Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Lure of the Automat

The Horn and Hardart Automat Restaurant in NY City, circa 1960's

My dad was a child of the depression and spent his early years in Brooklyn before my grandfather moved the family out to what was then "the country", but is now just another congested NY City suburb, the Village of Valley Stream. My dad maintained a fascination for the city, linked with a healthy fear that he passed on to his five children.
One thing that had special lure for him was the famous Horn and Hardart Automat in Manhattan (the first one was actually in Philadelphia). I remember him taking us there when we were small. There was an amazing array of freshly prepared foods behind crystal clear glass doors that were available "automatically" when you dropped your nickels in the slot. This was real Americana and the height of consumerism.

In Organic Church author Neil Cole describes the "all by itself" principle of church growth/discipleship that Jesus spoke of in Mark 4:26-29.
"...The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."

That was the lure of the automat. It seemed as though the food just presented itself without any human involvement at all. That had great appeal in an era when we had yet to really see the dark side of science and technology. (Remember the Jetsons cooking food in those magic machines)

But the fact was that "automats weren’t truly automatic. They were heavily staffed. As a customer removed a compartment’s contents, a behind-the-machine human quickly slipped another sandwich, salad, piece of pie or coffee cake into the vacated chamber." (Wikipeda reference)

Christian Schwarz (Natural Church Development) also speaks of this same principle which says that if the circumstances and environment (church health) are right then church growth and discipleship will begin to happen all by themselves. This runs counter to our strategic style of planting churches which emphasize demographics, facilities, flow charts and powerful launches.
The thing we must wrestle with is what Jesus says. He is the one, in parabolic form, who says that the kingdom grows "all by itself". Our role, according to the parable is to scatter seed in order to grow the kingdom. This task of sowing is emphasized in the Parable of the Soils and the Parable of the Mustard Seed as well.

Sometimes I think we try to reap a harvest when there has been little in the way of real sowing of seed. We spend an enormous amount of resources on impersonal advertising, growing programs, events and churches, but what would qualify as "sowing the seed" of the Gospel gets neglected.

This is meant as a word of encouragement. I have always taken more responsibility for the growth of my church than I think the Lord would ask of me. Perhaps we should spend more time removing stones, turning over ground, keeping our furrows straight, placing seeds in the ground, and keeping them watered. After all, the growth is up to the Lord Himself!

1 Corinthians 3:6-7
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.
So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters,
but God who gives the increase.

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