And when a great crowd came together and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.”
When I was a few years into my priesthood, and still in my late 20s, I told my Spiritual Father that I was becoming frustrated in my ministry because I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere in bringing people closer to Christ. He said to me, “What did you expect? That after a sermon people will run up to the altar and say they ‘are save’ or they ‘totally get it’”? I told him, basically that’s what I thought, that people would be stirred to action by a service or a sermon or a retreat, that I was working hard and I couldn’t see any results.
So, he took out the Bible and opened to the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8, and said that this parable is a metaphor for ministry. He said to me “Imagine that you have a large bag of seed. Every morning, you get up and walk down the road throwing the seed on both sides. At night when you are tired, you put the bag down, you sleep and the next morning you get up and start throwing the seed again. Here’s the thing though: you never get to look back over your shoulder at the seed you’ve thrown and it’s a one-way street, you never get to come back and see what you’ve thrown. You’ve got to be content with throwing the seed. If you are obsessed with seeing the seed grow, you are going to have a miserable life and probably a short ministry.”
That conversation changed my way of thinking about ministry. Of course it took years and a lot of heartache for that to happen. So, here is some advice to everyone who gets involved in ministry. You don’t necessarily see the seed grow. You have to be content to throw the seed. (As an aside, I’m writing this reflection while at summer camp. We have campers with us for seven days at a time. During this time, we infuse them with spirituality, encouragement, and advice on how to live a Christ-centered life. And then they leave. We don’t get to go home with them, or see them in school next month, or see if our work bears any fruit. That’s not the goal of summer camp. The goal has simply become to sow the seed. We cannot control the hearts that the seed will land in. We have to be content to simply sow the seed.)
In parish ministry, not every event is spectacular. I used to be obsessed with numbers, like how many people attend a Divine Liturgy. I no longer obsess about numbers. When the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a weekday, I know that the church will not be filled, especially on minor feast days. Maybe 5-10 people will show up. And on those days, I still give a good effort in celebrating the Divine Liturgy. I offer a short homily to those who are present. (Another aside, I gave a lecture at the Seminary entitled “the top 25 things I didn’t learn here” and one of the things on my list was “how to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in front of three people.” The point was that when I was the Seminary, we always had many chanters, many altar boys and many congregants at every Divine Liturgy. We never celebrated Divine Liturgy with one chanter, no altar boys and three people in the pews. That was a change when I became a parish priest. It’s easy to have energy on Pascha when the church is filled to capacity. It is something entirely different to bring energy when there are only three people in the church.) I’ve come to realize that God is not going to ask me how many people showed up at a weekday Divine Liturgy. He’ll be more concerned with how many Divine Liturgies I offered, how many opportunities I gave people in my community to worship.
Many people who are reading this message are involved with church work—they sing in the choir, or teach Sunday school, or help out with the youth group or serve on the Parish Council. My message to you is don’t be obsessed with seeing the fruit of your efforts. The seed you sow may grow years after you are gone. Be content to throw the seed and throw it as much and as often as you can.
For work outside of church, it’s the same principle. Throw the seed of Christ—of love, kindness, encouragement, peace, etc.—to everyone. Say kind words, help others, show Christ-like love—these are the seeds we sow. How they grow is not up to us. The kind of hearts the seed lands in we cannot control. Christ is not going to ask us how much seed we grew, but how much we sowed. After all, the Parable of the Sower is not called the Parable of the Grower. The seed is God’s word. We all have the ability to throw it to others.
What is in our heart is the soil in which the seed grows. I have never converted anyone to anything regarding the faith. I throw the seed. The Holy Spirit then works in conjunction with the person who receives the seed to grow it in their heart. In addition to all having the potential to be sowers of the seed, we are all individually growers of the seed that has been thrown to us. Thus, we need to each be cultivating the seeds in our own hearts so that Christ grows in us and with Christ in us, we can “throw” Him to others.
It’s not about how many people come to an event that God is concerned with, but how many events, how many chances we offer for people to come closer to Him. This applies to our churches and to our lives outside of church as well.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then out mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we were glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negeb! May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy! He that goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalm 126
Grow the seed of God in your heart. Spread it to others. Don’t focus on the growth of the seeds you sow. Be vigilant in sowing them!
+Fr. Stavros, St. John the Baptist GOC, Tampa, FL
Taken from the 'Transforming our Church' series