From Dirt Kicker to Fruit Picker

September 8, 2011

Lloyd Ogilvie, in a family camp talk delivered at Mount Hermon decades ago, employed a vivid image my husband and I still use to identify a critical skeptic.  A grave digger toiled on a hot, muggy day to fashion a perfect, sharp-cornered grave. Before the casket arrived to receive its earthly embrace, a sour chap sidled up to the edge of the pit and kicked some dirt into it.  “There,” he groused to the grave-digger, “you missed some.”  Ogilvie likened this “dirt-kicker” to those in the church who can never affirm or be satisfied with the ministry efforts of others.

There are plenty of dirt-kickers in the evangelical tribe, and this attitude needs to be transformed into something constructive before conservatives can make headway. This points to a third shift in the evangelical heart and soul: trading out skepticism for openness.  That is, we would do well to relax our mistrust of fellow evangelicals trying to offer some leadership and creativity, and give up the sort of squinty-eyed and arms-folded “convince me” posture. Better, is it not, to open the eyes and roll up the sleeves and adopt a new openness in the form of “equip me!” It is closer to the true Reformation spirit of evangelical Presbyterians to cultivate a willingness to give New Ideas a try—yes, biblically grounded and doctrinally orthodox—with a renewed desire to be equipped for ministry. Jesus knew and grieved the need: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Mt 9:36-38). That harvest of ministry awaits, and our calling is not to kick dirt around but to cultivate the orchard and pick the fruit!

So let’s say you are a dirt kicker, and want to become a fruit picker instead. What would you need to do? First of all, you would reorganize your values to put the tending and harvest of fruit at the center of your life. Weeding and feeding your own row in God’s garden includes attending to the Holy Spirit’s work, which is producing the Spirit’s fruit in you. But yours is not the only fruit to bear. The missional call to every believer is to see one’s neighborhood, workplace, and (we must add, sadly) the PCUSA as a mission field. There we are called to a ministry of presence, informative conversation, compassionate care, evangelism, and “exhibition of the Kingdom of God” to the world around us. If any of these elicits a “Huh?” you are identifying areas where you have exciting things to learn, skills to develop, hopes to foster, and fruit to harvest. Talk to your pastor or the elder for adult discipleship at your church to brainstorm ideas for spiritual development of all your members, with these goals in mind.

Secondly, may I suggest that an aspiring fruit picker undergoing a substantive attitude adjustment probably has some trust issues. Believing it possible that some church leaders in the past or present may not have been worthy of your trust, you must sort out what is legitimate caution and what is a bad Pharisaic attitude that must be overhauled completely. Expecting your leaders to be perfect is one form of idolatry. You can smoke this out by listing those qualifications you require in a leader in order to respect him or her. If only Jesus can fill the bill, it’s time to get realistic. The longer I watch the leadership dynamic, the more I see humility and repentance are at the core of great leadership—and follower-ship, too.

Thirdly, in the realm of the Fellowship of Presbyterians and the New Reformed Body, realize that the “grave” (sorry, bad image now) hasn’t been dug yet, so why slow progress by kicking more dirt into the hole? Instead, do the hard, thoughtful, creative work of envisioning what that New Reformed Body is going to look like with Jesus as leader and you a part of it. How much of that vision is a projection of your personality or priorities, and how much of it is a reflection of God’s version of “church”? Time for some Bible study on the meaning and purpose of the Body of Christ! If you and your faith community come up with some good ideas, share them with the leadership team! If you draw a blank, then keep learning, keep praying, keep trusting God, keep hoeing and weeding and feeding your garden, and God will enable you to recognize his work when you see it: godliness bearing fruit in your life and in the lives of those you influence.

Tomorrow: The fourth attitude adjustment, from straggler to pace-setter.


3 Responses to “From Dirt Kicker to Fruit Picker”

  1. William L. Goff Says:

    I respect and admire Dr. Ogilvie whom I have met. (I was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood where I was ordained and where he served as pastor.) However I believe his illustration misses the mark. It confuses criticism with vandalism. It ignores the fact that there can be constructive criticism and saintly skepticism. The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus being critical of the most religious people of his day. After his resurrection, Jesus was open to the skepticism of Thomas.
    It seems odd to me that someone who is so critical of Presbyterians and others like myself who want to be free to ordain homosexuals (my inclusive term for the awkward LGBT) should now resist criticism.
    The FOP needs to be open to constructive criticism and not identify it with vandalism.
    I believe what Mark Twain once wrote is applicable: “A discriminating irreverence is the creator and protector of human liberty.” – Bill Goff

  2. Ron Says:

    There are of course way too many books in the world.
    Although this does not address PCUSA directly there may be some useful knowledge in reading this history as a new direction is developed.

    What Makes Evangelicalism Evangelical? A New Book Joins the Argument

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

  3. […] From Dirt Kicker to Fruit Picker « Bringing the Word to LifeSep 8, 2011 … So let’s say you are a dirt kicker, and want to become a fruit picker instead. What would you need to do? First of all, you would reorganize your … […]

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