READ: Psalm 80, Hosea 9, Luke 8, 1 Corinthians 15
Missions is a marathon, not a sprint. Current strategy puts undue emphasis on the rapid expansion of the church, yet that which grows rapidly does not tend to be as sturdy as that which steadily matures over years. When quantity is praised above quality, we change our methods to those that yield the quickest and largest growth, with the repeated result of unhealthy, untenable communities of faith. Discipleship takes time. There is a process of growth for both individuals and churches that cannot be truncated without detrimental side effect. This is the oft missed lesson of the parable of the sower.
In Luke 8 some seed is taken away by the devil before belief is born; some seed have no roots and fall to temptation; some seed have cares, riches, or pleasures that choke them before they can bear fruit; but some seed fall on good ground and it is those seeds which hears “with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, emphasis added). Fruit requires patience (and in John’s gospel fruit almost always refers to disciples made). Discipleship is the mandate of every believer, and no disciple is shaped over night. Patience is required if we are going to lovingly see men and women conformed into the image of God’s Son.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:10 that grace labors. God has labored over us. Think back over your own discipleship: How many sermons, how many mentors, how many friends, how many spiritual leaders, how many books, how many circumstances, how many years has God invested in you? And yet we are still so rough and in ongoing need of formation. How dare we think we can shorten the process of discipleship among unreached peoples! We must love the lost long enough to labor in grace for them and with them in the journey of discipleship. It may sound spiritual to say that it is enough for new believers to “have the Holy Spirit and the Bible,” yet it is not true. Followers of Jesus need each other in order to grow. We were not created to blossom in isolation.
Infant churches desperately need to be in communion with the global and historic church. To “protect” nascent movements in the name of doctrinal purity is to ironically doom them to heresy. It is our interaction with the body of Christ around the world and over time that helps us stay true. The body of Christ is designed to self-correct and it needs all its members for this corrective process to be faithful. The Holy Spirit uses others to shape and correct us, and this is true both for individuals and communities. Who better to speak to the American church about the folly of prosperity than a pastor from a Chinese house church who bears the marks of suffering on her body? We must have the grace to be dedicated to one another over time and the wisdom to choose strength and fruit over noise and fame.