Sherry and I used to wait tables years ago. When we got swamped by guests we called it “being in the weeds.” Real weeds can’t be ignored, or they will take over everything. Something very fundamental about “weeds” is that they grow quicker than the fruits and vegetables that you want to enjoy. Consequently, if you don’t tend to the weeds, they will choke out the good plants!
Quick growth should always be viewed with some suspicion and care. Certainly there are growth spurts with anything, but something that grows quickly all of the time acts more like a weed than a fruitful vine. God has made the church to be a fruitful vine, which generally grows gradually with intent to fill the earth with the Lord’s glory. He never gives the impression that it will be quick “exponential” growth all of the time. There will be spurts of growth given by grace, but eventually things settle down and genuine faith is the only thing that can carry one through.
Just as there is a great cost to quick growth in the garden (you have weeds not fruit!), there is a tremendous cost to quick growth in the church. One striking example of this is the sex abuse scandal in the SBC. Nicole Ault (a World News Group graduate) wrote an opinion piece where she make this very shares this penetrating quote:
“Rather than seeing church growth as something God gives and removes for His purposes, we have pursued it at high cost to the most vulnerable members of our congregations.”Rachael Denhollander
So, you can see the cost that Denhollander sees of a bad view of church growth can bring. There is always a cost. Adam and Eve had a blessed environment to tend with their Lord’s grace. However, they believed the lie of the Serpent and plunged themselves and their progeny into curse. Part of the curse was that weeds would come getting in the way of the once pleasant work. Nevertheless, before God ever pronounced a curse on the ground effecting Adam and Eve, he dealt with the enemy and promised to Adam and Eve in love that he will destroy Satan by the Seed of the woman.
One day, Satan will be crushed under the Church’s feet, and the weeds will no longer need tending. Until this time, there is a clear direction that weeds are part of life and they cannot be ignored. Ignore them, and pay the consequences. Don’t mistake them for real growth. Real growth looks gradual most of the time. Fast growth happens in short seasons, not long durations. We are called not to love church growth, but the Lord who “gives the growth” ordinarily in a very gradual way. Don’t love church growth, love walking with the Lord with whatever he has entrusted to you, and tend to the weeds so you can tend the flock.
What does tending the weeds look like for the church? The church builds an environment that doesn’t leave Christian professions unquestioned. They are persistent about seeing those who profess Christ live lives in step with the Spirit of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think Denhollander’s statement is really on to something of truth, namely rather than being so concerned with church growth, Christians need to be concerned with fidelity to truth, then growth can be genuine and good. There’s really no genuine long-term growth in this life that doesn’t require some tending to the weeds.