by Erik Hall planter of Barnegat Anew in Barnegat, New Jersey
One of the things I love about living in a region which experiences all four seasons is the ever-changing array of flowers and plants and fruits and vegetables that come with each time of the year. Gardens bring such incredible bounty and diversity: daffodils and strawberries in the spring, sunflowers and watermelon in the summer, and pumpkins and apples in autumn just to name a few.
And, if the cycle of seasons wasn’t marvelous enough, when we look at human communities all over the world, we should be equally awestruck in how each community has cultivated according to both season AND region. New England apple orchards, Asian rice paddies, tropical flower gardens, prairie fields of grain, and Mediterranean herb gardens all reflect God’s good creation and peoples living in harmony with it.
Planting anything takes many seasons of discernment and faith, not to mention impeccable timing. How many seasons did it take people to figure out what a strawberry plant looked like and when and where to plant it? Who was courageous enough to figure out that for a tree to bear more fruit, it has to be aggressively pruned? And, the biggest question of all: how do you tell the difference between a beneficial plant and a weed when they first pop out of the soil?
What appropriate questions these are as well for another type of planting: church-planting. Wherever we are in the world, we as church-planters would do well to study the “seasons” or “signs of the times”. We would do well to cultivate according to our “region” or “context”. Church-planting in the inner-city will look different from in rural areas. Then, after many seasons of discernment and faith, we could plant when the time is right, and watch God bring growth. We could prune with courage and we could distinguish the good fruit from the weeds.
Church-planting also takes an incredible amount of patience as each season demands new and careful laboring on our part. We can’t assume our work is over when the church launches and the first seeds sprout out of the ground. It’s not over when the church begins to bare good fruit by attracting new people and ministering to the community around them. It’s not even over when the church passes the 500 mark and begins to look like a great tree in the garden. We have to tend to our church plant according to its needs at every season.
Through many agrarian parables, Jesus teaches us to sow and reap with diligence and to watch and wait with faith, all the while expecting the miracle of growth and abundance from God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV).
Care to share some of your green-thumbed secrets with others? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned going through the process of church-planting?