Last week, we began a discussion concerning church growth. We noticed that Paul mentions the “equation” for growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6 when he says, “I planted. Apollos watered. God gave the growth.” Last week’s point of emphasis is that we as the church need to be planting the seed of the gospel in the hearts of men. Planting is the first step in the growth of faithful Christians, and therefore also the church.
As a reminder here’s how we might simply Paul’s words into an equation:
([Paul]p + [Apollos]w)Lord = growth
(planting + watering)Lord = growth
The second part of the equation is just as important as the first. Just as a seed in the ground of the earth needs constant care and attention, so too does the seed of the gospel in the lives of people. Paul’s way of illustrating this care—represented by the work of Apollos—is the idea of watering. Whether it’s rain water or water from a man-made source of irrigation, in order to grow, crops must be watered. Likewise, in order for the church to grow, people must be watered as well.
Noticing this idea likely causes us to ask, “How do we water the church?” Let’s notice several ways in which we can actively be watering (and growing) the Lord’s body:
Teaching and preaching. Apollos’ role in first-century Corinth was to teach. Context bears out to us that the reason Paul includes Apollos in the equation is that the people at Corinth were pitting Paul and Apollos against each other over “who taught who” or “who baptized who.” Therefore, Paul says, “Apollos watered.” He made a significant contribution to the work at Corinth. Even though growth starts with teaching and preaching the word, still more teaching is necessary if true growth is to occur.
The lack of continual learning was a major criticism of the Hebrew writer when he wrote to what were likely Jewish Christians (Heb. 5:12-14). They had learned enough to become Christians; they hadn’t learned enough to remain as strong Christians. May we teach and preach the whole counsel of God that we might continue to build the body.
Encouragement. Not only is continual teaching of the truth a necessary component to growth, but encouraging the members of the body is necessary as well. We have no greater duty that relates to our relationships with fellow Christians than that of encouragement. Everyone needs (or would like to have) kind words and thoughts spoken to them. People need to know that we’re thinking about them and praying for them in tough times (or good times). When Christians make difficult decisions because of their faith, they need to be reinforced and commended. When someone obeys Christ through baptism or responds to the Lord’s invitation repenting of sin, we should be there to encourage them for making those steps of boldness and courage.
The New Testament is ripe with passages emphasizing Christian encouragement. Notice again the words of the Hebrew writer, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” He says, “don’t put off encouragement! Your brothers and sisters need it!” What a perfect reminder: encourage today so that your brethren don’t fall victim to sin.
In the spring of 2004, Amanda and I were supposed to go to Haiti on a campaign; it was canceled because they overthrew the government a week before we left. As we were preparing for the trip months in advance, Jesse Robertson, who was heading up the trip, reminded us that we weren’t there just to plant; he said they needed watering as well. Sometimes, especially with mission trips, we get so focused on spreading the word that we forget the necessity of cultivating the word.
One of the reasons we’ve grown at Midway is because many have committed to being waterers. May we all commit to watering the church in the coming year.