Culture Building Memo #9: Farm the farm that’s given to you

“We just can’t compete!”was the lament of Steve and Jack. They pastor a mid-size church that sits in the shadow of two prominent mega-churches with nationally known pastors. “How can we compete with a circus at Halloween or a Madrigal Dinner at Christmas? We can’t sponsor those kinds of activities!” This complaint fueled some quality discussions on how to be content in the identify that God has for their church. I learned something new about the secret of contentment in an unlikely source.

One of my favorite authors is Wendall Berry. Berry is a nationally honored writer, poet, farmer, and a Christ-follower. He’s practically the originator of the current “green food revolution,” bringing food from the farm directly to the table. In one of his books, he describes how farmers are realistic people, they know how to farm the farm that’s given to them. A Georgia peanut farm can’t be transplanted to Maine. Cherry orchards in Michigan can’t be transplanted to Arizona. Like farmers, we must develop a realistic assessment of our churches and ministries and “farm that farm” that’s given to us.

A refreshing passage that helps me “farm the farm” is 2 Corinthians 10:13,14. In defense of his apostolic authority, Paul chooses not to boast beyond his limits but to boast in “regard to the area of influence God assigned to us . . . .(10:13).” The Corinthian church was within his God-given limits because it was a ministry to the Gentiles. This “area of influence” can also be translated “field” and was originally applied to a carefully specified area where local communities were obliged to provide transportation for traveling Roman officials. In other words, it was a designated area marked by clear boundaries. Paul was confident that he was faithful within his “limits” of ministry, boundaries set sovereignly by His Lord. In the same way, we (and the leaders we minister to) minister within the boundaries, or “fields,” that our Lord sets for us.

How can a ministry or church leader “farm the farm” given to him or her? A simple starting point is an honest assessment of the church “farm.” The REVEAL survey (revealforchurch.com) is one way to assess the farm. This comprehensive survey into the spiritual life of a church gives leaders a realistic glimpse into the spiritual strengths and needs of their congregation. Instead of comparing with the successful churches, we now have an honest look into our congregation.

Another affirming action step is helping leaders identify what they’re thankful for regarding their congregation or ministry. In a recent conversation, a pastor ticked off a list of things his church lacked. I interrupted him and asked, “Tell me what you’re thankful for.” We compiled a list of “gifts” that God had given and discussed how we can be more appreciative of and how to maximize these gifts. Gratitude takes our sights off what we lack and places them on what God has given. “Giving thanks in all circumstances” keeps us in the will of God (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The majority of pastors will not lead like the best selling authors in our bookstores. They can, though, farm the farm that God has given them with a healthy sense of realism and gratitude, building upon what God has uniquely placed in their church. When we FARM THE FARM THAT’S GIVEN TO US, we stop “classing and comparing ourselves” with others (2 Corinthians 10:12). Instead, we choose gratitude, thanking the Lord for the area of influence that God has given.

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