Why do pastors so often treat congregations with the impatience and violence of developers building a shopping mall instead of the patient devotion of a farmer cultivating a field? The shopping mall will be abandoned in disrepair in fifty years; the field will be healthy and productive for another thousand if its mysteries are respected by a skilled farmer
– Eugene Peterson
A number of years ago, when theStory was at a crossroads, our board chair offered an analogy that has helped us ever since.
He said there seemed to have been two different methods of leading our church. The first way, was the way that our church started. It was built. We had leaders who laid out a blueprint. They found the right people. They found the right materials. They built a foundation and then they started to assemble everything in order to accomplish the tasks of making the church look like the blueprint. We bought a building, set a budget, had some staff, ran programs – all things that were part of our blueprint of how to start a church. There was a very clear vision and then we executed to accomplish that vision.
After six or seven years, this way of leading no longer seemed to resonate with theStory. The conversations surrounding designing new blueprints grew tiresome. Outside blueprints imposed on us were even worse. We stopped needing builders and construction workers and rather started needing gardeners and botanists. So instead we looked to grow the church. We want to grow a garden, not build a house. There is a large difference between growing and building a church. Buildings need an end goal, a plan, and takes a lot of management. Growing on the other hand is about creating the right conditions and takes a lot of cultivating and nurturing. Managing and cultivating, building and gardening are two different ways of leading.
Growing a church means that we are creating an environment where the community can thrive. We don’t have an end goal. We don’t know if we are going to plant more churches, grow in numbers or buy a new building. Rather, we’ve spent time better understanding and participating in practices. Eucharist, potlucks, prayer, camping, singing and sticking to the church calendar. We’ve encouraged people to do the things they feel called to do. We prune some branches, we add some water and we let the sun do it’s work.
Building was essential for us to get off the ground and take on the identity of what we are today. Growing is essential for where we are now.
I’ve always been a grower. I’ve never been good at following plans and doing things right. Instead, I like to let things go and have a life of their own and just make sure that it stays healthy and continues to strengthen in whatever way it evolves.
It’s a very different approach to church. Most pastors are trained in school to come in and set a mission, vision and values and to continually repeat the phrase that “without vision the people will perish.” It’s difficult for building pastors and people to be part of or stick around very long in growing churches. It feels like something is wrong. It feels like no one cares. Like we have no vision. Some take it personally, like they aren’t needed or welcome. I don’t think it’s any of that. I think it’s just different. In the same way that it was a struggle for me to be part of a building church, it will be difficult for someone to be part of a growing church.
So for the last three years or so, my efforts have gone to helping theStory grow, rather than building theStory into something and lead us towards a specific goal. I think this is where we are at and this is a good place for us right now. We are a community who is growing deeper roots and maturing in our faith. We are learning to love each other better and be vulnerable with one another. We are seeing needs and reaching out to take care of one another. We are looking into our city and reaching out where we see need. We are learning and immersing ourselves in the church disciplines and better understanding our unique place geographically and historically.
We might not be building anything intelligible to a blueprint but we are growing into something that none of us can quite picture yet that I am sure will not disappoint.