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One plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:7

Just as there are stages in farming, so there are stages in spiritual growth. We have, throughout our short history been mostly planters, sowing seeds of truth. If we never did anything but sow the seeds, telling people where the world is heading and what God's plan is to get us back on the right track, we could still consider ourselves to have been a spiritual success. The more we plant, the bigger the harvest will be  when it comes.

But planting alone is not everything. There is a time and a place for harvesting.

If we can mix our metaphors a bit, there is, in fishing, a type of harvesting that precedes the planting (teaching).
Jesus described it as a net. "The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea and gathered of every kind. When it was full, they drew it to shore and sat down to cast the good into vessels and cast the bad away." (Matthew 13:47-48)

The story goes on to say that this is de scribing God's harvest at the end of the world. But the same pattern is present in every great movement. There is a gathering in, which collects the good with the bad. We have tended to steer clear of aggressive recruiting campaigns; but they have their place. And when they take place, some will inevitably be drawn in whose motives are selfish.

Scripture Union beach missions call it "casting the net". They march down the beach beating a drum, dancing, juggling, or doing whatever they can to collect up kids and lead them back to the main tent, where other activities await those who jumped on the initial bandwagon. Little by little the activities lead to the final teaching, an altar call, and a challenge for the 'fish' to give their lives to Christ. At each stage a few fish fall away (or are 'cast away') until only those prepared to accept the heavy teaching are left.
In the early days of The Family they did the same thing with buses--roaming the beaches and collecting up hippies, to be driven back to a huge commune cum training camp in Texas.
The Moonies invite young people to a week long camp in a setting away from public trans port or communication.

In such gatherings, you take people away from familiar surroundings to a place where you can teach your doctrine with minimal interference. It could be a tent on a beach, a camp in the bus, or a commune. Krishnas work in airports because people in them are already away from home. An invitation to come home with them is a lot more inviting when you have no place to go anyway.

The churches get a bit self-righteous about this approach (apart from tents and other boxes where they work on people for only a few hours at a time  or summer camps, where they have a week or two to convert them  or Bible schools, where they can exercise mind control for years at a time!) No one ever calls it brainwashing when they do it themselves; but we all call it brainwashing when the opposition does it.

Mainline traditional churches (of any reli gion in any society) have the advantage that their values are close to the traditional values of the society in which they live. They need not isolate people from much of the world to get through to them. They teach their people to be good children, good students, good employees, good citizens, and good soldiers, according to traditional definitions of 'good'.

Any group that wants to teach people to question war, question the government, ques tion the education system, question the val ues of their parents  must have a stronger net to lead people away from values that they have been brainwashed with from birth, and that they will be brainwashed with every day of their lives from then on (through the media, peer groups, preachers, teachers, movies, etc.) If we do try to take them away, the system will cry "Cult!" and "brainwashers!" We may respond by dropping the net and letting the little fish swim back out to sea, saying that we want them to be fully con vinced that what we are saying is right before we pressure them into coming away with us. But that may not be the best thing to do.

There are good arguments on both sides. Certainly some tactics and some lures leave a bad taste in our mouths. Jesus blasted people who followed him for the loaves and fishes. And he told people to keep his mira cles secret. So these are not legitimate lures. But one aspect of his healings was, and that was his compassion.

The difference between a teacher and a pastor is that the teacher deals with theory, while the pastor must put it into practice. A pastor knows the sheep, understands their needs, feels their fears, and thrills with their triumphs. The shocking truth is that people will re spond to the compassion of a pastor even when his theory is totally wrong. And they will often ignore a teacher even when his theory is perfect. They do this because the pastor appeals to their heart (or emotions) more than to their head. The truth is that people join churches because they like the people in them (or sense that the people like them) and not because they are convinced by the church's doctrines. That comes later. If we are going to grow as a community, we must learn to really like people who are not very spiritual. We must learn to do and listen to a lot of un-spiritual things without being sucked in by them. The carnal mind cannot comprehend the things of the Spirit. So the spiritual mind must be "incarnated" or made flesh, first, in order to reach them. We must learn to appreciate how they get so darned excited about kicking a ball around a field or buying a new dress or attending a rock con cert. It's all meaningless drivel compared to eternal truths, but it's where they live.

Of course understanding them doesn't mean getting sucked into wanting the same things; it just means understanding why they want them (because they have nothing better). As we weave a net of compassion and understanding around them they may come to appreciate the fact that we have something better (our com passion and sympathy if nothing else). When the day comes that they are ready to receive the truth, we will be there and they will listen, because they have come to know and trust us.

But a full-time teacher can't wait that long. He or she keeps broadcasting, whether peo ple are hungry or not. And some of those who reject the truth might actually learn to hate the teacher's nagging, so much that they would not turn to him or her even in a time of great need.

Pastoring is the way to overcome this prob lem. But it means kissing a lot of frogs before you find a genuine prince. Pastoring is not very rewarding work. Are we able to love and understand these people when they're still being unlovely and irrational? Are we able to reach out to them with our hearts as God did to us when there was nothing worthy of such love in us?

By all means start with those who show the most promise. And don't be afraid to eventu ally turn up the heat and cast them away if they do not respond. But don't forget how patient God has been with you. Remember how carnal you still are. Before you laugh at someone who gets excited about winning or losing a beauty pageant think about how excited you get over winning or losing a Bible quiz. Before you laugh at people who crave more possessions than they need think about how you still crave more fried chicken when you have already eaten your fill.
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And it pays to remember that, when trying to be patient with others.

It is easy for teachers to cast the first stone; because they are confident that their theory is correct. But pastors know that no matter how perfect the theory is, the practice will always be short of perfection.

Perhaps we will start harvesting more dis ciples when we remember that.

(See also In Spirit and in Truth, and WWFJD?)

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