Feed My Sheep
But there were times when Jesus healed people and then told them not to say anything (Matthew 9:30) about what had happened to them. You'd think He's wanted those He healed and helped to shout it from the rooftops. Here in Matthew 13 the disciples asked Jesus why He spoke in parables (13:10). It appears that they thought He was making things more difficult for His hearers by telling stories that then had to be interpreted. These were plain-spoken men.
But the Lord’s answer was even more mystifying. We are urged to be “seeker-friendly,” to make things as easy as possible for those who have not yet had a life-changing encounter with the Lord. And in the minds of the disciples the parables were not sensitive to the darkened minds of the Lord’s audience. I’m sure they were even more concerned when “He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them’” (13:11).
Though Jesus had come to rescue a world from its own folly, it wasn’t time for “seeker-sensitive.” Though He preached the message of reconciliation with His Father, that was secondary to something else. He needed to invest His time in twelve men (and anyone else who was willing to follow Him) so that they would be prepared to carry that message to a lost world after He was gone. It would be their task to explain the message in plain terms so that people would understand. The Holy Spirit would also come to bring light to dark minds. But right now, His followers needed a three and a half year Seminary program to prepare themselves to become the building blocks the Lord would use to grow His church.
At the same time I have been reading through Matthew 13 I am also finishing up reading through Fresh Encounter by Henry and Richard Blackaby. In the book they tell the story of a pastor who had become very discouraged in ministry. He claimed to be an evangelistic pastor. He preached it and practiced it and tried every new church growth method that came on the scene to gain new believers and build the church. Nothing worked and he felt it was time to quit. According to the story, God spoke to this man and told him “Lonnie, you have had my church long enough, I want it back.” The pastor realized that he had been going about his ministry in a way that wasn’t pleasing to the Lord so He went in search of the Lord’s mind. The question that kept coming back was “What are you doing to shepherd My sheep in your church?” He realized that he had concentrated all his efforts on finding new sheep and trying to convince his congregation to go out and find them. The Blackabys write: “The Lord broke him when He said, ‘Lonnie, you haven’t taken care of the sheep I gave you. Why would I give you new sheep?’...you take care of my sheep. When they are healthy, well-fed, and contented, I will work through them to produce new sheep.’” (pg. 254, 255)
It seems to me that this was what Jesus was focusing on. He didn’t neglect the Gospel message, but He concentrated those three years on making His little “church” healthy and well—prepared to be used to bring in new sheep once He was gone. The result of looking after the growth of His disciples then would eventually result in a church of billions.
That sounds like a perfect plan for church growth to me.