Having lived in parsonages in 32 years of pastoral ministry, it had been quite a few years since I had to mow the lawn. In my last church, the parsonage shared the property with the church so my grass was always cut. But in late April, I stepped down from years of pastoral ministry to begin a church consulting ministry. Since we had purchased our own home, I would have to take up lawn mowing once again. To be honest, I actually do not mind cutting the grass except when there is heat and high humidity. It gets me outdoors and there is something special about the smell of cut grass in the summertime. More importantly, I think that lawn cutting has taught me a few things beyond making my yard look beautiful. I think it has taught me a few things about the church. Now it might seem strange that cutting the grass would turn me into a backyard advisor concerning church matters, but there are some important lessons to be learned.
The first lesson the we can learn from cutting the grass, as it pertains to the church, is that before we start, we must make sure there is fuel. Power mowers do not work well without fuel. Even push mowers need a fuel of sorts in that the operator must have food and liquids to undertake the physical labor of cutting the grass. One can attempt to operate the mower without fuel but it won't get the job done and will be no more than a futile effort. Sadly, too many congregations attempt to do God's work without being fueled by prayer and devotion to the Lord. A church must never forget that the fuel it needs is God Himself. It is noteworthy in the New Testament, there are many passages referring to the power of God. The Greek word for power is where we get our word "dynamite" from. The explosive power of dynamite can move mountains and build highways. It is a fuel of sorts-a source of power. Likewise, with lawn mowers, the combustible engine with sparks from the spark plugs sets off a number of mini-explosions when it reacts to gasoline which powers the engine. Thus the lesson for the church is clear-it all starts with God and His power.
It is also important to realize that the larger the lawn, the more fuel is needed and the lawnmower may need to be refueled if the grass cutting is to be completed. The church can learn a lesson from this. Quite often, churches start up being empowered by God and are dependent on the Lord. But as they grow with more and more ministries and people, they forget to refuel. Ministries and administration becomes more complex and pastors begin to burnout. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger in the excellent book, Simple Church write, "If you are a church leader, you have been exposed to plenty of models. Most of them are on your shelf. Or worse, you have blended a bunch of models into one schizophrenic plan. If that is the case, neither you nor the people in your church are really sure what your church is all about." Could it be that many churches have made ministry so complex that they fail to get back to the basics of being refueled or empowered by the Lord?
Another lesson that can be learned from cutting the grass, as it pertains to the church, is the importance of emptying the bag. On my power lawnmower, I have a bag attached so I can collect all my grass clippings and dispose them in a designated area. If I let the bag get too full, two things happen. First of all, the mower gets clogged and I may have to unclog it before I restart the mower. This takes away valuable time and energy and can be a bit of a messy job. Secondly, when the bag gets too full, the mower becomes heavy in the back and the front part of the mower has a tendency of tipping up which means that it does not do as nice of a job cutting the grass. For the church, I think there are times that we have to "empty the bag." Sometimes programs and ministries can clog our vision of what the Lord is calling the church to do. Churches can also be weighed down by its past and unable to do the job that God has called them to in the here and now. Church ministry is not just about what to start up as it tries to reach the world for Jesus Christ, but what to let go of including relational "clippings" that have clogged congregations for years. These relational "clippings may include unresolved conflicts and other interpersonal issues. Ministries, too, can also become so complex and burdensome that the core purpose of why the church exists can be lost.
Matt Redman, Christian worship artist wrote a song in 1999 called "When the Music Fades." The song was written in his bedroom during a time where Redman's church had lost its core purpose of why they had gathered for worship. Redman's pastor, upon seeing this in the church, made a bold move. As Redman reflects, “There was a dynamic missing so the pastor did a pretty brave thing. He decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season, and we gathered together with just our voices. His point was that we’d lost our way in worship, and the way to get back to the heart would be to strip everything away.” This wise pastor saw that the bag was getting too full and that it was taking away from effective ministry and a true sense of worship.
Another lesson about cutting the grass is to have a plan. My plan is to find the line between the cut portion and the uncut portion and mow the next row. Sometimes I cut in rows and sometimes I mow in a rectangular route until I get to the middle. Sometimes I start in the front yard and sometimes I start in the back yard. No matter what the plan is, it is best I don't mow down the tomato plants or the flowers (This also helps in keeping marital bliss!). Regardless of what I do, there is a plan in mowing the lawn.
Some churches try to operate without a plan. They say God will lead (which is true) but will use that as an excuse not to plan where God's leading might be. In Numbers, God had promised an inheritance-the Promised Land and He had led them out of Egypt enroute to the land flowing with milk and honey. But this did not negate a plan. In Numbers 13, spies were sent and a report on the land and its inhabitants was given. The report was a consultation of sorts which would outline the opportunities and challenges God had for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Jesus made plans every step of the way to Calvary. He secured a donkey to ride into Jerusalem. He made arrangements for the passover. Making plans are not unscriptural as long as they are made with the wisdom and direction of the Lord. Far too often, however, churches aim at nothing and they hit it every time.
Finally, the lesson I learned from mowing is to enjoy seeing the finished product. After I got done mowing, I looked over the lawn enjoying the fact that I was done and could get a nice glass of ice water. This was especially a treat on a hot day. I also enjoyed the fact that our lawn looked nice and trimmed. The lesson for churches is this: Do not forget to celebrate. Sometimes congregations are too intense when it comes to ministry. Congregations need to relax and celebrate what God has done. They need those times of joy. Churches are not just about work! work! work! but should be a place of great rejoicing. It is my feeling that there should be some fun in what we are called to do. We have much to celebrate and there is nothing worse than seeing a church acting like a chicken with its head cut off and not taking time to celebrate all that God is doing.
I have come to realize that cutting the grass and seeing what God wants to do in His church have much in common and there are some valuable lessons for us as we seek to see how the gospel can have an impact in today's world. My prayer is that our hearts will be open to God's leading and that we will see true renewal in the church.