Last Spring, at the start of the pandemic, I felt inspired to plant a vegetable garden. I had not done this in more than a decade. Since I was home all the time it seemed like something that would be a positive step in the face of life’s limitations. Some parts of my harvest were better than others. A couple of crops completely failed. However, the garden is still producing “fruit”, and I’m better informed about what to plant next time.
When I read Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, I hear a resounding theme of Paul’s harvest for the Kingdom of God. Typically, Paul would stay quite a while with a new community of believers, personally discipling them in the ways of Jesus. He was not able to do that with the people of Thessalonica, yet he continued to pray for them, for their growth and maturing in the Holy Spirit. As Paul got reports about them from a distance, he learned that not only had they produced a harvest of souls in their own community, they had also shared the Gospel and brought many people to Jesus in cities far beyond their own! Clearly Paul receives this news with joy and great thanks to God for a bountiful harvest.
How did this happen? Outreach was just as difficult then as we experience it today. Paul identifies the essential element as he writes in 1 Thessalonians 1:6:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Thessalonians took to heart the need to imitate Paul and his team as they lived and shared in the life of Christ. They learned from their mentors how Jesus lived, and they imitated his ways. One of the first things they learned and practiced was how to listen to and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Planting and producing a harvest of people for God’s Kingdom is the natural outflow of the Holy Spirit. Disciples are compelled to do this because the Gospel is simply too good to keep to themselves.
Imitation is a distinctive difference we share in the discipleship model we apply at St. John. For many of us, after years of Christian education, Bible studies and programs, we were still left with a sense of being unprepared to disciple anyone. I’ve heard many people worry that they don’t know how to disciple someone else, saying “I don’t know enough yet!” That is because we had put too much emphasis on knowledge and not enough emphasis on practice. Disciples imitate and practice the ways of Jesus. These ways are simple and profound. They are also life changing and attractive to others.
When we imitate disciples of Christ, we plant seed that leads to a harvest. Paul rejoiced in the amazing harvest from a small group of believers in Thessalonica. What harvest might come from our faith community?! I believe there is great potential through the leadership of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t know where to begin as a disciple or need a shot of encouragement, come to Discipleship4All on Tuesday, October 27, where each month we practice the ways of Jesus together.