“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
My friend Ralph was a typical follower of Jesus during the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s. In 1971, God spoke to him in the middle of a crowded restaurant and directed him to Hermosa Beach to start a church. At the first meeting, it was Ralph; his wife, Ruby; Carl, their 6-month-old son and nine other people. Ralph didn’t know much about what to do, so he just preached Jesus: Jesus as Savior, Jesus as King, Jesus as Healer. Ralph discipled people around that same theme of Jesus. The church, named Hope Chapel, began to grow. It was an uncomplicated format with a strong emphasis on — you guessed it — Jesus.
Ralph began to sense a call to start other churches with this same focus: Keep it simple. Keep it about Jesus. Keep it about people. Keep it about Jesus changing people’s lives. They had started 29 churches when the Lord spoke to Ralph again. This time it was a call to leave his now megachurch and go start a new church. Ralph once more obeyed the voice of Jesus and went off to plant the seed of Jesus on the island of Oahu. Today Hope Chapel Kaneohe Bay is a thriving church that has planted many Jesus-exalting churches. But Ralph is no longer pastoring there because at age 67, in 2013, the Lord called him to plant Hope Chapel Honolulu.
While I was at dinner with Ralph last month, he admitted, “When someone told me over 1,000 churches had been birthed as a result of that first church in Hermosa Beach, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, ‘What if that’s not true but I’ve been telling it to audiences?’” Consequently, a study was done to account for all the churches that trace their spiritual lineage to that first Hope Chapel. The result was over 2,300 churches are in the lineage of that first Hope Chapel church.
Ralph Moore is now 70 and not stopping his emphasis on two things — Jesus and multiplication. Ralph would tell you, “The secret sauce is not a great strategy but a great Savior.”
The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to the Jewish gardeners of Jesus’ day. It was a common seed, unremarkable in every way, except perhaps for its diminutive size. It was a seed with multiple uses. Soaked in wine, the seed would release its spicy flavor, which was craved by the Israelite palate. The crushed seeds were used as a source of oil for the lamps that illuminated the Jewish homes. Almost all parts of the mustard plant were (and are) edible.
Since before Christ, the mustard plant has been used for healing purposes. It was first mentioned as a curative in the Greeks’ Hippocratic writings. In the form of mustard paste, it was used for general muscular relief and to help relieve toothaches. It also became known to stimulate appetite and digestion, help clear sinuses, and increase blood circulation.
When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God being like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30–32), He may have had Himself in mind, the King of this kingdom. He may have been remembering the words of the prophet Isaiah: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him … and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2–3).
Jesus was the undervalued seed who would grow up like a young plant, propagate, multiply then fill the earth with His offspring.
The Mustard Seed Tribe has a singular focus on the true seed – Jesus. He is the one we want to see multiplied. If we are making a disciple, we want to see Jesus, not ourselves, replicated in our disciple. If we are leading a small group our first priority is not getting the vibe just right, it is seeing Jesus exalted. If we are running a ministry – whether youth or outreach or homeless or justice – we are seeking to see Jesus manifested. If we are planting churches, it is not our brand, our band, our preacher or our label we are promoting. It is a profound encounter with Jesus. This is the only seed that we can trust to multiply.
It is this underemphasis on the true seed that often leads to the dismal harvest we see in the ministry of Christians and churches. We plant a seed other than the real Jesus, then pray for it to grow and wonder why it doesn’t. As Paul writes in Galatians 3:16, “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”
The Apostle John won’t allow us to miss the power of this one true seed — Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5); “I am the door” (John 10:9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6); “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). Jesus is where the life is.
Jesus was speaking of the cross but also giving us a spiritual principle to minister by when He declared, “And I, when I am lifted up [the Greek here can also mean ‘exalted’] from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). There is a “drawing,” an attraction that happens when people exalt Jesus and not themselves, their ministries or their churches.
I am reminded of the young boy in the church Christmas play who had one line to deliver, but when it was his time to shine, he forgot his one line. Thankfully, his mother was in the front row and began to whisper the line to him. “I am the light of the world,” she hinted. The boy didn’t quite hear her and softly murmured back, “What, mom?” A little louder, his mother replied, “I am the light of the world.” With that, the boy straightened up and in a booming voice declared, “My mom is the light of the world!”
There is one true light, and our message must not be forgotten, twisted or diluted. The one seed we want multiplied is Jesus.
