It started out as a tiny seedling bursting out of the ground and lifting its face toward the sky to enter life in the outside world. The gardener specialized in African violets and had developed a species that had the most brilliant purple blooms of any in the world.
At the appropriate time, the gardener transplanted the flower into just the right sized pot to prepare it for sale to a plant lover who wanted to place it in a prominent place where it could be enjoyed by all who saw it. When the time came, the plant was taken to the Plant Studio where it was placed prominently on a shelf, waiting for an anthophile (a plant lover) to buy it and take it home.
And sure enough, just a few days later, a plantsman walked into the store, spotted the plant, and immediately knew it was just the right one for her house. So she purchased it, took it home, and placed it on an ornate plant stand near a north facing window where it would get just the right amount of light it needed to thrive. She also made sure that she used the perfect African violet potting mix, watered it correctly with rain water that she captured from outside her home, and kept the inside temperature of the house between 60 and 80 degrees year round.
And the plant thrived – blooming several times a year. It was, without a doubt the most beautiful African violet one could imagine. And it sat there on its stand looking beautiful in its most favored and prominent place for many years. And over that time it gave many people great joy.
Another seedling also sprouted from the ground – this one a Russian thistle. This seedling, however, was not cared for by a gardener, but was randomly deposited on the dusty dry ground of South Dakota.
The truth is, no one really likes these tumbleweeds. They are an invasive species that somehow made it to America in the 1870s. It probably originated in Russia, near the Ural Mountains, and hitchhiked to America in sacks of seed grain. It is mostly known for two things: leading the quickest plant invasion in the history of the United States, and having a side-hustle in TV and movie westerns.
In June, our tumbleweed took root and germinated, then flowered in August. And by October it had gone to seed. Then, when November rolled around, after the first fall frost, it died and broke off from its roots to be blown by the wind all over the countryside for the next six months. During that time, it spread its 200,000 seeds throughout the land as a tumbleweed.
At first reading, it may seem that this is a story of plants. But it’s really not. Rather, it is a parable about the church, being illustrated by what the plants do. Each plant has its own way of living out its life. And the two different plants represent two different kinds of churches.
One type of church is a potted plant church. A potted plant church basically just sits in its community and looks nice. It may have a beautiful building. It may be very small or very large. It may have lots of active ministries and be full of people who love God and deeply enjoy having fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.
What it doesn’t do is extend itself out into the world and affect the spiritual destiny of those in its community. It does not equip its people for ministry and send them out to touch their world. It just sits there and looks like a church.
Another type of church is a tumbleweed church. This kind may or may not have a beautiful building. It also may be very small or very large. It could also have lots of active ministries and be full of people who love God and deeply enjoy having fellowship with their brothers and sisters in Christ. But there is one other thing it does. It deliberately and effectively equips its people to go out into the world and plants the seed of the gospel in ways that affect the eternal destiny of those outside the church. It spreads those seeds far and wide.
Ephesians 4:11-13 gives us a picture of how the church should operate. Verse 11 begins by listing for us several church leaders. These are the “professionals” who focus their ministry on taking care of the church organization. But then in verse 12, we are told the specific work of these leaders. It is “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service.”
This may be one of the most profound Christian discipleship teachings in the entire Bible. Looking at it from the leadership side, we are told that the primary work of church leaders is to equip the saints. Now contrary to the understanding of many, the biblical concept of saint is not some especially holy person who should be esteemed higher than other Christians. Rather, the New Testament concept of a saint is any genuine believer – a person who has invited Christ into their life by grace through faith. So the work of the church leader is to be an equipper.
It goes on to say what kind of equipping they are to do – they are to equip “for the work of service.” Some translations say, “for the work of ministry.”
This brings us to the other side of the equation, which is also utterly profound. If the work of the leaders is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, this means that the primary work of ministry out in the world falls into the hands of “the saints.”
So what do we have here? We have an explanation of how some churches become potted plant churches and some become tumbleweed churches.
Potted plant churches are those where the church leadership does not equip the saints for the work of ministry. Rather, they see it as their job to do the church’s ministry, and they go about making the church organization run effectively enough so that it can be self sustaining. It sits in the community and is identifiable as a church, but doesn’t have much real effect on the spiritual condition of the people outside its walls.
Tumbleweed churches are churches where the leadership does effectively equip the saints for the work of ministry, and the members are able to go out into the community and spread the seeds of the gospel. This is a church that truly impacts the spiritual lives of those out in the world.
God has revealed that his desire is for churches to be tumbleweed churches. And they will pull it off to the degree church leaders are able to effectively equip the saints for the work of ministry.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books entitled The Truth Mirage, Rules for Christians Radicals, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, and his latest book Shattering the Truth Mirage and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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