As I was hiking with my two sons this past Saturday morning, we noticed a number of large trees dispersing their seeds in a most fascinating way. I don’t know the type of tree, but the seeds were pea-sized with a single extending leaf-like structure about the size and shape of a large dragonfly wing. Under the weight of the seedpod, the single angled wing would cause the seed to fall with the perfect twirling, rotating motion of a helicopter. The effect was like the “paper helicopters” some of us used to make in elementary school. The seeds whirled around us, slowly descending from the tall trees, and often getting caught up in the breeze to be carried far from the parent tree. It was a delightful sight.
At one point, we climbed up a hill so that we could look out over the trees below. Amazingly, the wind was blowing some of the seeds upward from their trees of origin so that they would rise above the tallest branches, get carried all the more by the wind, until they landed on fields and pathways and rocks several hundred yards away.
I don’t have to remind anyone reading this about the immediate connections between this and the parable of the sowerÖsome of these seeds will take root and some will not, just as some ministries become wonderfully fruitful for long periods of time, some flourish and fade, and some never take hold at all.
There was another truth I learned from the “seeds with wings,” as my son called them. So many of our churches, even fruitful ones, are like trees whose seeds fall directly to the ground beneath their own branches and under their own shade. So many of our churches focus their ministries on their own children and grandchildren, and those close at hand. These ministries may bear good fruit, but in a narrow and limited field. The branches that protect them also sometimes shield them from the sunlight they need to flourish. All our churches need ministries that perpetuate the faith within our own families, kindred spirits, close communities. But we also have a larger calling.
On the other hand, some churches have seeds with wings, and the difference they make affects lives, nourishes faith, and transforms communities far from home. So many times I’ve been amazed to hear about schools in Africa started by adult Sunday School classes in the US, or new churches started in the suburbs by urban churches as well as churches founded in urban areas by suburban churches. Many United Methodist medical clinics are the fruit of a congregation’s initiative many years ago. Parsonages in Central America are built by work teams from United Methodist Churches in the U.S., and I know of Methodist churches in Mexico that provide work teams to help rebuild homes and churches in New Orleans.
There is no end to what God can accomplish anywhere in the world when our “seeds have wings,” when we are willing to let our prayers, intentions, plans, efforts, and work be lifted by the Spirit to places far away.
As your congregation seeks to become more fruitful, consider where the seeds are falling. Just under our own feet, close to home? Or around the community, the country, the world?
A couple weeks ago, I finished a new project with Abingdon. It is a five-week daily devotional guide for congregations to use so that every household can focus on the Five Practices together through daily readings, prayers, and challenges. It’s part of a set of new material that will be available August 1. The title of the booklet of daily devotions is Cultivating Fruitfulness: Five Weeks of Prayer and Practice for Congregations.
The cover of the booklet was prepared by Abingdon and features the drawing of a pomegranate fruit. It looks attractive, but I wasn’t sure why a pomegranate was suggested. Then I learned that the pomegranate is an ancient symbol of the church because it is a fruit absolutely full of seeds. Full of seeds means full of hope, possibility, and future. What a great metaphor! Imagine a church as being full of seeds!
I pray our congregations bear much fruit, and that we scatter seeds not just in our own shadow but around the world. I pray for “seeds with wings.”
Yours in Christ,