The Long View

Andy Wade –

seedlingWho do you think Paul is, anyway? Or Apollos, for that matter? Servants, both of us—servants who waited on you as you gradually learned to entrust your lives to our mutual Master. We each carried out our servant assignment. I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow. Planting and watering are menial servant jobs at minimum wages. What makes them worth doing is the God we are serving. You happen to be God’s field in which we are working. 1 Cor. 3:5-9


One of the great threats to imagination, and sustaining that imagination in action, is impatience. I’m guilty of this. I’m sure we all can look back and see times when we’ve been guilty of impatience. But impatience destroys imagination by proclaiming that we want results, and we want it now!

I know that folks like Jamie Arpin Ricci of Little Flowers Community, Mark VanSteenwyk of The Mennonite Worker, Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way, and many others can attest to the need not only for perseverance, but for patience. Developing community, any kind of community, takes time. As a missionary for twelve years in Hong Kong, I know that it takes time for people to get to know you, to trust you, and begin to really collaborate together.

Shane Claiborne, in his conversational book with John Perkins – Follow Me to Freedom: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical, says:

‘Stabillity’ is a traditional monastic vow; it is to commit to a group of people and to be submitted to them. Stability is something poor neighborhoods are starved for. There are so many things that don’t last—like landlords. And Missionaries. Things that come and go, and people are moving all the time—not far, but often. It’s part of the culture of poverty that is so unhealthy. And it takes commitment—literally, a commitment to become a stable part of the neighborhood to change that. I think back to those words John [Perkins] told me on our front steps of Potter House… ‘You’ll see things begin to change… after about 10 years.’ Commitment is not a cultural Value. Wanna be radical? Commit to a neighborhood for 10 years!

God often sparks imagination in us, in our community, and calls us to cultivate it over the long haul. But impatience erodes our enthusiasm. Mimicking our industrial farms, we want growth and we want it fast! That impatience can often be found lurking in the shadows (and often right out in the open) of various church growth movements of the 90’s and even in some of today’s missional church discussions. Here’s the formula for growth – now run with it!

What we often fail to realize is that, like those industrial farms, in the process of fast growth we destroy the very soil on which we depend. Community and deep, interdependent relationships begin to wash away like so much rich and fertile topsoil.

When we focus on “measurable results” we begin to commodify the ministry of God. This is a difficult lesson for those of us who’ve grown up in an era where everything is measured and judged based on its short-term value to the individual(s) consuming it. Imagination reminds us that God’s vision is so much grander – bigger “than we can ask or even imagine”! (Eph. 3:20) And at the center of that holy imagination is God: God’s purposes, God’s timing, God’s grace to “make it grow” and thrive.

I was reminded the other day of these words by the martyr Oscar Romero, former Archbishop of El Salvador:

Oscar RomeroIt helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise which is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

There is indeed a sense of liberation in realizing where we fit into God’s purposes, purposes that include us and all our efforts – Yes! – but purposes that are so far beyond anything that we can accomplish in one lifetime. Perhaps our courage and our imaginations can be unshackled from bondage to “measurable outcomes” as we live into this grand reality of God!

Patience, in this sense, becomes a letting go of our agendas and time-lines and yielding more fully to God. This can be even more daunting when you rely on donations for your support. But then we all need to embrace God’s call to faithfulness, measuring our giving and receiving not on productivity, but on humble obedience, step-by-step, with the master builder.

These are the things I’m left wrestling with:

  • Where in my life has holy imagination been trumped by fear, anxiety, and/or not believing there is enough time to show measurable results?
  • Where do I tend to move on quickly?
    • Am I stable in my relationships?
    • Am I stable in my faith community?
    • Am I stable in my neighborhood?
  • In what ways have I assumed the role of “master builder”?
    • What influenced me to move into that role?
    • How can I step back into my role as worker in God’s field?

What questions form in your mind?