Close your eyes and let your imagination take you to a place of peace and contentment. For me, that translates into a picture of gently rolling hills, with lush green grass and perhaps a brook meandering across the landscape—a picture of peace and prosperity. Maybe that’s what David, the shepherd turned king, thought of as well, as he penned the verses of the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Those green pastures seem to provide a universal metaphor for what we consider good and desirable in life. But, for leaders called to ministry in the church, I’ve observed several different “takes” on the green grass idea.
You don’t have to be in ministry too long before you’re confronted with the temptation to compare your own ministry context with others around you. You might be tempted to think that another ministry has more resources, more people, more opportunities, and so on. For those who fixate on what they don’t have, compared with their ministerial neighbor, there is a strong tendency to conclude that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. This kind of thinking, if left unchecked, causes leaders to continually seek greener pastures instead of serving the flock where God has placed them. This can lead to the “stepping stone” syndrome of ministry success, as measured in terms of more sheep, more resources, and more opportunities –in short, serving where the grass is greener!
A second take on green grass comes about sometimes from leaders who have served in ministry a while. They might have had the opportunity to participate in a variety of ministry contexts and to observe the hidden problems that lurk below the surface. They come to a realization that there are real ministry challenges in every ministry context, even though they might not be apparent to casual observers. For these leaders, there is the temptation over time to become at least a little cynical concerning the church. The temptation is to conclude: There is no green grass! Erma Bombeck, humorist and author, captured the same idea in the comical title of one of her books, The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank. (Think about it…she does have a point!)
I have to admit, I’ve been there. After observing the inner-workings of ministry in many local churches and denominational agencies, I had concluded: There is no green grass, anywhere! (Translation: Every ministry context at some point shows signs of being affected by the sin-nature of man.) Just why that should come as a surprise, I don’t know. But a wrong-headed reaction to that realization can lead to disillusionment with ministry in God’s Kingdom. It can have a crippling effect on our service. Many leaders who find themselves at this point eventually decide to “opt out.” They think, “If this is all there is, I’m outta here.”
But, what if God were to break through our cynicism and hopelessness with one simple reminder?—“For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 NIV) This leads me to the third “take” on green grass in ministry.
Imagine for a moment the very opposite of a land covered with green grass. The scene would be a desert—dry and void of any green vegetation. It looks fruitless and hopeless. But the one thing that can make a difference is water—rain and rivers. What happens to a desert when it receives a sustained supply of water? It exchanges its drought for oasis, its monotonous muted sand color for lush green. Isaiah wrote about God bringing water to dry places: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” (Isaiah 44: 3) What was the effect of this “water”? Green grass. “They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams.” (Isaiah 44:4) In the production of green grass, water is the essential key ingredient. The bottom line for this “take” on green grass in ministry: the grass is always greener where it has been watered the most!
What does this mean for us? As leaders, we can choose to allow God to use us to water the dry places. We don’t have the water. He does, and this living water is His Holy Spirit. We can choose to allow God to fill us with His Spirit and then work through us to pour out His love in the places to which He has called us. In God’s timing, the continual watering of ministry will indeed replace a lifeless desert with beautiful green grass as evidence of God’s Spirit at work in and among us.
So, what’s your take on green grass in ministry?
- The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
- There is no green grass.
- The grass is always greener where it has been watered the most.
Thank You for Your Spirit which touches us and brings us new life. Thank You for the water You give us which is becoming in us a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Use our lives, Lord, to pour Your water into the lives of those around us who desperately need You. AMEN.