“Other seed fell into good soil…”
– Mark 4:8
In the shed at Farm Church, we have a tool that looks like it doesn’t belong. It hangs among the rakes, trowels, and digging forks, looking strangely out of place, until we need it, and then it makes complete sense. It’s a tablespoon.
Maybe there’s some gardening hack involving tablespoons, and if there is, I’m all ears. That’s not why we have one in our shed. We keep a tablespoon to illustrate a mind-blowing, soul-expanding truth about soil:
One tablespoon of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the entire planet.
Can you believe that? In one tablespoon – well over eight billion microscopic lifeforms – living, thriving, eating, growing, reproducing, dying… A massive ecosystem managing life in that little spoon. Amazing.
We’re often asked what we’re growing at Farm Church. Carrots, cucumbers, squash, melons, tomatoes, green beans (oh so many green beans), onions… all coming up now. But the truth? We’re growing soil. We’re composters, cover croppers, mulchers, and companion planters because we understand that before we can grow anything, we have to grow good soil.
I’m not talking about dirt here. I’m talking about soil – rich, moist, vibrant, stuff-of-creation, thriving-with-life soil. Good, living soil is the medium in which life flourishes. We’ve joked that when you have good soil, the farm just throws food at you. But it’s true – plants can’t help but thrive and produce abundantly in rich, living soil.
The tablespoon serves another function. Sometimes we hold it up and ask: Where are you most alive? What are the conditions that bring you to life most abundantly? What part of you is thriving with lively essence?
I’m curious about the ways we are asking these questions in our congregations. My experience has been that discussions in our churches move quickly from “Where are we most alive?” to “What do we need to do to survive?” But I strongly suspect that there are very few spiritually engaged but institutionally suspicious people in our culture longing to go deep with a church that projects anxiety in its struggle to survive.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one – absolutely no one – is sitting around right now wondering about joining a new church so that they can become part of that church’s struggle to survive in a post-modern, post-denominational, post-Christian culture. No one. This conversation is not happening around dinner tables: Honey, don’t you think it would be neat if we joined a church this summer so that we could help them reach their stewardship goals come November? Asked no one. Ever.
But you know what people are asking? Am I alive? Beyond the striving, the earning, the hammering away… In the midst of a life that feels rushed, disconnected, overscheduled… am I – are we – really alive? I believe people are asking those questions, maybe now more than ever.
Do you have a compelling answer for them? For yourselves? There are no easy fixes, but I wonder about this simple change: Begin every day, every meeting with the questions, Are we alive? Where? How? Orient ministry around a collective response to Where are we most teeming with life?
Celebrate that liveliness. Narrate it. Specifically. A lot. Channel your seeds (time, energy, messaging, planning, play…) into that lively soil. Over and over, meet the anxious, scarcity-prone world with your particular talk of wild, billions-per-tablespoon abundance.
Co-Planter, Farm Church
Ben is the Co-Planter of Farm Church in Durham, North Carolina. In July of 2014, he caught a vision for what Farm Church could be in a dream and has been sharing that vision ever since. Before a middle-of-the-night dream of a church on a farm transformed his sense of call to ministry, Ben served Presbyterian churches in Racine, WI and Austin, TX. Prior to earning his MDiv at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, he was a middle school language arts teacher in Illinois.