“What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches” (Luke 13:18,19).
No one has ever accused me of having a green thumb, but I do know that bolting is bad. Bolting means that a plant—most often a vegetable—has directed its energy away from developing the kind of tasty leaves and roots that can be harvested and eaten as part of a delicious meal. Instead, it focuses almost entirely on producing a next generation of seeds. A more common way of describing this unfortunate phenomenon is to say that your garden has gone to seed.
Obviously, that’s not what gardeners are hoping for when they go through all the trouble of preparing the soil, planting seeds, watering, weeding, and cultivating. They’re hoping and praying for a bountiful harvest. They want to enjoy the fruits of their labor and share their bounty with others. They want the kind of garden that is picture-worthy, so they can post the photos on Facebook. They wouldn’t even mind if their family and friends were a bit green with envy.
But who could ever brag about a garden that has gone to seed? No one. It’s unproductive and even unsightly!
Going to seed
All of this leads me to wonder: Is the church going to seed? I pose this question with the full awareness that all over the world the visible Christian church is still growing by leaps and bounds in ways that most Westerners will never see with their eyes. Brothers and sisters in Christ are being added to the church’s ranks every day through the proclamation of Jesus’ saving Word and the faithful administration of Holy Baptism. The Holy Spirit continues to lift the veil of unbelief from the eyes of many and empower sinners to cling to the only Savior from sin. There is a rich and bountiful and beautiful and blessed harvest of souls constantly taking place, all according to God’s good pleasure and to the glory of his eternal name. Thanks be to God!
But in most of the Western world, the Christian church is no longer producing the same kind of visible harvest it once did. In our small confessional Lutheran circles, growth seems to have been replaced by serious stagnation, even retraction. Many church pews are less and less crowded, and handfuls of congregations are closing altogether. It’s becoming harder and harder to find young people willing to serve as full-time ministers of the gospel. Simply put, the process of spiritual bolting seems more and more pervasive in our culture, particularly in the United States. If you haven’t noticed this happening, it means you haven’t had your eyes open. Today’s church seems to be going to seed. Quickly.
But instead of wringing our hands, we ought to rejoice. Why? Because Jesus does his greatest work just when the world is about to count him out. As far as the world’s only Savior is concerned, going to seed is no concern at all. In fact, he tells us that’s exactly what the kingdom of God is like! “It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”
The church going to seed? No problem, Jesus says. Just plant the Seed and watch it grow.
Author: Peter Prange
Volume 109, Number 10
Issue: October 2022