Per usual on Monday, I’ve provided you with the manuscript of my notes for this past weekend’s teaching, “Super Natural Adaptation.” This is the final part of the Spiritual Greenhouse Theology series. Please read on if you’re interested in these notes.
(c) 2011, Terry Broadwater. These notes are for your personal or Life Group use only. For other uses, use by permission only. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well, this is it, the last part of our series on Spiritual Greenhouse Theology! To date we’ve established that we’re called to make disciples, that God expects multiplication, that you can’t make Jesus more Jesus but you can make you less you, that we need right conditions to cultivate spiritual development- mentors, life groups, the church, but that we need to go beyond the “greenhouse” for ultimate impact. Closing this out and segueing into our next series with this final part: “Super Natural Adaptation.” Question: How many of you believe in evolution? Without opening up a can of worms, I do believe in evolution… NOT in the context that man evolved from apes, but in respect to the biological fact that without an evolutionary capacity, plants, species, etc. can become extinct.
Consider evolutionary capacity in terms of technology… (Hold up my IPhone- from the Guttenberg Press to a handheld device that can hold 32 gigabytes of memory- that’s 28,000 books on this device!!). It’s evolutionary because of the principle of adaptation. In business this means you have to evolve and adapt your business or produce to the ever-changing culture or you go out of business! If we apply this same principle to spiritual life, to the church, how evolutionary and adaptive are we in terms of impacting our culture? Apparently, not very… Perhaps we confuse the capacity to adapt with compromise; therefore we tend to only shelter ourselves and become less and less relevant… When, in actuality, it is the connectivity and confrontation with our “crazy” culture that gives us the best opportunity for real spiritual development and ultimate impact. Let’s look at it this way…
Big Idea: Despite uncontrollable conditions, plants thrive beyond the Greenhouse because of their ability to adapt and evolve. Life, at the edge of the chaos, provides the “perfect” conditions for personal and marketplace transformation!
ADAPTING TO EVER-CHANGING CULTURAL CONDITIONS
For a “plant” to thrive in its new environment outside the “greenhouse”, it not only has to have been developed to do so, it needs 2 things beyond a right climate. It needs right soil and the ability to adapt to the changing, sometimes chaotic conditions of the world “out there!” In essence, this is a necessary evolutionary process that guarantees the perpetuation of the species- the principle of adaptation…
In the entire world of biology, adaptation has three primary meanings: 1) a developmental change such as that of a sense organ that makes it less responsive to repetitive but irrelevant stimuli, 2) an evolutionary change such as those caused by selection pressures on some attribute of a trait that helps an organism cope with a changing environment over generations, and 3) a biological trait that exists because it confers or is linked to a trait that now, or in the past, has conferred a biological advantage enhancing an organism’s fitness.
Fitness essentially refers to the ability of an organism to thrive; thus adaptations are the means by which organisms cope with environmental changes and stresses. Further, adaptations can take place at any level of organization- from an organism’s subcellular structure to its entire ecosystem.
All of the above is to infer this “simple” question: Could it be that the church in America is significantly on the decline because it has failed to adapt to increasing and rapid sociological and cultural changes??
I’m certainly not suggesting adaptation in terms of compromise, which is the argumentative reaction from those trapped in the status quo. Instead we must understand adaptation as the natural response to, not only engaging our culture with credibility, but how we can engage at the edge of the chaos- those uncontrollable conditions, and affect change– both in the church and in the culture! Adaptation (fitness to thrive) cannot occur without being engaged at the edge of chaos!
In nature, the edge of chaos is the conditions that confront the status quo, creating instability that challenges the “life” that exists in these new conditions to either adapt and evolve or essentially die! Again, in our lives, the edge of the chaos is when cultural, sociological, spiritual conditions, etc., confront us to have to adapt and change, or become more steadfast in protecting the status quo and the security we believe that that accomplishes. But nothing could be further from the truth! Chaos is actually the fertile soil for innovation and creativity, because it makes us have to deal with the “soil” we are trying to plant into!
When the “conditions” change, the church actually has the incredible opportunity to discover new, better, and more effective ways of being fitter to better fulfill our mission– and here’s where taking the responsibility to lead change and accept change is so critical. Adaptive leadership and churches don’t shy away from the challenge, nor do we allow ourselves or the church to become institutionalized- a major step backwards towards extinction!
Instead, adaptive leadership and churches, intentionally step out to the edge of the chaos; but not over the edge, and confront the problems and challenges to missional living head on so they can deliberately discover evolutionary and revolutionary solutions that are realized through innovative, creative, faith-filled critical thinking and vision-casting.
Truth is, life and vitality cannot be sustained by becoming more institutionalized and closing ourselves off from the cultural chaos- this is not only a survival mentality, this is certain death! Instead, we must seek out every opportunity to thrive, and thus realize, that it is the very chaotic conditions of our culture that will force us to adapt at every necessary organizational level, as well as in regards to our methodology, making us fitter and more effective at fulfilling Jesus’ mission for his church and to transform the marketplace and world! Jesus, the church, thrives most in the conditions that are most challenging!
