There is a story in the Gospel of John in which Jesus tells
a couple of his disciples that unless a grain of wheat falls dies it will never
bear fruit. Only when we die is there a hope for new life. Life comes through
death. A paradox to be sure, but it is not paradoxical in how we in the UMC
Most seeds in the world don’t produce fruit. Many plants don’t grow because the seed never took root, and those seeds just die. Many plants do not make it to the stage of maturing due to being stomped on destroyed in various way. Many plants do not grow to maturation because of poor light or lack of water. Many of the plants that grow well are still subject to being uprooted by strong winds, floods and fires. Then there are the countless plants that are never pollinated and so fruit is never produced by no fault of their own. Of the plants that manage to survive to produce fruit, many of those seeds are often eaten by beasts, birds and humans. There really are just a small percentage of seeds that grow, produce fruit and then those seeds produce fruit.
The odds of a single seed surviving, producing and procreating are just staggering to think about. Most of the seeds in the world just die.
In the UMC we are blind to these truths of nature. We assume that all seeds will eventually produce fruit. And if they are not, then there is something wrong. The pastor is poor. The congregation is not active. The building is too expensive. Staff is inept or the history is too painful. Whatever the reason - there is always a reason as to why a church is not growing and producing fruit. So we attend training and seminars, we listen to our leaders teach us best practices. And we seek out young people to give us energy. All in an effort to shore up the myth that all seeds eventually produce fruit.
Jesus may be saying to us today is that we need to die to the growth mentality. Stop looking for ways to grow. Stop assuming all seed grows and produces. Stop worrying why some places die and why some places thrive. Stop trying to control ever variable in the church growth equation and stop thinking about growth all together. Only a small number of seeds grow.
Rather than focusing on growth or putting hope in the idea that eventually all seeds grow, should we be focusing on how to change our lives to reflect a Christ who put his faith in a cross. To put it another way, should we be more focused on dying than on living?
I am not sure that Jesus knew he would be resurrected from the dead. I cannot imagine that he would have been worried to the point of sweating blood in the garden if he really knew he would be resurrected. I am not sure he would have shouted “My God why have your forsaken me?” from the cross if he knew he would be resurrected. I think that Jesus knew that most things in this world just die. And it was only when he gave into the idea that perhaps letting go of his life was the only way to truly be free.
The UMC leaders and members work really hard at trying to hold onto the idea that if we do everything right, we will grow and produce fruit. We are still holding onto the idea of growing. We are still holding onto our lives. We are not dying to ourselves.
I wonder what it would look like for the members and leaders of the UMC to die to thinking so much about growing. Could it be possible for the UMC to embrace our own death? We are like Jesus, praying on our knees for a possible different way to solve our problems, but unlike Jesus who went to his death without resistance, the UMC is going kicking and screaming to a death that we have no idea what will come from it.
We hope resurrection.
But that all it is.