When God called me into ministry (before I was born) he knew exactly what kind of home and what kind of people he wanted for my seedbed. The kind of garden I grew up in was not well groomed, weeded and tended to in a professional way. I was among the kind of flowers and weeds you might pass by on the highway everyday on your way to work and never notice. Our family fixed nets on shores of Galilee. We found comfort in things like filthy language, drinking too much, loud cars, loud music and hard partying (that usually ended in fights). We knew every line to The Credence Clearwater Revival 20 greatest hits album and sang them to the top of our lungs while we barbecued chicken and drank cheap beer. The simple folk form of faith that I was taught in my seedbed hinged on two major themes The Fear of God and the Grace of God. I loved my family.
However, for a long time I hated my family. When I went to Bible College I learned that those kinds of people are going to hell. It was here that I was taught how to separate from my own and erase places in my heart that made me who I was. I was now a part of The Baptist Borg and I definitely didn’t want to be like people who were going to hell. So I worked hard to change, have “better standards” and assimilate. I remember feeling like such a poser when Maranatha Baptist Bible College (the college I attended) went to State Street in Madison Wisconsin. We were on mission. We stood (about thirty of us) high on the steps of some politically important building during some kind of Pot Festival militantly singing “Great Hymns of the Faith” to the high and angry mob of unclean sinners protesting below us. I remember we wore suits with ties and the women wore long skirts (for modesty sake) while we handed out Gospel Tracks to all the lost and crazy people. These people wanted to do non Christian things like legalize pot, needle drugs, abort babies and vote for democrats. “I am a poser”… I remember thinking to myself. “I know these people”… “I know how to talk to these people, love these people and even show these people Jesus.” But I was lost and couldn’t stand the thought that I might not be pure enough for the pastoral ministry because of people like this and what they had done to me. Ironically the unclean thing was me. I had picked myself up by the roots and hurled myself into the unclean garden bed of fundamentalisms false purity. I had forsaken the cleanliness of the sinners that God grew me up in for the idol of something, anything that sinned different.
Fast forward ten years… things are different. I see and love the seminary that God had raised me in. I hear, see and feel the theology he taught me about how broken people do broken things. I see why broken people drink too much, hate God and hurt others. I see how broken people can drink too much love God and love others. I see how God participated in the broken nature of people. I see a lot of things now that I couldn’t see ten years ago when I mistook a “call to” for a “call out”. I see that my people need the person and work of Jesus from someone who knows them, loves them speaks their language and knows their music.
What a seminary our communities are! What a seedbed God has planted His seeds in! To really reach people for, with and like Christ we need to rethink how we church. How are we responding to the dirt in our communities, lives, ministries, or churches. Jesus is already at work in the people we are proclaiming the Gospel to. I am confused why so many of our churches lack everyday garden variety sinners like me. Why are we weeding instead of proclaiming? Why has so much of our churching resulted in libraries full of clean seeds with no dirt for them to germinate in. Why is the church so afraid of dirt, weeds death and decay? Jesus was planted like a seed among these people and in the midst of their filth and He rose up among them in newness of life.
Pastors, plant Jesus seeds in the garden that God has called you to. Spend time with all of the people that fill your community not just your pews.
“The highest does not stand without the lowest. A plant must have roots below as well as sunlight above and roots must be grubby. Much of the grubbiness is clean dirt if only you will leave it in the garden and not keep on sprinkling it over the library table.” – C.S. Lewis