“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” – Matthew 13:31-32
Many of Us Leaders are the Microwave Generation
I can still remember our first microwave. I was born in 1981, but we were poor and didn’t finally get a microwave till the mid-eighties. I probably will eventually have side effects from staring for hours as it warmed food or cooked popcorn. It was so fast! There was so little effort before, during or after. THIS, I thought, is what life should be like! But, of course, this isn’t what real life is like.
Real life is messy, slow and hard at every stage. From the beginning, it’s a miracle to conceive a baby, followed by a long and tiring pregnancy, followed by a painful and risky delivery, followed by years of dirty diapers and hard conversations before you have hopefully given society a contributing member who can make a difference. That’s real life.
I’m not just impatient because I’m an “Activator” according to StrengthsFinders; I’m impatient because I grew up
microwaving things. I grew up not having to wait long to experience something that took little to no effort. That has serious ramifications on the way I lead. If left to my personality, I’ll lead like a college student eats Ramen Noodles. Ramen- it’s warm, tasty, quick and cheap. But if you eat it every day, it will probably kill you. If I lead only doing things that are quick, easy and don’t cost me much, everything I lead will be shallow and unhealthy.
What’s my point? As pastors or church planters, we must do hard things that take a long time to pay off and don’t make any sense to many others around you…simply because they are worth it.
The Kingdom of Heaven Starts Small but Grows Big
I know how familiar this parable is to so many of us. When you read it or hear it, it’s tempting to rush to the conclusion you have previously considered a thousand times, “Yeah, yeah, the mustard seed is really small and grows really big.”
Slow down. This is Jesus dropping truth bombs on us. We don’t “got this.” We are slow to learn and quick to teach. What is in this parable that you may not have seen before?
Consider the Mindset of the Farmer: What Was He Thinking?
I know a lot of farmers. Their livelihoods depend on maximizing the fields. Like some ranchers I know, if a field isn’t being worked, it’s being rested for the next opportunity to work it.
Now, approach the parable again and imagine a farmer walks out into his field and the only thing he plants in the entire field is one seed. And that one seed is “the smallest of all seeds.” As Leon Morris notes, “It is not usual to sow just one seed, perhaps especially if it is a very little seed, and if, as here, it is sown in a field rather than in a garden.”
What is going through the farmer’s mind to do such a thing? What kind of perspective does he have? We will revisit that in a moment.
Consider the Mindset of His Neighbors
Farmers farm around each other. There would likely have been neighboring farmers who had gone the traditional route. They would have maximized the field and planted “garden plants.” They would have been seeing the expected fruitfulness and harvest that comes from doing what is considered common sense.
All the while, they would have noticed something different going on next door. While they were plowing rows and planting hundreds or thousands of seeds, their neighbor walked out into his field, got on his knees, dug a tiny hole and planted one tiny seed.
Day after day, they would be watering and cultivating their rows and rows of garden plants. Day after day, their neighbor would walk out, water his one little seed and walk back. Their harvest would come and be bountiful; his little tree would just be growing slowly and steadily.
What are the neighboring farmers left to think about this farmer? He’s either lazy or he’s crazy. Either he doesn’t see the potential of his field or he isn’t willing to do the work necessary to maximize that potential.
What Perspective Did this Farmer Have That the Others Missed?
“…but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” – Matthew 13:32b
This farmer was thinking of the future, not just the present. Therefore, he picked something small, but potent. He was willing to endure potential ridicule from friends and family because of the vision he had to do more than what was ordinary. We are led to believe that he envisioned something that would one day be a blessing to more than just him.
5 Leadership Lessons for Us Microwave-Loving Pastors
Lesson 1: Just because things take time to do doesn’t make them not worth doing.
We are into “Miracle Grow” strategies. How do I grow really big, really fast? Avoid the “Miracle Grow” quick fixes to everything…grow something organic. It’s more expensive & it cost a lot more, but it’s better for you and it’s better for what we are building.
Lesson 2: Just because things start really small doesn’t make them not worth doing.
“Jesus teaches them not to be hypnotized by size” – Leon Morris
It’s hard work to prepare a field. It’s crazy not to do all that you can with it…right? Bigger and faster must be right. Not necessarily; in fact, not usually. Jesus goes out of His way to avoid always being surrounded by crowds. He spends His three years on planet Earth with a small, motley crew of followers He wanted to invest in. He could’ve had thousands going through His leadership development pipeline, but He gave Himself continually to just a few. Like that farmer, Jesus saw something in the future. He was committed to that end. Jesus had a handful of followers who, over time, would fill the world and be a blessing to all kinds of peoples.
“Jesus’ plan for the world evangelization project was to spend time with the few to reach the many.” – Kevin Peck
Lesson 3: If you don’t get a bigger vision then the present, you won’t do things that only make sense for the future.
Local church is full of things that are hard and take forever to visibly payoff. That doesn’t make them not worth it. Things like building a culture of discipleship, raising up potential leaders, saving money towards planting a church, etc… If we don’t spend some of our time and energy towards planning for the future, we won’t have much of a future.
My friend Chris Wienand told me one time that a good leader has one eye on the present ground in front of him and one eye on the future. If you have both eyes on the ground you’re standing on, you’ll never go anywhere. However, if you have both eyes on the future, you will never do any of the necessary things to get there. It will remain a fantasy.
Lesson 4: Be Prepared to Envy Your Neighbors’ “Fields”
Imagine the other farmers getting to celebrate in the abundance of their crops. There’s imagery of immediate and grand gratification that they benefited from and this farmer missed out on. That’s a recipe for envy.
Keep your eyes on the potency of the work, not it’s present size. By the grace of God, what you and I are working for, watering and cultivating daily, will be a blessing to many one day. The mustard seed was the smallest in size but biggest in potency! It may look like planting a church in a hard place, like a small town. “Why waste my life on such a small place?” Why plant this little seed in this field? Because, by the grace of God, it will be a blessing to many!
I have a dear friend living in a tiny sailing village where it feels like there are no other Christians. He and his new wife came from a church of thousands in a town of hundreds of thousands. They feel lonely and isolated. They grieve the days when they were surrounded by too many friends who loved Jesus and loved them. But, they are learning to be content, faithful and expectant. “God has us here for a reason,” they tell themselves daily before they go to work to love and be a blessing.
Lesson 5: You May Die Before You See the Potential and That’s Okay
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”- Hebrews 11:13 (ESV)
None of us want this. I don’t. I want to live to see my kids grow up. If they get married and have kids, I want to be there for that too. I want to see our church do all the things that I dream God will use us to do if we stay faithful and humble. I want to see a revival in small towns all over the world. But I’m not guaranteed to see that. Neither are you. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give our lives to that end.
We are reminded in this haunting verse that some of the most amazing followers of God lived radical lives of faith and didn’t even get to see the resulting harvest. We are called to remember that it is still worth it. Jesus is enough and we are longing for a future home where all of the work will be over and we will finally get to rest from our labor. Until then, we press on, doing hard things that take a long time because they glorify God and that is enough for us.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According To Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary, Page 351