I love looking at the seed catalogs that fill my mailbox this time of year. I especially enjoy the ones that offer unusual plants and varieties suited to particular conditions and locales, and heirloom seeds. Heirloom varieties of vegetables are often the tastiest and most beautiful and interesting to look at. They are a delight for small home gardeners and lovers of fresh produce.
Take tomatoes, for example. Large-scale growers must depend on only a few varieties that have been hybridized to be able to withstand rough handling, long storage and long journeys across country. Texture, and especially taste, are secondary.
Monoculture is the practice of growing huge quantities of a single crop or single species. While this allows standardization and may lead to larger crops with minimal labor, it also causes problems. If a disease strikes to which that species has no resistance, the entire crop can be lost. Monoculture can also negatively impact the environment. Polyculture is the alternative. It involves techniques such as companion planting and–get this–the use of beneficial weeds. Thank goodness there are people who are committed to preserving the genetic diversity of plants and animals, too.
When it comes to planting and cultivating communities of faith, we can take some lessons from farmers and gardeners.
- Test the soil. Take local conditions into account and plan accordingly. Develop a particular garden plan (new church model) for particular people in a particular context. Consider the heirloom varieties, such as house churches and monastic communities.
- Denominations should not rely on monoculture. There are many possible models for communities of faith. While it may appear that reproducing a particular model will lead to success, in the long run we may be able to produce a bigger, healthier, livelier crop (i.e. draw more people towards Jesus) if we practice polyculture.
- Remember that there are lots of different methods for feeding and watering the plants. Water cannons aren’t the only form of irrigation. In some situations the most efficient and effective method is to bury a drip hose near the roots and administer a slow, steady drip.
And don’t forget what the Lord of the Harvest said: Some seeds won’t produce, but others will–thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.