5 Lessons Our Family Vegetable Garden Taught Me About Nurturing Growth in Church

Our family project for the summer revolved around the first-ever backyard garden. Neither my wife nor I profess to have a green thumb, in fact we can kill aloe plants in our family… and those things grow in the desert. With the help of our neighbors, who’s backyard garden should really just be called their “backyarden,” we struck out on a new endeavor. Aside from the obvious and direct lessons in nurturing and patience, many of the experiences our family had in growing a healthy, vegetable-raising backyard garden also resonate with growing a healthy, disciple-raising local church congregation. Here are five things that our family vegetable garden taught me about nurturing growth in churches:

1. Create and Cultivate the Plot. Although in the last few weeks of cucumber domination, our garden left it’s carefully constructed confines, the effort and energy spent in defining, even creating the boundaries directly impacted successful harvesting. Effort was made to construct sides, elevate the planting base and truck in soil containing nutrients and growth agents. Hard work went into culling weeds and grass and tilling the existing clay for deep root growth beyond what was imported. This base became a successful source of healthy growth and created a far greater yield than the same about of area in our yard otherwise would have.

In the same way, churches with effective boundaries, centered on who God has uniquely called them to become, have a better chance at healthy growth and ripe disciples. It is hard work, and not exactly measurable at first, to define boundaries and enrich the existing culture in most churches. Every organization naturally drifts toward complexity, and without deep intervention and removal of roots of past experience, managing the organization can overshadow making the disciples. A strong, defined foundation doesn’t ensure health, but health is much harder to achieve without it.

2. Don’t Avoid the Manure. The “nutrients” and “growth” agents from #1 above were manure. Stinky, smelly messy poop, that when treated in the right environment, produces big, fat vegetables. As I compared notes with other rookie gardeners who did not have as productive a yield, it became clear that our efforts to wallow in the manure, shoveling it, so to speak, were not unrewarded. Crap is critical to growth.

Crap isn’t any less stinky or more fun to handle in the church than it is in the garden. But growth can occur when we deal with it, instead of following initial survival instincts of avoidance or minimalization. It happens, and given the right conditions, only in God’s brilliant design, could conflict, pain and error ever produce growth.

3. Over Planting Affects Everything. Looking back, the biggest rookie mistake we made was to over-plant. We had the right intentions, and at the local garden center, our excitement of what could-be overruled the realities of what our plot could sustain. The summer had hardly begun before tomato plants began outgrowing their wire-basket boundaries and competing for resources. In fact, trying to reverse-engineer structures to support widely fantastic, yet counter productive tomato plant growth, took the majority of our gardening time and energy. And that was before our “3 seed” cucumber experiment started working and consuming every square inch of available space. Evidently cucumbers are a vine. Our green bell peppers didn’t stand a chance, and as it turns out we like green bell peppers more than cucumbers or tomatoes.

In my work as a strategic outsider for churches and ministry organizations, we like to say that “success assaults clarity.” Great programatic intentions left unchecked do not take long to compete for finite financial resources and limited square footage. The excitment of what could be quickly becomes excruciating as we try to sustain growth and success. It doesn’t take long for ministry growth in one area, or every area, to be counter-productive to overall organizational health.A clear and aligned  strategy for disciple development minimizes the ongoing headaches usually found within the the instinctive “just start something” approach to ministry. Just because you could start a new ministry or launch another program, rarely means you should.

4. Benefits of Growth Reach Far. Hands-down, our favorite part of this year’s garden was the opportunity to share with our friends and family. At one point we ate dinner with our neighbors and everything but the meat contained something from the backyard, which our dog appreciated. We also ate more fresh food and even pickled some of the banana and jalapeño peppers, storing up extras for fresh summer salsa in late winter days. A few months of intentional effort impacted every other part of the year in ways that we didn’t know possible.

It goes without saying that God can do more with our obedience and intentional focus on the Gospel than we could ever ask for or imagine. Growth in the church is more than attendance or budget, and the influence of disciples making disciples extends beyond the walls to impact families and communities beyond our programatic intentions.

5. Growth is All God. With our best efforts, all we can really ever do is cultivate local conditions, as growth in a garden, or a church, is all God. From the very design of plants or people, God has set forth His plan for growth and development. Our highest level of participation really comes down to obedience to His Word and heeding the direction of the Holy Spirit.We can water, but He provides the rain and sunlight. We can turn the soil, but He grows the roots. We can build the plot, but He grows the plant. We can start the class, but He brings the insight. We can teach the passage, but He implants the application.

We are looking forward to next summer’s garden, and even plan to add an additional plot, just for the cucumbers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan Rose

As Lead Navigator for Auxano, Bryan Rose has a strong bias toward merging strategy and creativity within the vision of the local church and has had a diversity of experience in just about every ministry discipline over the last 12 years. With his experience as a multi-site strategist and campus pastor at a 3500 member multi-campus church in the Houston Metro area, Bryan has a passion to see “launch clarity” define the unique Great Commission call of developing church plants and campus, while at the same time serving established churches as they seek to clarify their individual ministry calling. Bryan has demonstrated achievement as a strategic thinker with a unique ability to infuse creativity into the visioning process while bringing a group of people to a deep sense of personal ownership and passion.

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In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
 
— Ken
 
Thank you for this article! I'm the pastor of a small church. My gifting is in teaching and we are known for aiding Christians in becoming Biblically literate. Visitor's often comment on God's presence being very real in our services. But we just don't seem to be growing. I have some soul-searching, etc. to do and this article provides some solid ground from which to proceed. Thank you again.
 
— Jonathan Schultheis
 

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