Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Asparagus and Church Planting

Love, like gardening, requires patience.

by Ben Hein
45 views 5 minute read

I became a gardener last year for the first time. After building and filling a few raised garden beds of my own, I set about the work of planting fruits and vegetables that my family enjoys. I was most excited for the berries. Finally, I was going to have delicious berries of my own to enjoy all summer!

Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the raspberry and blackberry plants wouldn’t fruit until their second year. The strawberries were small and mushy because the roots hadn’t set yet. I was crushed.

So, I set out to find more plants that could provide immediate gratification. I bought herbs and a little cart to plant them in. I bought a third tomato plant that was already fruiting from the nursery. “I’ll turn this season around,” I thought.

I also picked up a couple asparagus plants from the local nursery. They were already growing, so I figured I could have some fresh asparagus within a month or two. When I got home and started researching how to care for asparagus, I discovered that you’re not supposed to harvest it for THREE years! THREE! It turns out that if you harvest asparagus early, you’ll have small results now at the sacrifice of much greater yields later.

Once again, crushed.

Well, a year later, and I still don’t know what to do with this asparagus. I went into a popular gardening forum to ask what I should do with the stalks that are growing now. Rather than answering my question, two dozen people jumped on me for my ignorance or my choice to plant the asparagus among my strawberries. I’m still not quite sure what to do. I guess I’ll just have to figure it out for myself.

Our growing team is about 18 months into the work of church planting, and it is likely we are still another year away from beginning weekly Sunday services. I know that we could start weekly services next month if we rushed the process and created a ministry that attracted Christians from other churches to join a new thing. But would it be the right thing to do?

Over a century ago, the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper lamented how churches were planted in the United States. It is common, wrote Kuyper, for a charismatic pastor to go independent and do whatever is necessary to “attract whoever will come.” Such churches give no thought to their connection to the larger catholic church, nor do they consider how it is God rather than men who establishes churches. Typically, Kuyper lamented, new churches in America are “nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker.”

We could make a splash, draw a crowd, check off the box, and say a church was planted. But I also know we would be sacrificing effective reach into our neighborhood over the long haul in order to experience some immediate satisfaction. We are trusting that, like a healthy garden, a healthy church plant will be most fruitful if you tend to it with patience, gentleness, and care.

Every now and then I doubt the work we’re doing. I’ll go to a group of pastors or a Facebook group to ask for thoughts. Not unlike the gardening group, the questions I’m asking are rarely answered. Instead, I tend to receive a lot of opinions about our process and how we should do things differently. I recently tried to have a conversation with a planter from the suburbs and it was nearly impossible to communicate with him about our process. He made me feel so small when he boasted in his core team that was nearly six times the size of ours.

It turns out that while we can do our best to learn from others, like my garden at home, those who know the ministry of our churches best are the ones who are actually laboring in them.

When I’m tempted to be discouraged by our work or its pace; when I am made to feel small by planters who take very different approaches from us; I remember my garden. I think about this asparagus. Healthy churches, like healthy gardens, don’t grow in one season.

So we’ll keep tilling and tending, all while trusting God to give healthy fruit in its proper timing.

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. (Mark 4:26-33)

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