Scattering Seeds — Cultivating Church Vitality
by Stephen Chapin Garner, with Jerry Thornell
Alban Institute, Herndon, Va. 174 pages
reviewed by FORREST PALMER
“Scattering Seeds” is the story, written in the first person, of the author, a former Wall Street stockbroker who feels called by God to go to seminary.
In seminary, he is filled with programmed ideas and resources about church growth and vitality. He is called to serve churches, fulfilling a more traditional role as pastor, but then he is called to a serve a UCC congregation in New England, where his preconceived ideas about being a pastor change.
He discovers that the programmed resources he planned on using for promoting church growth and vitality for some reason do not work. He opens himself to the leading of the Holy Spirit and learns that “scattering seeds” is what we are called to do, trusting God to provide the growth and trusting God to work through the lives of the laypeople within the congregation. In reflecting on his role as a pastor, he discovers the concept of shepherding from the middle — leading from the middle, instead of the stereotypic up-front leadership.
The book questions traditional numerical membership, using metrics as a barometer for church growth … (after all, the author asks, what really IS success?). The ministry of the laity is not only welcomed but nurtured in an environment of spiritual growth and within a theology of call. Just as pastors are called, so are laypersons, with their God-given gifts and abilities.
The role of Christian education for all ages is lifted up as an essential element for spiritual growth and church growth. Having children in worship, instead of children’s church during worship, is also found to be an element for spiritual and church growth, not just for the children, but also for the adults.
Throughout this book, the reader is drawn into the story and the sense of discovery. While concepts felt somewhat repetitive at times, the roles of pastors, laity, churches and ministries are all focused on the importance of “scattering seeds,” trusting God to provide the growth, rather than focusing on corporate ideas for leadership. At the end of each chapter are questions for reflection and discussion, making this a possible resource for group study or personal reflection.
Leading from the middle challenges us to realize that God can and does work through the lives of those with whom we are called to serve and that we ALL are called by God and given a variety of gifts and talents, which collectively serve God in the faith community, as well as provide a viable witness to the surrounding community. The congregation the author serves finds itself not only growing but serving as a place people seek out, to experience the power and witness of a congregation that is not dependent on the pastor leading out in front. Scatterings seeds is what we are called to do!
FORREST PALMER is the interim executive presbyter of The Presbytery of West Virginia.