What were you expecting? Some certainties as you prepare to lead
We know many of you will be getting ready to lead on one of our series as the new term looms. We'll be posting a number of blogs over the coming weeks to help you prepare.
Whether you're a brand-new leader or a seasoned pro, staring down the barrel of a course you're about to help run you can't help but wonder what the next few weeks or months will hold. Will people come? Will people become Christians? Will they grow? Will they be hostile? Is it worth it?
In a world of unknowns, there are some things we can be absolutely sure of, because God has told us.
Look to Jesus
Not sure what to expect? Well, take a look at Jesus, the most brilliant teacher who ever lived. Nevertheless, a glance through Mark chapter 3 reminds us that:
those in authority wanted him dead (Mark 3:6).
the public were often more interested in his miracles than in his teaching (Mark 3:9-10).
one of his own followers would eventually betray him (Mark 3:19).
his own family thought he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21).
many religious people thought he was evil (Mark 3:22).
Yet, in spite of all this pressure, rather than change his approach or water down his message, Jesus continued to teach.
We, too, will face pressure. So why should we persist in teaching God’s word to people who don’t seem to be listening, or who openly oppose us?
Jesus gives us the answer in Mark chapter 4: God’s word produces dramatic results (v 8, 20, 32). But Jesus begins by warning us to expect disappointment and delay.
Mark 4 explains that God's word ("the seed" in the parable) can fall in unfruitful places, like along the path (Mark 4:15), on rocky places (Mark 4:16) and among thorns (Mark 4:18).
There will be those who delight us by turning up for the first session, but who never come again. There will be those who joyfully make a commitment in Session 7 but, because of family pressure, they soon decide it’s just not worth the trouble. Then there are those who diligently attend each week of the course but decide right at the end that their material possessions mean more to them than anything they’ve heard.
It can be desperately disappointing to see group members apparently respond to the gospel message, but then show no sign of lasting change. But Jesus warns us to expect it.
Jesus uses this metaphor of the seed with good reason: it takes time for seed to grow.
The farmer has to be patient: “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mark 4:27). He just has to trust that the seed will grow, even though it may seem that nothing much is happening.
We live in an instant culture – instant food, instant information, instant credit – and we may find ourselves expecting guests to acquire an instant relationship with God. But delay is as much a part of our work as it is the farmer’s.
We must be prepared to stay in touch with group members for weeks, months, or even years after the course ends.
There will be those who seem to agree with everything they learn through the course. You decide to meet up with them on a regular basis and, a year later, they still agree with everything they’ve learned. But they’re not Christians.
There may be times when we lose patience and are tempted to give up. But we must continue to plant the word in people’s lives, trusting in its power, and remembering that God’s timescale is very different from our own.
Expect dramatic results
Despite the inevitable disappointments and delays, there is a good reason to continue sowing God’s word in people’s lives, just as Jesus did: “When planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:32).
Even a tiny seed – like the mustard seed – can produce dramatic results.
There will be those who bring up the same difficult issues week after week. Then suddenly one of those people will arrive one week and tell you that he or she has become a Christian. A few months after that, that person is taking every opportunity to grow in their own understanding in order to be able to teach the gospel more clearly to others. And a year later that same person is a table leader.
As Jesus tells us in Mark 4:20, there will be those who hear the word, accept it, and go on to “produce a crop – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown”.
It is a great encouragement to remember that the power to change lives dramatically is not in our eloquence – it is in God’s word.
So, whatever disappointments we suffer, and whatever delays we endure, keep teaching the word faithfully and expect the word to go to work.
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