I was cleaning up after church one Sunday afternoon when I took notice of the droopy church plant in the basement.
I happen to know first hand that this particular plant is a fighter. It's the only plant in the building that's survived the rigors of church plant lifedom.
The others have long since shriveled up into a mess of crunchy brown leaves, caving in to the constant abuse and torture from the most merciless of parishioners.
Yet this green goddess of botanical goodness has remained. How, I'm not so sure.
First of all, this lovely tropical looking tree/plant/bush/thing is living in a basement. In northern Canada. Where there's only 7 hours of sunlight in the winter. If sunlight can even get in through the window.
Cause it's in a basement. In an old run down church. That's kept at a balmy 62 degrees during the week so there isn't a high gas bill.
Many a time I've scolded snotty nosed kids who've plucked its poor, defenseless leaves right off of its body. I've given them the "This plant is alive. Just like you. Would you like it if I ripped your fingers off????" speech and sent them on their way.
I've pushed, pulled and shoved this plant all over the basement as I shampooed the carpet. I may have even left it in a dark Sunday School room for over a week on accident. No sunlight at all. For a WEEK.
In fact, an outsider may think I'm involved in an elaborate experiment where my primary goal is to find a way to eradicate this plant from existence.
But that's not the case. I mean, I'm a natural at killing plants. My success rate for keeping plants alive is only slightly higher than keeping goldfish alive. And let's just say if I had a similar ERA, I'd be on the same level as Jose Lima pitching for the Detroit Tigers.
So, this plant is surviving in spite of the mistreatment it is receiving.
But I'm pretty sure it's some kind of freak of nature.
So, let's focus on all of the other plants in our church that have passed away in the recent years.
The foundation that the plant is rooted in. Our faith. Our core beliefs. Aidan is growing a green bean plant right now. A few days ago he asked me, "what's this stuff for?" He was talking about the dirt! Now, I know from one too many Sunday School green bean growing projects that you can actually get a bean seed to sprout in just a wet paper towel. But it's not going to keep flourishing. You've eventually got to put it in some soil, or it's just going to shrivel up and die.
When you're in leadership in church, you can get pretty desperate for anyone to help shoulder the load. It's really tempting to take new Christians in your church and
throw them under the busstart using them in leadership right away. But you've got to help them form the foundation... you've got to give them some soil to grow in.
Disciple them. Mentor them. Tell them everything you know about the God you serve. As they develop their faith and mature into a deeper relationship with Christ, they will be able to withstand a lot more abuse (yay!) and will produce fruit.
Don't make your church go thirsty. Last year I had some pansies on my front porch. Then I had a baby and stopped watering them. Then they died. True story. I hoped maybe someone else would have watered them for me. But it didn't happen.
When you're working with a church plant (or replant), you're probably going to have a high concentration of new Christians. Chances are they're not going to be able to find water themselves until you teach them. Don't assume that they are getting watered from other sources.
Share the word with them. Lead them to the One who will quench their thirst. Be aware of those who may need encouraged and redirected. Be on the lookout for those who are hungry for more. Dig deeper in your studies. The deeper you dig, the deeper they'll go, too.
Please excuse the cheesefest that is comparing sunlight to experiencing God. At least I spared you from dubbing this bullet point "Sonlight." You're welcome.
Seriously, though. Sometimes we get caught up in all the duties of doing church that we leave God completely out of the equation.
Quit trying to be God. You're pretty much a really low quality replacement for Him at best. That's like sticking a plant in a dark room with a fluorescent light bulb. (I'm assuming that's bad, right? I hope so, or this illustration makes no sense. Please if I'm wrong, don't correct me and just pretend that I'm right.)
All you've got to do is lead the people to God. Just like you place a plant in direct sunlight. You don't make the sunlight. (thank God.) You don't decide where it will shine. You align the plants with it. So, take a load off. Your job is easy.
Our lilacs don't bloom here usually until June. The tulips and hyacinths don't pop their heads up and the peonies stay hidden. Why? Because they're not stupid. There's no warmth.
I recently went on a family trip to the zoo. It was chilly out but it was still a great day. At one point we went into the conservatory where the tropical plants are kept. Instantly my glasses fogged up. We left the dreary, snowy world outside and entered this glorious paradise. Plants were thriving in this environment that wouldn't last one day outside the protective glass walls.
Your church needs to have warmth. I'm talking about the attitude of your church. What does your church's environment feel like? Is it cold and unwelcoming? Do people feel out of place? Uncomfortable? Does your church take on the attributes of a club that one has to audition for to enter?
Or are you fostering a warm environment? One that makes people feel welcome, connected, included?
So, with these tips, a touch of miracle gro, some high grade manure and a few aeration techniques, you'll be well on your way to a healthy church plant. Oh, and I apologize if you stumbled upon this thinking you were going to actually get some good advice about church plants. The best advice I can give is go silk or go home. Just make sure you dust them.
Kids are destructive. If you don't believe me, feel free to borrow mine for a day. Make sure you lock away any glass or china you'd like to keep.
- Keep away from the Kids!
A couple summers ago, I was working in our garden and Aidan would come barreling through in his underwear and gum boots, leaving a wake of trampled seedlings behind him. Those plants didn't stand a chance.
At our church the kids love to break off the wide, rubbery leaves of our plant and either wave them around in the air or hit each other with them. They're constantly picking and picking at the tree and I wonder if one day there will be no more leaves left.
They're like the distractions that constantly pick at you, causing you to lose your focus on what's important. They're the negative voices that call out to you letting you know that this whole thing is going to end up a big fat failure You don't know what you're doing. You're in way over your head. They're all the little projects and programs that you think are so important, but you're missing out on the basics of what church is supposed to be.
They're the little foxes that are spoiling the vine. What's causing you to lose focus? What's distracting you from what really matters? You'll begin to notice that slowly the church is being transformed from full and lush to bare and anemic. Stay focused!