Our church’s community garden can serve as an allegory for the life and growth of our congregation. Margie, a member of our church with a playful sense of humor, began to call it our “Veggie Village.” Her vision was to have all kinds of flowers, native plants, and vegetables live together in harmony as is fitting in a church garden. She wanted it to be a space for children to enjoy and to learn about nature.
Plants grow from their own biological nature. We don’t create them. Our part is preparing the soil, planting the seed, providing water and fertilizer, pulling weeds, and waiting with hope. I like the way farmer-poet Wendell Berry expresses it:
The seed is in the ground.
Now may we rest in hope
While darkness does its work.
Still gardening is a craft and even an art. Gardeners learn to know each other and share all kinds of gardening lore. As a gardener, I read books, take classes, and experiment with different gardening methods. I learn as much as I can about each variety of crop, the best planting time, beneficial insects, how much water and fertilizer it needs, pests that attack it, and how to best interplant it with other vegetables and flowers.
The same is true for churches. We need the mindset of a gardener. A key to a healthy church is finding our niche and to do what we do well. Foremost, is identifying the type of soil where our church is growing and adapting to it. We dare not become complacent. We will want to keep experimenting with different ways of being church and engaging our community while trusting in who we are as a people of faith. We recognize that God is at work in us.
Jesus’ parables of the sower scattering seed and of the mustard seed draw attention to both the mysterious growth of the seed and to the astonishing fertility of the earth (Mark 4: 26-34). The reign of God is not something that develops naturally in human history through our effort. Instead, it’s the miraculous work of God and the harvest comes as a delightful gift. It is much bigger than our congregation, our denomination, or even our religion, and includes all the inside-out things God is doing in our world. Recognizing this can be liberating—we’re not slogging it out by ourselves. We will seek to discern what God is doing in our neighborhoods, roll up our sleeves, and join in the action.
There’s also a radical political edge to it. The reign of God is the opposite of the Roman Empire which rules by economic exploitation and military coercion. It’s a different kind of community formed through the power of love and nonviolent action. It’s a community that embraces all, especially the most vulnerable among us.
Jesus’ parables counsel patience and hope. Biblical scholar Ched Myers writes, “Mark sobers any illusion that change will be quick and triumphal. It is rather a matter of finding the right soil and trusting that the seed will grow, maintaining faith that the small seed will be “raised up” and the mighty brought down” (Binding the Strong Man, 181).