5 things gardens teach us about healthy churches

Last year, Kristen and I made a commitment to grow organically or buy organically 25% of our families food. For us, that has meant starting and maintaing a garden.

As they say, inch by inch and row by row– we have watched our garden grow.

A native suburbanite, I’ve discovered many revelations about my perceptions of a healthy church shattered by the realities of staying in tune with more agrarian things in my backyard.

The title of pastor is agrarian by etymology. To manage a flock is different than managing a business. Jesus could have chose to describe church leaders as business owners or organizational leaders… but instead Jesus chose an agrarian term, pastor.

Here are 5 things that gardens teach us about healthy churches:

  1. Healthy organisms replicate. The hallmark of a good plant is its fruit. And the reason a plant creates fruit is simple: To replicate. Conversely, the mission of a church isn’t to grow infinitely, it’s to replicate and make impact on the community it serves. If it isn’t replicating (producing fruit) than it’s just wasting space. (Matthew 3:12)
  2. In order to grow strong you must water & feed regularly. I need to make sure my plants have sun, water, fertilizer, (organic, of course) and good soil. In order for the church to be healthy, you need to do the hard work of making sure you have healthy conditions for your church to grow. Are you teaching good stuff? Are you grounded in your mission? Is your staff team feeding from God’s Word? Are you leading people to be dependent on you… or are you teaching them to feed themselves?
  3. In order to produce good fruit you must weed & prune. Last year, I got enamored with a tomato plant which grew to more than 20 feet tall. It was exciting to see how big that plant would get. But the bad thing was that it choked out the growth of all the plants around it. That taught me a valuable lesson about pruning. The goal isn’t just to have one healthy plant in the garden, to have a healthy garden all of the plants need to be healthy. Which means I need to keep up with weeding and pruning. Likewise, a good pastor weeds & prunes his church regularly. He doesn’t wait for big problems to arise before acting. He nips things in the bud. (A pruning pun for you.)
  4. Everything tastes better when its home grown. We love our CSA. Every two weeks we pick up a great big box of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. But, in all honesty, that stuff is no where near as tasty as the stuff we grow in our backyard. And stuff we buy from the supermarket… that’s like ordering a salisbury steak when you can have prime rib. Too many churches go to the supermarket instead of looking at their garden for talent and ideas. There’s nothing wrong with going to the supermarket. But growing your own talent and implementing your own ideas is so much more sweet.
  5. Healthy gardens are a habitat to many species, not just the plants. At any given time I have 5-10 different types of things I’m growing in my garden. But at the same time my garden has a whole ecosystem of other plants, animals, bugs, and crawly things which survive and thrive off of our garden. There are bugs that hang out by our compost heap. There are different little plants supported by the back spillage of our drip watering system. There are good bugs who eat bad bugs. There are bees who pollenate. And there are birds who live in our yard who live off of the bugs. The same is true in a church. When you let go of control and instead chose to create a healthy environment, an entire ecosystem of impact unfolds.

Our title of pastor is describing something agrarian. For most of us, like myself, we grew up completely separated from all things farming. Perhaps more of us need to spend more time in the garden or in the fields tending to flocks to understand the simplicity and complexity of our roles?

What do you think? Should seminaries and conferences offer tracks which send you to the farm?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

3 comments

  1. Great post! I love the analogy between farming and the church. I have always loved those correlations. I shared this with my lead pastor, because I am sure that he will enjoy it as well.

  2. Gardening must be on the brain–I definitely wrote a post connecting gardening and discipleship this past week! I asked the same question about how we might need to spend more time in literal gardens in order to capture a richer understand of Jesus’s teachings. What if gardening together was part of a church’s spiritual formation?

    1. Love it. Even cooler? I bumped into some churches in Oregon who were turning their gaudy amounts of grass into community gardens for the neighborhoods. Yep, I’d call that “Good News to the neighborhood.”

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