Plow Around That Stump

“Plow around that stump, brother.”

Those words came to me in a thick, southern accent. I wasn’t sitting on a tractor waiting for instructions on where to go next. I was sitting in a church office, early on in my ministry. The man on the other end was a wise leader who had fought his share of ministry battles. Some, he discovered, were worth fighting. Some weren’t. The one I was seeking wisdom on wasn’t worth the fight.

So I plowed around that stump, brother.

The man’s advice was good. As time passed I began to appreciate his wisdom even more. But I also grew frustrated. My frustrations weren’t directed toward the man on the other end of the phone. They had more to do with the ever growing number of stumps ministers were expected to plow around.

I hear about them all of the time.

Like the music minister who really loves Jesus and is reaching a lot of people but is probably going to have to find another job because he took the Doxology out of the order of worship one Sunday morning.

Or the youth minister who got yelled at because he’s reaching a bunch of unchurched kids who, heaven forbid, haven’t yet learned how to act in a church building.

Maybe those ministers should have taken the same advice that I followed early on in my ministry and directed their plows elsewhere.

I’d rather have something else happen. Perhaps some of those church members who have fallen so in love with their orders of worship, church buildings, parking spaces, pews and classrooms could get up off of their faces and stop worshiping those stumps. Maybe then we could all see them for what they really are. Tiny idols.

In Colossians 1:18, Paul says that Jesus is, “the head of the body, the church.” In the simplest terms possible, Jesus is the pastor of the church. The guy in the suit who drives a Buick and preaches a few times a week is merely an associate. He is not self-employed. He answers to Jesus.

It’s interesting that Paul does not say that Jesus is, “the head of the organization, the church.” Instead, he says, body. Here’s the thing about a body that has a functioning head. It is a living thing. A church that is led by Jesus is a living body. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about churches that are obviously anything but living.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus is, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” That means that Jesus, not our favorite sanctified stump, should be our object of worship.

But for too long, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen programs, traditions, geographical locations and musical styles worshiped as if they were the firstborn from the dead. And we wonder why we hear of so many church splits, church declines and church closings.

A few years ago, two friends came by my house to cut down a tree. When the tree was down, chopped up and stacked neatly, I noticed something interesting about what remained. The stump was pouring out water. A lot of water. It did this for a few days. Finally it stopped.

That’s the thing about stumps. They’re dead.

My fear is that many churches are becoming gardens full of stumps. As a result, it’s not just the pastors who have to plow around those pathetic objects of worship. Sometimes I wonder how often the Spirit himself plows around our tiny idols and takes his mighty work to more fertile grounds.

Lord Jesus, please do not plow around our stumps. Plow over them instead. We don’t need you to kill them. They’re already dead. Just remove them. And change our hearts so that we may live like the body we are called to be.

Save us, Lord Jesus, from our gardens full of stumps.