Sometimes we are so focused on the moral principles in the teachings of Jesus that we miss the leadership principles.
Of course, all of the moral principles Jesus taught are also leadership principles. But some of His teachings specifically address leadership and the decisions leaders must make when they face problems.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13 is one of those teachings.
Jesus explained this parable to his disciples rather than leave the interpretation to their reasoning alone. Because of this, He gave us some very important instructions about the nature of the Kingdom of God and how we should respond to unwanted elements when we see them.
When I was in seminary learning about leadership, there was a saying that I did not fully understand until I actually began serving a local church. The saying is this: “The best thing about working in ministry are people and the worst thing about working in ministry are also the people.”
Anyone who has worked serving others understands this saying.
We love helping others, but it is also a frustrating and difficult thing at times. People are not always nice. People can be mean, immature, and demanding.
Working with people can be an ugly business. If we are honest, we can say something similar about ourselves.
I would like to say that I am always a pleasant person, that I never have bad days, that I am the model of a perfect citizen of heaven who never complains, never loses his temper, never acts out of character. But this is not true. I wrestle with sin consciousness just as much as anyone else. Just ask my wife.
This truth does not change when one lands on the mission field. After 14 years of ministry in a local church, Allison and I moved with our three children to Ecuador, South America to be missionaries. A change in location, culture, and language has not changed the basic truth that working with people is both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. It has not made me a “perfect” Christian. On the contrary, the mission field has made me more aware of both where I’m growing and the parts of my life that still need to be touched by God’s grace.
We love what we do as missionaries and serving the Bride of Christ. We love the lives that are changed, the moments when people connect with God, and when the Kingdom of God grows and flourishes. But at the same time, the pervasive and persistent sin, the stubborn idolatry and aversion to truth, and the systemic challenges that never seem to go away are unavoidable.
There are always certain people and certain circumstances that demand our attention. It is often those circumstances and people who seem to steal the most time and energy from us. These are the “weeds” of the parable.
At the same time, there are people who are amazing. There are people who demonstrate a hunger and a willingness to receive and grow. In our work as missionaries, there are circumstances and opportunities that we really enjoy and that bring us encouragement and strength. These are the “wheat” Jesus speaks about in His teaching.
We can apply this personally as well. In our own personal growth, we encounter similar things. We run into bad habits attitudes that are pervasive and persistent. Even if other’s do not see these things, we see them. Like a good and nurturing Father, God shows them to us, not for our harm or to make us feel bad, but for our good and our growth in His grace.
I think in regard to our own sin and the sin in our midst we can make a grave error. We can pay so much attention to the ugliness that we miss the beauty and the grace that God has given us. Sometimes we end up spending the majority of our time with the “weeds” rather than the “wheat.” In our frustration, we are tempted to pull out the weeds.
In the parable, we are directed not to do so. We are warned that doing so might pull up some of the wheat along with the weeds.
Jesus values each one of His plants, every seed He has planted. He does not want to risk injury to His Kingdom over the enemy’s unpleasant prank.
The enemy will not win, but he will bother us as we try to tend the field in which we have been planted.
The challenge is to continue to water and nurture the field in which we have been planted even though there are bothersome weeds. We are a pleasant planting and therefore we can help others grow despite the weeds that surround us.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes catch myself fantasizing about working in a field without weeds. It is a futile fantasy. Those weeds are not there by my design or by God’s design, but they are never-the-less a reality. There is no such thing as a weedless garden.
I once read about a woman who had a very successful English garden. People came from all around to walk through her garden and learn from her.
She had a handful of simple rules. One of those rules was this, “If you see a weed, pull it.” But she went on to admit that this rule was very hard to follow. In fact, this rule was impossible. If she followed it religiously, the only thing that she would accomplish would be the pulling of weeds. As a result, the other plants would not receive the nourishment that they needed and the entire garden would eventually fall into ruin.
This fantastic gardener had learned a powerful lesson, while acknowledged the weeds but placed her focus on the beauty of her garden and the vital nourishment of the pleasant plantings she had made.
We must learn this skill in ministry as well.
There are a lot of ugly weeds here on the mission field. But that is not our focus, our eyes are focused on the beauty that is growing around us.
As we encounter those people and circumstances that are less than helpful to our work, may we remember that our Father is the Lord of the harvest and He will sort it all out one day. Let us patiently tend the field until harvest time when God will help us all to shine like the sun. There is beauty all around us.
A prayer for today:
Thank you, Father, for being a master gardener. Thank you for planting only good seed.
Help us to tend the field in which you have placed us with your same wisdom and patience. We need your guidance. We trust you. Help us always to understand that the seeds the enemy plants are not worrisome to you and that you are more concerned about the wheat than the weeds.
Dr. Joshua and Allison Fletcher are missionaries with One Mission Society. Prioritizing relationship, the Fletchers and their three children, Grace, Abigail, and Simeon live and work in Ecuador, South America where they come alongside not-yet-believers, emerging leaders, and church planters.
The Clarks and A Family Story support the Fletchers and are so thankful for their friendship and the faithful way in which they love! You can learn all about their work in Ecuador and how you might come alongside them in ministry at https://onemissionsociety.org/give/TheFletchers.
The Fletchers will also be visiting the USA in 2020. If you would like to invite them to speak or minister in your church or fellowship you can contact Joshua at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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