I was asked the other day how our gardening project was going. The answer will probably not surprise some of you…
It's a mess. Between apparently not planting some seeds deep enough and all the standing water, I have plants growing in places they ought not be growing. The week we were gone, grass and weeds sprouted, grew, and multiplied. So, I look out and see corn, grass, and various stuff.
The truth is that inexperience led to inadequate preparation and now I've got a 40 foot long, 12 foot wide plot of chaos in my yard. The corn is sprouting tassels, the watermelon, cantaloupes, and what I think are bell peppers are flowering, and I assume the carrots are forming. Except it's not well-maintained, and it's going to be hard to harvest.
Add in that any water I put on the garden is going to divide between what I want and what I don't want, I'm not fertilizing for just that same reason, and I can't quite get in there to attempt to fix any issues, and it's becoming questionable if this garden is any use.
In fact, Ann and I are debating whether or not the best course of action at this point is just to mow it down and try again next year. For now, we're letting it grow, checking its progress, and watching for snakes in it. All in all, it proves that we are really city people trying to figure out how to live in the country.
Now, the great powers that be of Baptist life would revoke my ordination if I didn't attempt to make a point with this. It's just too easy of an illustration.
1. Churches are like gardens. They are gardens in which disciples grow. It is possible for disciples to grow in the wild, but in general, disciples grow best in gardens. It takes a certain amount of clearing to prepare a garden, a certain preparation. It also takes preparation to prepare a church to grow. Here's what happens:
A. Church one starts without any preparation, any real doctrinal clarity, any real plan. Over the first several years of existence it produces as many non-fruit-bearing plants as fruit bearers. The fruit is worth the effort, but a large portion of effort goes down dead ends. Eventually, the weeds are weeded out, the soil is clear and the church grows well.
B. Church two starts with some preparation. The result is a slower start, a lot more effort, and the exclusion of somethings that might be good. Over the first several years of existence it produces fruit bearers but a constant vigilance is necessary to keep out weeds and grass and unnecessary plants.
Either way, there's a lot of work involved and the potential for failure of the plot as a whole. That doesn't mean there's no useful fruit, just that there's no fruitful future.
2. Churches are like gardens. They are gardens in which disciples grow. My garden, in theory, will produce: corn, peppers, cantaloupes, watermelon, broccoli, carrots, and squash. Oh, and garlic too. My garden grows with a diversity of crop. Churches ought to recognize themselves the same way. Churches are like gardens, not like farms. My friends are farmers. They grow rice, soybeans, and corn. The goal is produce lots of similar fruit. In fact, lots of identical fruit: the rice should all be same.
Now, that's good and profitable. But that's not an image of the church: mechanically planted, identically treated, and uniformly appearing. Churches ought to contain a wide variety of the fruit of God's people. The only uniform characteristic of what a "church" is is this: followers of Christ committed to obedience. Some people are more like carrots, some are corny, and some might just be garlic. However, the goal is to see each one grow and produce to the fullest of its ability.
If we expect churches to be farms, we're going to be sorely disappointed.
3. Churches are like gardens. They are gardens in which disciples grow. Certain types of disciples grow better in other soils. New gardens have to begin with seeds from old gardens. There's a time for transplanting, a time for seed scattering.
It can never be about making one garden biggest and greatest among all the gardens. Our goal is to plant, tend, and bear fruit---wherever we are and wherever the providence of God directs us to go.