The question is: How do we apply the principle of adaptation? Do we change methods just to change methods? Do we rearrange programs to say we are re-programing the church to be more effective (like rearranging the furniture on the Titanic)? How do we know HOW to adapt so we can be more impactful with the message of Jesus Christ? Because we take the message (Jesus) beyond the “greenhouse/church” to where it is needed most…
Mark 4:3-8 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”
We’ve often referred to this as the Parable of the Sower, but have we ever considered the SOIL Jesus is talking about? For the church and for you and me to be effective at reaching our culture for Christ, beyond the “greenhouse” we need to understand the principle of adaptation as it relates to the “cultural conditions- the field” we may be called to sow the Good News into! For seven weeks I’ve almost exclusively talked about the Seed in you- Jesus, you can’t make him more Jesus… It’s about him increasing as you decrease. Now, I want to turn this all on its head… Because impact, productivity, beyond the “greenhouse- the church”…
STARTS WITH THE SOIL NOT THE SEED
(What’s the soil like we’re trying to sow the Seed into- our own hearts, our church, our culture?) Mark 8:3-8 is a parable. These parables came from everyday life in a first century, agrarian culture in Palestine. They relate to every generation, and speak volumes about what the kingdom of God is like.
Some of the parables are organic and deal with soil and seed. In Mark 4:1-8, Jesus tells the parable of the sower, stressing the condition of the soil, not the seed. Later on in the same chapter, Jesus tells the parable of the growing seed and the mustard seed. In these parables, Jesus emphasizes the unstoppable power of the seed (Mark 4:26-32).
In the parable of the sower the seed is the constant and the soil is the variable. Jesus describes four different types of soil and their affect on the seed. It is clear that the condition of the soil determines the outcome of the seed. The “soil,” not the “seed,” is the determining factor in producing the “fruitfulness” that God expects (Jn. 15:8). While the seed represents the Gospel, the soil represents the condition or capacity of the human heart and the culture at large (the “field”) to receive the message and follow through on the changes that accompany a life surrendered to Christ.
Applying the four types of soil to a church’s health and growth, and especially to our culture or mission field, raises some interesting questions, especially in terms of capacity or readiness for meaningful change, both in and through the church!
Is the soil packed down? Is the culture and/or church strongly resistant to change? (No reflection leads to rejection of the truth.)
Is the soil full of rocks? Is the change, or has the change been short lived? (No removal of obstacles leads to lack of maturity.)
Is the soil full of thorns? Is the change eventually, or has it been choked out? (No repentance from hidden sins leads to lack of long-term change.)
Is the soil fertile? Is the change producing a fruitful harvest of 30, 60, 100 fold? (No regret leads to reaping and rewards.)
In this application, the soil represents the culture and/or the church’s degree of openness and receptivity to the changes that God wants to bring. Good soil is the precondition of a fruitful harvest. The ground must be prepared for the seed. In some cases the soil must be broken up with a plow. It is painful for the soil when the plow comes through. But for those that are willing to be broken, an abundant harvest will result. In other cases, “rocks/obstacles” need to be removed or “weeds/competing influences” need to be pulled out!! We’d all like people’s hearts or our culture to be “fertile soil!” But more often than not, we’ve got some work to do before we can even sow a seed!!
Three implications here as to why that “missional work” doesn’t happen: 1) We are so sequestered from our culture, we’re clueless about the “condition of the soil,” 2) It’s not convenient and 3) We don’t want to have to adapt or change our methodology!
There is a belief that the seed is the answer, when in reality, it is the condition of the soil that determines the outcome of the seed. In the long run, it is better to first deal with the soil and then plant the seed. That’s what we need to understand!
In other words many churches are looking for the magic beans. It is called the “Jack and the Beanstalk” complex. It is so easy to just throw the magic beans into the soil and believe they will magically grow- this program, that ministry, will do it! Etc. But there are no magic beans. The realistic first thing to do is to check the condition of the soil. GCC’s “soil” is Denver and all the subcultures. What’s the condition of the cultures, workplaces, hearts, we are trying to sow into??
KEY: How can we know what methods we need to utilize IF we don’t first consider the culture we are trying to reach? Are we willing to do the work necessary? Jesus talks about preparing the soil in the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). For three years the tree did not bear any fruit and the owner of the vineyard wanted to cut it down. But the gardener persuaded the owner otherwise:
8 “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. 9 If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”
Again, the emphasis is on soil preparation. Knowing the soil type and adapting our methods accordingly! Remember, the seed is planted behind the plow not in front of it.
It is our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ to promote healthy, missional living. By healthy we mean pursuing Christ. By missional we mean pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world. And that means we will not only need to connect with our culture, but cultivate the right conditions for fruitful impact beyond the “greenhouse!” Again, this is where adaptability is so crucial!! Vitality is the capacity to live, grow and develop. It is the characteristic that distinguishes living things from non living things. Cultivating the soil is simply creating the necessary conditions for fruitfulness, expansion of the kingdom to take place!
Let’s face it. Preparing the ground for vitality can be messy. Sometimes it must be broken up with a plow, or the rocks removed, or the weeds pulled out. But for those willing to get their hands and feet dirty, there is hope for an abundant harvest – 30, 60 or even 100 fold. Working in the soil isn’t glamorous, but it is foundational. We plant behind the plow, not in front of it.
As A.W. Tozier said, “the harvest follows the plow.” (Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12) Parts 7 and 8 of this series are crucial. Why? Because all the work of the “greenhouse”- the gatherings, the groups, creating and cultivating all the right conditions for spiritual development and discipleship to take place, ARE ALL VAIN EFFORTS IF WE DO NOT THEN GO AND SOW THE SEED INTO OUR MISSION FIELD!!
That’s why we are going to take this further in our next series and talk more about “our soil” and the “methods” we may need to adapt to, as well as the “mission” strategy we need to have…