Last spring, I went to Ukraine and was able to spend a lot of time with one of our hosts, Pastor Sergey. During a car ride, he told me of how proud Ukrainians were of their soil because the top 18 inches of it is perhaps the most fertile in the world. He told me that, in WWII as the Germans were making their approach to Russia, they would load up top soil from the fields of Ukraine into train cars and ship them back to Germany to use in their fields. I imagine that this was devestating to the people who experienced this sense of loss.
This story reminds me of the images of soil, growth, crops, etc., that we find in the Scriptures. In missions discussions there is a common hope that we can develop “indigenous churches” or churches that come up from the soil of a given culture and place.
As a local pastor in a church community, I often wonder if we focus too much on a certain crop (a ministry style) that we’d like to see, rather than studying the soil that we are a part of (the ministry context). Whenever a certain crop that we have our desire on does not grow (a certain style of ministry), we (much like the Germans in WWII) haul in a different soil over our current one, in order to grow the plant. Perhaps it would be faithful to Jesus, to the on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit, to trust that God might just have something beautiful in mind for each ministry context that we find ourselves a part of, something in the very soil itself and the plants that would grow because of it.
For instance, how many churches are ascribing to “suburban” ministry styles in neighborhoods that are of urban/polyethnic cultures? Their people commute for miles from their suburban contexts for public worship, to simply return to a “foreign” soil after the 1.5 hours. No wonder many of our faithful in our churches are feeling a disconnect in matters of discipleship and community. Imagine taking a plant from a native soil, transporting it into another soil for a couple of hours a week, then taking it back to the first location…
Craving a Place
This discussion has much to say about ecclesiology, sociology, theology, etc. Perhaps at the heart of it, however, is that we ache for a sense of place. We can literally transport ourselves all over the world in mere minutes. Many families in our culture are moving every 10 months. Perhaps we experience the sensation of “running out of time” because we do not sit still long enough to keep track of time in the natural rhythms of life. We have a hard time staying put.
CS Lewis once said, “I number it among my blessings that my father had no car. The deadly power of rushing about whenever I pleased had not been given to me. I had not been allowed to deflower the very idea of distance (limits).”
I’d encourage us to take a look at our soils in our own fields. Take a look around and ask, “where is the pain in this context,” and “what would be good news in this context?”
Perhaps we might find ourselves in the middle of something that God is already doing and notice the very eco-system of the kingdom of God, that is already at work.