One of my challenges for 2019 was to read 1 Proverb a day, the idea being that I then chewed on the Proverb all day. It’s been a hard discipline, but one which I’ll continue next year as I think it’s helpful for me to slow down, reflect and think.
Sunday’s was this from Proverbs 20v4:
“Sluggards do not plow in season;
so at harvest time they look but find nothing.”
There was lots that struck me as I thought about it during the day. But I couldn’t help but apply it to the church and our evangelism. Church growth in the UK has stalled, there are patches of growth, but also large swathes of decline. There are new churches planted which stimulate growth (though I’d be intrigued to know how much is new kingdom growth), whilst other churches wither for want of new believers, revitalisation and eventually die.
I wonder if this is because as Churches and Christians we’ve taken our hand off the plough. Because of Christendom enduring legacy the church could previously rely quite easily on people with a church background, or who attended Sunday School, or who were wandering sheep, when it came to evangelism. These people were in effect low hanging fruit. Relatively easy to reach with the gospel, already used to and positive about church, already with a foundational framework to their thinking that was, if not Christian, broadly formed by Biblical values.
But there is little low hanging fruit for us to share the gospel with now and maybe our methods of evangelism are still tuned to this. We’ve been doing the reaping, but not the hard work of ploughing to break the ground, and so now like the sluggard at harvest time there is nothing.
The warning of the Proverbs is designed to teach us wisdom, to teach us what consequences a certain action has so that we can remedy it now. So how do we remedy this? We need to put our hand to the plough. We need to begin the long term work of breaking the ground for Christianity. But how?
We’ve been studying 1 Peter this term and so much of it is directly relevant to this issue, to our society. Peter writes to believers who are Christians living and witnessing in an anti-Christian world, as they live out the gospel they are met by hostility and opposition, they are slandered, abused, maligned and so on.
Peter exhorts them to do the plough work. Not to allow society to mould them and diminish the difference but to live radically holy lives and Peter is honest that this will provoke opposition, it will provoke abuse. But it is only as believers fight sin in themselves and live holy lives before a watching world, do good even when attacked for it, and glorify God that others will ask why?
That is hard. To do good, to love your neighbour and yet be abused for it, and respond by radically loving them and doing good to them. That is counter intuitive but it is plough work. Our radically costly good work in serving those who oppose us is hard but it is necessary. It turns the soil of hard hearts, provoking questions. Are we prepared for doing the hard work or are we content to be evangelistic sluggards? Not doing nothing because we’ll run our usual store of ‘events’ yet find ourselves bemoaning the lack of guests and fruit. Sluggards because we won’t do the hard work of being holy and loving those who oppose us, meeting their opposition with good works outside the church, in the community, work and neighbourhood, that demonstrates radical love not just for those who deserve it but especially for those who don’t.
Will we do that as churches? What does your church do that the community can point to and see as loving above and beyond what others do? Or have we taken our hands off the plough?