as silly as standing in an empty church and cajoling: Grow! Grow! Grow!

I agree that we should grow. I just worry what happens when we look at every person that walks through the door as a pledging unit. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intends and it’s certainly not what gets me excited about being the church. I hope that anyone that comes through the doors of our church wants to seek community with a group of people that are trying to figure out what it means to love like Jesus. I want those that bump into a member of our community on the street to feel the authenticity that we share together because we know we’re not perfect but we’re trying to live faithfully — and we really do want to change the world with that mysterious power of love. This is so exciting to me that I want others to find this kind of community but I know it doesn’t mean that any one of us can cajole another into joining or pledging. When churches talk about this, as the one I serve will tonight, we start by imagining a list of things that we’re supposed to do to that will inspire growth whether that is increasing our social media presence, reaching out to the seniors, creating sustaining opportunities for families to nurture their faith or testifying to why our church matters. Will these things really help? This is the question I’m wondering as I read through this report on technology use in churches. If we recognize that there are so many ways to reach people, will we actually grow? Or does something else need to happen?

This is the assertion that I bring to the conversation we will continue tonight. There is no perfect laundry list of things that will lead all of the people of Greater Portland into our doors. This isn’t a Field of Dreams. We could build it. They might come but if they don’t, we have just used up a bunch of precious resources and have only our frustration to show for it. I don’t want us to be frustrated. I want us to innovate and experiment but this risk-taking always connects to my experience of Jesus. I want to take risks that allow us to know Jesus better. I want us to innovate with new ideas that will allow us to know God’s love in a way we have never, ever imagined. I want us to try things that will allow us to grow as people of faith because that’s when it gets so exciting that you want to tell your brother and your sister and your neighbor and the stranger at the dog park. There will be no cajoling, but somehow through that mysterious experience of God’s love, we will suddenly realize that our garden is more lush and more vibrant. And so, the question I want to ask tonight is simply: What risks do you want to take in your own faith? That’s where we should start.

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