Just a few hours ago, I found myself lying on my back in the wet dirt. I had a leg up in the air, holding up a two-by-four with my foot. My left hand held a screw in place. My right hand operated the electric drill, driving the screw through the two-by-four and into the bottom of the frame of my half-made chicken coop. I could feel the dirt working its way into my hair and clothes. My arms and face were already covered in a layer of grime.
Why was I in such an uncomfortable position (besides my obvious lack of carpentry skills)? Do I love my chickens so much that I would do anything for them? Not particularly. They’re just chickens. The truth is that I want eggs. I know I have to work hard to care for the chickens if I want the chickens to produce the eggs.
Hard Work Pays Off
This reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Proverbs 14:4: Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Oxen make their stalls and feeding troughs very messy. It takes a lot of effort to care for livestock. However, all that work pays off. Oxen can plow a much larger area than a farmer can plow by hand. Therefore, with oxen a farmer can reap a more abundant harvest and have plenty to fill his own belly and the mangers of his animals.
This proverb has wide application to many areas of life. For instance, a car takes maintenance and a continuous supply of gasoline, but it beats walking 20 miles to work both ways in the winter. Parents know that caring for a young child is labor-intensive, but years later, the child can become helpful and can lighten the overall workload of the family.
Ministry According to Prov. 14:4
I believe the proverb applies in ministry as well.
Ministry can be hard work. In fact, the New Testament frequently uses agricultural metaphors to describe ministry. We are supposed to be hardworking farmers (2 Tim. 2:6) who sow the Gospel and wait for God to bring the growth (1 Cor. 3:6-9).
Ministry is messy but worthwhile work. Like cleaning out a cow stall, ministry can be messy. A read-through of the New Testament epistles shows the early churches experienced regular struggles with sin, division, false teaching, etc. As a result, Paul lists the daily pressure of his concern for the churches in his catalog of personal sufferings (2 Cor. 11:28). Of course, Paul clearly felt the mess was worth it, perhaps because he knew that “we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:9).
Ministry is most fruitful when we serve the laborers. The main point of the proverb is not that farming is hard work. The main point is that farming becomes more efficient when the farmer focuses his labors on helping his oxen do the farming for him. The people in our churches have gifts and abilities we do not have. Our churches can be so much more fruitful when we focus on equipping our members to use their gifts and abilities for the sake of the Kingdom (Eph. 4:11-12). Ministering to members can be difficult work. It can be messy work. But it is the type of work that produces the greatest fruit.
Back to my chicken coop strategy. No matter how hard I try, I can’t produce an egg. However, if I’m willing to crawl around in the dirt to build a chicken coop, and if I’m willing to feed and care for the flock, our little farm will produce a continuous harvest.
Randall Curtis serves as the Rhode Island Regional Coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England.