One of the first things you notice at Walt Disney World is the preponderance of “Mickey-shaped” items. From pencil tops to fireworks, everything seems to consist of two small circles sitting atop a larger circle. Sometimes, as with shrubbery, the shape is forced upon the item; those in charge simply alter it until it achieves the proper proportions. Sometimes, as with ice cream, the item is formed inside a mold. The latter of these can get downright creepy at times. Forcing a pumpkin to grow in a “Mickey” shape by placing it in a mold in its infancy is … weird. The desired effect is achieved, yes. But at some point a living organism has to be allowed to grow in its own direction. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just seen one too many Mickeys over the last seven years.
Anyway, striking a balance between fostering growth and channeling that growth has been a bit of an obsession with me over the last 23 years.
Children grow. Christians grow. Deacons grow. Elders grow. Preachers grow. Churches grow. And none of the above grow in precisely the way the caretakers expect or desire. That can be a bad thing; in fact, it can be tragic. But however dangerous growth is, it is equally necessary — and to an extent, inevitable. It is the task of the caretaker to manage the situation, not to force it. God does not rob us of our free will, and it is improper to do it ourselves, no matter how pure our motives or how informed our judgment.
Think of those who are in your charge, and the growth you have seen in them and expect to see in the future. Whether it is a child growing in the flesh, a Christian growing in the faith, or a worker growing in his skills and responsibility, we must do what we can to foster that growth so that they become the best possible versions of themselves.
Growth is good.
Organisms that are not growing are dying, or else already dead. Without growth, there is only the inevitable decay and death. Steps backward are inevitable; growth provides new material, new surface area, new opportunities. Therefore growth must be encouraged. Whether it is the personal growth of the individual (2 Peter 3:18), “the growth of the body” (Ephesians 4:16), or the addition of new parts of the body through evangelism (1 Corinthians 3:6-7), we must strive upward. Staying where we are is not an option.
Growth is messy.
I love Proverbs 14:4 — “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.” The best way to keep your barn clean is to get rid of all your animals. Likewise, growing the body of Christ inevitably produces problems. Growing Christians ask questions that are difficult to answer, and perhaps they even begin to drift away from the truth that older, more experienced hands “settled on” long ago. Bodies that have become comfortable at a certain level of “fullness” become irritated when their designated pew is filled by someone else, or they don’t get to lead singing as often.
Growth is unpredictable.
Amateur gardeners such as myself might believe that plants just naturally grow to be like the ones on the covers of magazines. In reality, you don’t know what you are going to get. It may be explosive, as it was on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). It may lead to dissension and even violence, as Paul saw in Ephesus’ future (Acts 20:29-30). But the future is in God’s hands, not ours. We cannot allow our fear of the future to keep us mired in the present. Such efforts cannot succeed anyway. We move forward through time, like it or not. There is no point in being discouraged when things turn out differently than we had predicted. It was always going to be that way.
Growth is slow.
Patience may be a virtue, but it is rarely one we claim to have in abundance. Whether we are being impatient with leadership, with other Christians, or with ourselves, we rarely get the results we want right away. But that does not mean God is not at work. Remember, He is not walking through time as we are. He sees the big picture in a way we never can. Paul was confident that the work would be finished in Philippi, in God’s time and in God’s way (Philippians 1:6). God would not have it any other way. If we have enough faith to entrust our future to Him, we should have enough faith to wait for Him to bring it to pass.