From beginning (“The Lord planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he formed.” Gen 2:8) to end (“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Rev. 22:2), the Bible speaks of gardens, gardeners, and growing things.
At critical junctures in salvation history, a garden is mentioned: “Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” John 19:41
Jesus taught many lessons involving plants, growth, agriculture and gardening. He invoked images of fig trees, sowers, seeds, fruit, mustard seeds and vineyards to drive home his teachings.
There are profound implications for us from the world of Gardens, Gardeners and Plants as we seek to bring hope, help and healing to churches and clergy in the spirit of Christ.
The power of the seasons is never far from the mind of the gardener. At the heart of any issue or project in the garden lies a central question: what season is it? In churches, our lack of understanding of life cycle seasons may blind us to deeper causes than what the prevailing symptoms may suggest.
Healthy soil is a prerequisite to healthy plants. Gardeners spend much energy and expense to amend and improve the soil of their gardens. Doing so creates an environment conducive to vibrant growth.
Plants and gardens need food to survive. Light, water, nourishment and nutrients combine to provide the building blocks of growth for a plant or garden. Churches that thrive are constantly seeking ways to feed spiritual truth and insight to people. Using a wide array of learning vehicles, combined with sensitivity to learning styles, they constantly innovate and create rich learning and growth opportunities for their community.
Context matters. Plants that may thrive in a rain forest die quickly in the desert, and vice versa. Each plant adapts to its environment and either finds a way to survive and thrive, or it must be moved to a setting more congruent with its DNA. Healthy churches are students of their setting and context. They understand that their unique location and culture is a defining component of their ministry. Ignoring it is inviting disaster.
A beautiful garden emerges from someone’s dream translated into a plan, followed by an implementation process. So too with churches. Clarity about the founding dream and design of the church is essential if a church is to be healthy.
Vibrant and productive gardens emerge when well-cared for. The gardener knows that their role is that of caretaker, and that role is pivotal for the long-term health of the garden. Clergy and church leaders are stewards of Christ’s church.
Disease, pests and predators are part of life for every gardener. Life in a healthy garden is often about identifying unhealthy plants or pests and dealing proactively with them. So to in churches, the ability to spot and diagnose unhealthy spiritual practices and/or dysfunctional habits and dynamics is at the heart of ensuring a healthy future for the congregation.
Gardens require patience, and gardeners eventually learn to trust the plants and environment to produce the growth, fruit and beauty they so desire. Some things in a garden cannot be rushed, and to attempt to do so ensures failure. Mature discipleship and effective ministry is a time-consuming, long-lasting process. There are no shortcuts.
All gardeners know that growth is the natural result of a healthy garden or plant. Sometimes growth is rapid and visually stunning, other times it is nearly imperceptible or hidden from view. Regardless, all plants and all gardens have a growth agenda that permeates all they do. Churches who learn that growth is multifaceted display that same wisdom. Some growth is “up and out”, some is down and in”. Some days we grow wider, other days we grow deeper. Regardless, growth permeates every aspect of a healthy church.
Bearing fruit is in the DNA of any plants. The fruit is the proof of the plant’s health, as propagation is at the heart of God’s design for all living things.
Roots matter to a plant. Roots matter to a church. Roots matter to a Christian. Jesus once described an especially sad type of church and Christian when he compared them to plants whose roots are shallow. When difficult conditions arise, they wilt and fall away. (Mt. 13)
Gardeners know that the health of a plant’s roots is paramount. Despite appearances, what is hidden from view often determines whether or not a plant will flourish. Gardeners feed the roots of plants and take great care to protect those roots.
Healthy churches pay attention to the part of their life that is hidden from view. What happens in the hidden hearts of their leaders and their participants often dictates what is seen publically.
Plants do not live in a vacuum. The mixed ecology of plant life means that the health of a garden or plant is interdependent in relationship to other plants, insects, context, weather, and a host of other factors. Churches and clergy live out their calling in the context of a specific time and place. They partner and collaborate with a multitude of others in order to accomplish their unique Kingdom agenda.
The Center for Healthy Churches will incorporate these lessons and many more as we fulfill our calling to bring hope, help and healing to churches and clergy in the spirit of Christ.
~ Bill Wilson