Early in the Spring, I decided to plant some flowers to give my yard some color. I spent an afternoon working in the flowerbeds to get everything “just right.”
In the weeks and months afterward I faithfully watered my plants.
Fast-forward three months: Last week, I pulled up half of the plants –they were dead and dried up. I couldn’t figure out why my plants died in the midst of constant watering. (Of course the weeds in my flowerbeds are doing just fine!)
I did a little research (which just means searching Wikipedia) and came across something interesting about watering plants. It turns out that the best practice for watering plants is to go straight to the roots and avoid watering the leaves. Why? Two reasons: 1) the roots absorb water much better than leaves and 2) prolonged moisture on leaves can lead to disease.
Now, I’m not sure if that really is why my plants died (it could have been the fact that I planted them in shallow depths). But it does bring up an interesting principle: the best place to water a living organism is at the root. Or, put another way, “If you want the fruit, water the root.”
Of course, watering leaves is easier and less time-consuming than watering roots. The leaves are easily visible and aboveground. You really don’t have to lean over or pay much attention to get them wet.
On the other hand, to water the roots of a plant, you have to go out of your way, make yourself uncomfortable, and focus your attention on a smaller target. But the extra effort is worth it.
In our role as disciple-makers, it is easy to settle for watering leaves. “Leaf opportunities” are aboveground, easily visible, and less demanding. For instance, it’s a lot easier to lecture to a Bible study class or preach to a crowd because you can “get in and get out” without a lot of extra effort. The leaves are gathered for a specific amount of time –all you have to do is provide the water –not a lot of focus is required.
But when disciple-makers determine to water the roots, they have to pay attention. Roots are harder to find. You have to search them out. Pouring focused attention into a few faithful disciples is much more difficult than broadcasting a general message to the masses. Discipleship requires more time. Disciple-makers must be prepared to answer questions, go out of their way to serve, and be available at unannounced times.
Couple that with the fact that “watering the roots” is rarely glamorous. It usually goes unnoticed and unappreciated by others. But, it is where the greatest potential lies for healthy Christ-like growth.
Did you ever notice how Jesus occasionally turned away the leaves (masses) to focus on the roots (apostles)? (see Matthew 14:22) What about the fact that the majority of the Gospels focus on his ministry to the twelve?
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus did spend time teaching the crowds and showing compassion towards them. (don’t think that I’m bashing sermons or Bible Study lessons) However, His main emphasis focused on a select group of men whom He would develop like roots to His kingdom work. To paraphrase Robert Coleman, Jesus focused on a few in order to win the world.
Jesus even used a “plant” illustration to explain His strategy in Luke 13:18-21. “He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Others may have scratched their heads at why Jesus would spend such an inordinate amount of time with a few men. But Jesus saw the bigger picture. He was watering the roots in order to grow the fruit. The tree of the kingdom would grow massively after His departure from the earth.
Sure, He could have focused all of His time on the leaves –there were plenty of crowds who followed Him everywhere. It would have been easier to say things once to thousands than to repeat it for a few. However, Jesus knew that the crowds, like leaves, are not equipped to absorb His teaching the way the roots are.
Later, in the book of Acts, the Bible records the fruit of His faithful watering. At Pentecost, a massive harvest of fruit was yielded as 3,000 were converted. Frequently the book of Acts uses the word “multiply” to describe the production of fruit in the early Church to the point that the apostles were referred to as men who “turned the world upside down.” Jesus’ “Kingdom tree” was branching out and growing at a rapid rate –all because He started with the roots.
Isn’t it interesting that churches are full of “leaves” that show up for weekly watering without ever growing? (kind of like the flowers in my yard) The church today is not stagnant for a lack of water. Instead, churches that struggle to grow today may suffer for a lack of focused watering –straight to the roots.
So what can be done? How do we shift to watering the roots?
1) Focus on individuals. Corporate meetings are great (and biblical) but not when they are to the exclusion of small, intimate community in which relationships allow for focused attention on disciples.
2) Identify your key roots in your church. Start with those who have the greatest potential to disciple others. Water those roots first and teach them to do the same.
While we may not all be able to develop thick, colorful flowers in our lawns, we’ve all been given an opportunity to help the Kingdom branch out into a beautiful tree! Now, get started. Its time to water the roots.