Have you ever met a traveling salesperson who refuses to leave the office? Have you ever met a daycare provider who can’t stand kids? How about an illiterate librarian? These are oxymorons and contradictions.
I worked on the grounds crew at a golf course in high school. I spent most of my summer cutting grass. I loved it. However, I felt really bad for one of my coworkers. The poor guy was hired on a Monday and quit that same Friday. He wasn’t fired. He wasn’t lazy. He was a good worker. So, why did he quit? The poor guy found out the hard way that he was allergic to grass clippings! He was sicker than a dog all week, miserable with sinus problems and itchy, watery eyes he couldn’t see through clearly enough to cut the greens. In hindsight, we all laughed pretty hard at this unfortunate discovery. The Lesson: If you’re allergic to grass, don’t work at a golf course!
Similarly, I want to suggest that a nomadic gardener is also an oxymoron. You cannot grow a fruitful vegetable garden by dropping some seeds and then quickly moving on, never sticking around long enough to nurture and care for it. The people of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) were typically either nomadic herders or agricultural farmers. You either found some land and committed many years to cultivating the soil, planting seed and growing crops on it. Or else you embraced a nomadic lifestyle of herding flocks from one green pasture to another, always on the move, never putting down roots.
The one thing that’s certain is that nomads make poor farmers, and stationary land owning farmers make poor shepherds.
When it comes to growing our spiritual garden, of cultivating a heart that bears fruit for God, the same truth emerges. We need to find a place where we can put down roots and stick around long enough to see life sprouting through the soil. The proper place for growing up in our faith is a local church community. Active involvement in a local congregation of believers is the soil that God uses to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Yet, many of us prefer to be spiritual nomads, wandering about on our own, hopping from church to church, and afraid to put down roots anywhere. Our American individualism also feeds this tendency. Many are afraid of commitment. Some have been hurt in the past, and are guarding themselves from getting too involved lest they get hurt again. Others prefer anonymity and freedom that comes by sitting unnoticed in the back row of a mega church.
There’s an entire movement of misguided people who think they can just have Jesus without his messy people. You’ll find them saying things like, “I love Jesus but not the church”, “I believe in God, but I’ve given up on organized religion or the institutional church,” or “I don’t need to go to church to worship God.” While you may be able to worship God alone, you’ll never grow up to spiritual maturity and cultivate Christlike character without community.
Friends, the entire New Testament concept of church is wrapped up in communal living. We are baptized into a new dysfunctional family of sinners of all stripes, and this new family becomes the soil necessary for producing the kinds of virtues at the heart of Christianity. Take away community, and what use is there for the fruit of the Spirit anyway? If my faith is just about “me and Jesus” then why do I need to spend the energy and time letting the Holy Spirit produce in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?”
Persistent church hopping is the spiritual equivalent of nomadic gardening. And its an epidemic in the church today. Its like “drive by gardening” — tossing a handful of seed out the car window at 55 mph and hoping something grows. It doesn’t work. It’s an exercise in futility. Its pure folly. (Continual church hopping is also sometimes a sign of relational immaturity, the inability to get along, a self-centered, consumeristic view of church, and other not so Christian things.)
If you want to grow a garden, you need to stake out a plot, join a group of others in helping cultivate good soil, planting seeds, putting down roots, watering and weeding, fertilizing and pruning. (Interestingly, “community gardens” and “community shared agriculture (CSA)” have become extremely popular in recent years. I hope the church will let this energy and cooperative “growing spirit” influence the way we do spiritual formation as well.)
These strong convictions come from personal experience of being part of starting a new church that is now bearing rich fruit for the Kingdom. MainStreet Covenant Church is the result of a group of people staking out a garden plot location (Mound, MN) and committing to do the hard, toilsome labor of putting foot to shovel and shovel into soil. The first several months — actually years — were often spent breaking up hard soil, digging up roots, eliminating rocks, transplanting soil, and then finally planting and watering with the hope of seeing fresh shoots through the soil.
We saw little visible growth in those early days. But we were committed to growing a garden, not trying to have some warm fuzzy personal experience of gardening or trying to get another “taste” of fruit without putting in the hard work to grow it. (Consumer-oriented churches are wholesale distributors of delicious fruit at discount costs. They may be providing people a healthy Sunday morning snack, but they are not producing spiritual gardeners capable of bearing their own fruit the rest of the week. Tweet that.)
Some people played in the garden for a few weeks and moved on. Others stuck around a few months and moved on. Still others decided that they were going to put on work gloves, and get their hands dirty in this particular garden until the harvest comes! I clung daily to Galatians 6:9 in those days: “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up and quit.”
I’m incredibly grateful for all who have chosen to stick around and make MainStreet their spiritual garden. We are now seeing much fruit. People who have planted themselves deep into this community are now reaping life transformation and experiencing the joys of deep, life-giving relationships.
Nomadic gardeners grow nothing. Find a local spiritual community and put down roots. Stop shopping and start gardening.
Here’s some of the fruit and faces from the MainStreet community garden!