In our recent class on compost tea we looked at the benefits and the mystery of this microbial brew. Many claims are made about the benefits of compost tea. A while back our executive director had heard so much about it that he decided to look into it himself. He went to the library and did a thorough literature review to see which claims had merit and which were not backed by any evidence. What he found was that there was strong evidence for suppression and control of soil-borne and foliar fungal diseases, both when added to the soil and sprayed on the foliage of plants.
The Compost Tea Brewing Manual (which I have not read) makes claims about compost tea “adding biology” to the soil. Some people use compost tea by broadcasting it on a field to jump start the biology in the soil. Using the numbers in the book, it is clear that this claim is ridiculous. The amount of microbes in the compost tea is so miniscule that it is silly to claim it can boost the biology in an entire field. You’re better off using a broad range of holistic practices to improve your soil health and fertility overall. This is a slow process and anyone that tells you they can jump start is likely a card carrying member of the agricultural Amway. Run the other direction.
This same manual gives recipes for compost tea targeted at bacteria or fungal problems. This is where the gospel of compost tea rises to the surface. This way of thinking applies a modern scientific approach to agriculture while trying to use a holistic method. It’s new wine in old wineskins and you know what happens there right?
The whole point of compost tea is NOT that you are targeting a specific problem. In fact it should be a preventative measure applied before you have a problem. It can help with specific problems, but the benefit is the well-rounded additions to the soil that come from brewing up a mysterious batch of good bugs and microbes. The good microbes will out compete the bad ones, some of them actually parasitize the bad microbes. The brew also creates some compounds that have anti-microbial (antibiotic) properties.
Don’t we do the same thing in the church, for many of the same reasons? We target specific problems and think if we just apply the right complex of programming we will emerge victorious. Meanwhile, the whole system is deteriorating around us because we have not cared for the health of the soil and paid attention to the important things. The gospel of compost tea tells us that we should be brewing up people who look like Jesus, whose hearts beat for the things his does. Then those problems will resolve themselves. Healthy soil is made up of people who are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
In the same way that the large scale of agricultural forces farmers to practice agriculture in ways that are fundamentally opposed to nature, mega churches and the large-scale thinking that goes on in churches forces people into practicing their faith in ways that are fundamentally opposed to the kingdom of God. The beauty is that we can take our decomposing methods and programs and pile them together until we get some good finished compost. Then we can brew up some sweet tea out of our old crappy ways.
photo from flickr user badalley.