I just caught up with an amazing post that Christine Sine shared over at Godspace on gardening and discipleship. She says,
We tend to think that the key to good Christian growth is to focus on individuals, to fertilize the plant rather than soil but maybe it is time that we paid more attention to the communities in which we plant disciples. Perhaps it is time we became better organic gardeners and realized that the best way to grow healthy disciples is by concentrating on the health of the communities of which we are a part. And I am not just talking about the churches that followers of Christ attend and worship as part of, I am talking about the communities in which we live and work and more broadly even the global community of which we are all a part.
I’ve had the feeling that she has put her finger on here. On the flip side, we only have the broken communities that exist. So what do we do with those? How do they transition? We can always strike out on our own, plant new churches, form new communities. There is a role for that, but it means that we abandoned some of God’s gardens to die. Perhaps they need to lie fallow for a season. We should also be willing to nurse them back to health as Christine suggests,
In my garden I pay a lot more attention to the plants that don’t seem to be thriving than I do to those that are healthy and growing rapidly… Unfortunately in our Christian communities it seems to me that it is the healthy plants – the pastors and teachers, the educated and financially stable, the intact families, those that are able to support and encourage our work and our ministries – that get the most attention and perhaps as a result all of us are not reaching our full potential in Christ.
Dallas Willard points out in his book The Great Omission that discipleship has become entirely optional in our consumer culture. Perhaps this is because we haven’t given people anywhere to grow. Could this lead to an overly inward focus? We might forget that we are called to plant new gardens. I don’t think this is an either/or question. In order to address both the need for good soil and the continued purpose of spreading those mustard seeds we will need to tend our gardens well.
Perhaps we could take a cue from those who preserve heirloom varieties of plants and vegetables. These people care for and nurture particular breeds with specific characteristics. It is because they have cared so diligently for their own plants that others want to buy seeds from them to plant in their own gardens. This sounds like an embryonic parable just waiting to bloom.