With that in view, we can look at two other ways Jesus uses the term “seed.”
The first is found in the parable Jesus tells about the four types of soil we will encounter in our process of evangelism and disciple-making (Matthew 13:3–9, 18–23). In 13:19, Jesus says the seed is the “message about the kingdom.” In 13:20 the seed is “the word.” These are synonymous in the parable and identify the same thing Jesus taught in John 8:32: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus identifies himself as “the truth” in John 14:6.
The “message about the kingdom,” “the word,” and “the truth” are each ultimately pointing back to the true seed — Jesus. The Bible, alone, doesn’t save us. The Bible presents to us Jesus, the one who saves us. If we do not major on Jesus when preaching the Word, we miss the truth. We fail to pass on the seed. Too many Christians want to use their Bible to prove something to you instead of to introduce someone to you.
Jesus’ second use of “seed” is found in the next parable He tells in Matthew 13:24–30. It is the story of the sower who plants good seed, but then an enemy sneaks in at night and plants weed seed. The servants are ready to pull up all the weeds but the master says, “No, wait until harvest because then it will be evident which is which.” In the explanation of the parable Jesus makes this statement – “The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38).
Kingdom people are identified as “good seed.” The truth is you are either seeds or weeds! But we must be clear about why we are seed. It is not because of the life intrinsic in ourselves. It is rather due to our ability to carry the true seed. We become “people of the kingdom” only when the King moves into the castle of our lives. Multiplication DNA is not resident in our talents, gifts, intellect, strength, skills or sparkling personalities. It is only present in the true seed.
This is the Apostle Paul’s passionate plea in Colossians 1:27–28: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim…”
The mystery of the gospel is that Christ, the true seed, can live in and through us. It is this seed we proclaim and share with the world. This is the seed that will multiply.
As my friend Ralph Moore wrote recently in his blog (ralphmoorehawaii.com): “Sick Christians chase fads. Healthy Christians stick to God’s formulas and get on with life. They truly ‘find themselves’ as they imitate Christ.”
The formula for multiplication is not the next church conference, the newest model or the ensuing book. It is people who “find themselves” as they imitate Christ and who then overflow with his contagious reality.
My wife, Deb, is one of my heroes and a Mustard Seed Tribe kind of women. She carries King Jesus around with her wherever she goes. She’s not a street corner preacher who nails people to the proverbial wall with a “turn or burn” message. She’s just natural with people but always looking for a chance to plant the seed of Jesus.
Eight years ago, my wife and I started renting a 103-year-old house in Long Beach from a nearly retired university art professor. It’s a spacious old place in need of some repairs, but that fact is offset by a gorgeous view of the Pacific. God miraculously opened the door for us to rent it as we were ninth in the waiting line to rent it at its below-market price. As we moved in, we inquired of the Lord, “What is your mission for us in this place?”
We didn’t have to look far. Our landlord, Tracy, lives above the garage behind the house. Tracy can literally look down from her porch into our kitchen and tell you whether I’m having oatmeal or bacon for breakfast.
Now, that reality could be quite negative, except that Tracy has become our friend and even an extended member of our family. Tracy has been a “spiritual” person, but her understanding of Jesus was underdeveloped. Deb wasted no time in “planting the seed” of Jesus into Tracy’s life. Through numerous acts of kindness and conversations, the trust level began to build. Then Deb hosted a women’s group focusing on Jesus. She chose a book study on “Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright. Tracy came and began to encounter the true seed.
Gradually Tracy began coming to our church. Next she began helping with our Community Center Theater program for under-resourced children. She put her set design skills to good use. Her friendship circle in the church continued to grow.
A few months ago Deb and I were in the baptismal water as Tracy publicly professed her lifetime commitment to Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. Tracy still has questions, but one fact she is certain of – she’s met Jesus and her life changed. The seed of Jesus has sprouted and is producing new fruit in her life.
Three weeks ago, our small groups pastor told Deb, “Did you know Tracy wants to go through our small group training? She wants to share Jesus with others like herself.” Deb’s spiritual lineage is multiplying.
The seed is Jesus.
Larry Walkemeyer, D.Min., is the lead pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, California, and a superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. This article is adapted from the first chapter of his new FreeMo Journals book, “Multiply Ministries: The Mustard Seed Tribe.”