One of the great inventions of history is seedless watermelon. I sometimes wonder if kids growing up today can even imagine a past when anyone eating watermelon would have to carry around a little bowl that would function as their seed-spittoon.
I’ve thought quite a bit about seedless watermelons and the gospel, and it’s caused me to be convicted about my own faith.
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26–29)
In this simple passage, Jesus tells a secret to the gospel of the kingdom: all life reproduces. Reproduction is a defining character of life. Animals reproduce. So do plants. And when a seed is planted, harvest is inevitable because that’s how life in the kingdom is.
When something is alive, it grows and reproduces. Conversely, when that doesn’t happen, something is wrong, either with the environment (like poor water or toxins in the soil) or, somehow, the original DNA has been compromised.
The interesting thing about seedless watermelon is that while they’re great for consumers, they’re terrible for farmers. The lack of seeds make for great eating, but they make it tough for farming. They’re bred for consumption but not for reproduction.
How does this relate to the church?
I’d like to suggest that there’s something amiss in the DNA of the church. When we find a Christian who’s leading others to faith, we assume they have an evangelistic gift. When we find a small group leader who grows a group, we think they have a leadership gift. When we find a church that is not only growing but planting other churches, we assume there’s something special about that church or its leader.
This tells us something about our basic assumptions concerning the church and the Christian. Namely, that it’s not normal for them to reproduce—and that any time this happens, something is exceptional. We actually don’t expect Christians and the church to grow and multiply. As a matter of fact, we might even think that Christians don’t lead other people to Christ; the church does!
I think this line of thinking reveals defective DNA. We’ve bred churches that are great for consumption but not for reproduction.
I remember visiting Morris and Bev, a young couple who were sent to Asia as kingdom professionals. In this nation, they had helped many like-minded professionals learn to be salt and light. But after seven years, neither they nor their friends had led anyone to faith. When I asked about this, they were a little defensive.
But God had other plans! We visited them with the desire to help them understand the reproducing DNA of the gospel. While there, we met a waiter in a restaurant who, after being asked a few questions, turned out to be quite spiritually hungry. In the course of the next few days, they led him to faith and baptized him. And this did amazing things for them, because they realized what life in the kingdom looked and smelled like.
We helped change their perception of gospel DNA, taught them how to engage in conversations that helped them sense spiritual hunger, gave them tools in how to lead people to faith, and then equipped them in how to disciple these new followers to do the same.
Just two months later, their work sent them to another part of the country where they ended up leading scores of college students to faith, who then led others to faith as well. They had rediscovered the true DNA of the gospel and it led to a reproducing movement of the gospel.
Here are three things I’ve tried to put to practice:
Perspective and Expectation: I must keep this simple truth of the nature of life before me. As a result, I keep praying for my friends who don’t know Jesus, and asking God to help me reproduce life myself.
Passing it On: I teach this expectation of the kingdom to each person I disciple. This is especially important for a brand-new follower of Christ. I want to help establish what normal is: for every person to reproduce life by leading their friends to Christ.
Practical Equipping: I then equip them practically to know how to share their faith. We encourage our folks to “always be ready”—to have a three-minute testimony and a tool to explain the gospel memorized and ready. Recently, we’ve found the “three circles” tool to be helpful. And we go out and do this with them.
Church planting starts with people—people who have reproducing DNA within them. Let’s breed people with seeds.
John Lo planted Epicentre Church in Pasadena, California, in 2003. In its 13 years, Epicentre has planted a number of churches in Southern California as well as in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, among others. John has an MDiv and DMin from Fuller and serves on the Fuller Church Planting Advisory Board.