Plant a church like a gardener and not an architect. This is the answer that I’ve been giving, especially in these last few weeks and months, to people, when they ask, “How do you even plant a church?” Or, “How are you going to plant a church?” There’s a lot of different things that I’ve seen and I’ve studied over the last 10 years of preparing for what we’re launching into now. I’m not saying that what I have to say is, the right way or the genius, but this is just my take on it. A lot of what I’ve seen and kind of this, sorry, but it’s kind of the pop the culture that’s developed in church world around church planting, where it’s the cool thing to do, or you really haven’t arrived until you’ve planted a church, all that kind of stuff. If you can’t tell, the disdain on my face, I’m not a big fan of that kind of atmosphere around church planting.
But churches are being planted and people are doing great jobs, and what do I have to say about any of that? But I think most of it’s been approached like an architect. Here’s what I mean, an architect has a vision for a building, she sees it in front of her when she closes her eyes she can envision it, and then she sets out to draw it out and sketch it out, from the foundation up, how big the foundation has to be, and where these walls are going to go, how high they’re going to be, and how are they going to connect to each other, and which way the doors have to swing, and where does the piping need to go? All of the details, she starts with the end in mind, and then she makes this plan. Then when they build, they build according to the plan, from preparing the ground for the foundation, to laying the foundation, everything is set in place with a goal in mind, and the plan is to reach that goal.
Most of the church planting that I’ve seen, not all, I’ve been a part of some really great church plants personally, but most of what I have seen just in the world when it comes to church planting, approaches it like an architect. People say, “In so many years I want to have this many people on a Sunday morning. We want to have this kind of kids ministry and this kind of small group ministry, and this kind of worship team.” And all these benchmarks of reaching it. Then that’s why the question comes from, “What’s your three, five year plan? How are you going to achieve that vision of yours?” There was always something, I’ll be honest, something that excites me about it, because I think naturally I think in steps and strategy and try to connect things and make them all happen.
But something just felt wrong and I would see it over and over again, but it just, I didn’t really understand what it was. Then I’m talking to somebody recently and it just kind of clicked. That with church when we’re planting the church, notice that we do use the term ‘planting’ and not ‘building’ or ‘designing’, but we talk about church planting, which I think is the right way to talk about it. But when we’re planting a church, if we’re approaching it from an architect’s perspective, here’s the danger that happens all the time and everywhere, I think. Then everything is about reaching that. Then the people that come in are about reaching that. Then people somewhere along the way become a means of reaching that goal that I have. It doesn’t become about the people primarily. It becomes primarily about that vision, and if we’re approaching it like an architect, that’s the way it should be, we should be thinking about the end in mind. But there’s just something that’s always felt wrong about that to me.
Let me explain. That’s why I’ve shifted completely now to the idea of gardening. I had a neighbor, our first year in the Netherlands. We’ve been here five years now, so all of my framework has been shaped by these last five years. Our first neighbor at our first house in the Netherlands, owned his own nursery. I’m not necessarily a green thumb kind of guy. Maybe somewhere down in my history, my last name being Green, maybe that was there somewhere, but that’s not me. But I can hold my own. My neighbor, he would give me tips on taking care of things in the backyard. Then just, I saw his garden, and the guy had grapes and all kind of fruit, he even had a banana tree. Like, this is the Netherlands, he has a banana tree that he brought back, I think, from Israel! I mean, it was just beautiful. So I was really inspired, so I decided to plant an apple tree.
I wasn’t just going to start with one apple tree. I was going to start with three apple trees. It was going to be amazing. So I bought these three apple trees. You know, the main branch was only about that thick. It was tall, about as tall as I am, but it was still a young tree. He helped me plant them against the fence. Then he explained it to me, how if you plant it there, then as the branches grow out from the main branch, then you’re able to see how they’re growing and kind of lash them to the fence so that in the end you’ve got these branches spread out across different levels of the fence, and then when the fruit grows it has lots of room to grow. They all get the right amount of sun, an even amount of rain. And you’re able to see how the branches are growing. Then when another branch grows out, then you’re able to take that and you’re able to lash that. You can say, “No, that one needs to be free a little bit longer.”
He taught me how to do this. And I had my vision in my head of that fence covered with apples. Just this beautiful, fruitful fence, as it were. Then one day it just clicked, isn’t that just like how the kingdom grows? I see the gospel as a seed, and I know Jesus talked about that, the seed being planted in the soil, and the different kind of soils, different kind of grounds. But I think the gospel is a seed that is planted in the hearts and the spirits of men and women. We can nurture that seed, we can remove the obstacles away from people, understanding the gospel and coming into closer relationship with Jesus. We can do all of those things, nurture it, make sure it’s in a good environment, all of those things. But in the end, the spirit is the one causing the seed to grow. God builds his church, and that’s where it all starts.
All of my great plans and my steps for my three and five year and ten year and twenty year plan, all of those things are great, but they kind of miss the point. That it’s not about where I’m going, it’s about where I’m at today. Yes, I have a big picture, but I want to see how the thing grows, how it grows is the exciting thing. Where the branches are going to spread out from next, that’s the exciting thing. Where’s the fruit going to come from? That makes it, I don’t know, it just it makes it more exciting, more adventurous. So I’m planting a church, I’m bringing people together, and I start seeing relationships develop, that people are meeting people, and that they seem to have a click. Then trying to see, “Well, what if you guys did something? What gets you frustrated? What gets you excited? What’s something you guys could jump into? What’s something your passionate about?”
Or I see someone over here who seems to have a real gift for connecting with people, that they’re really on the fringes of society. Well, how can I facilitate that? It’s like the branches growing and watching how they grow and giving structure to it as it grows organically, as it grows on its own. So I’ve come to understand church planting more as the work of a gardener than as an architect. Seeing the thing grow and having a keen eye for how the spirit’s moving and a soft heart and loving people, but loving the process, loving the process so much that once that fence is covered with fruit, once this village has a really alive church in its midst, then I’m thinking about, where’s the next thing?
Because the process is so beautiful. Because God is building this church and he’s calling people and he’s planting the gospel and he’s watching it grow and we’re removing weeds and giving structure and helping people understand what is it that the Lord has put in them. Every seed has the potential for a forest. I think that’s so awesome! That’s so exciting! I would really love it if more people would talk about church planting that way. I’m just here at the beginning of it, and getting a taste of that, and I don’t have a romantic view of this all, I know that so many things happen at any given moment, the dynamic between people, the things that happen good and bad. There’s so many different factors that play into it. I understand all of that. But that’s kind of what makes it all so exciting.
So I’d love it if more people talked about church planting from that perspective. I’d love it if we would stop using the metrics that we do to be able to judge the success of a church plant. I want to look someone in the eyes and I want to see in their eyes that excitement for, “Man, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know where we’re going to be at in three years. I know what we have today and I see some possibilities, and we’re just kind of going to play it by ear.” Sure, we want to reach something. But our vision needs to be as big the village or the city itself, and the … Dutch word in my head … how that takes shape. That’s the exciting part. That’s the part where we get our hands dirty. It’s not as polished, maybe, and it’s not as concrete, no pun intended, as an architect’s style plan. But I just think especially in times like ours that that’s the best way to go to. So anyway, that’s my two cents.