I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately. This is due, in part, to the fact that colder weather always draws me to any homemade carb; the other part is due to the fact that our kitchen has finally been fully unpacked and it’s like Christmas morning every time we rediscover a baking tool we had forgotten. The process of bread-baking — in my case, sourdough — has worked its way into my routine and, as it has, reminded me of the beauty of local church ministry.
Sourdough isn’t a simple bread to make. My starter requires regular feeding. There are mornings when I look at my starter sitting on the counter with a sigh. Could it maybe just let me eat my own breakfast before I feed it? But I scoop the flour and warm the water and mix it together, returning it to its place on the windowsill to be warmed by the sun.
The next morning, I’ll wake to find it bubbling over. Something happened in the time that I slept. There was a mysterious activity going on beyond my consciousness and control: the flour and water I supplied to the starter has grown into something much more lively, pushing at the seams of the jar that contains it. That’s when I know the dough is ready to knead.
Yesterday, I made sourdough ciabatta for the first time in a while. I kneaded the dough, carefully working my bubbly, stinky starter into flour and salt and water. The ingredients quickly formed a rough dough, and I covered it with plastic wrap and went about the rest of my day. We went grocery shopping and ran errands and worked in the yard (we even assembled a couch for our vacant living room — woot!). And as the sun set over the back yard, I remembered the dough in the oven. I found it full — doubled in size and ready to be shaped and baked. I gave it a few folds, shaped it into two loaves, and let it rest again as the oven preheated.
A few minutes later, the whole house was filled with the aroma. Homemade bread: there’s no scent like it. It fills every room and makes this new-to-us house feel more and more like our home.
Making sourdough bread requires more steps that I would have assumed. It requires attention and feeding and time. But it’s not that effort alone that makes sourdough bread. It’s the times in between the effort — those moments of mystery and magic as the starter bubbles and the dough doubles — that brings about fruit from our labor. And isn’t that how it is in ministry?
In this season of church planting, our schedule is more full than I would have imagined. We have meetings and studies and training and teaching prep that fills the cracks and crevices of our days. And while those things are essential and part of our calling, it’s the time between the effort — the mystery and magic as people grow in Christlikeness, friendships deepen, wounds are healed, and believers grow in faith and discipleship — that brings about the fruit from our labor. We work, yes … but God is bringing about the growth that we could never imagine or produce on our own. We are called to be faithful, yes … but while we are resting from that work God is at work producing an abundant harvest of righteousness and growth that we could never attain in our own efforts.
That is the sweetness of local church ministry. We labor according to our calling, God works in mysterious and unseen ways, and the fruit is savored by all who will come to the table. With joy, we have the privilege of watching God grow His Kingdom person by person, letting the fragrant aroma of His glory spread throughout the Church making each local church more than just a house of worship — He’s making it our home.