In Spring of last year (South Africa) I commenced a hands-on five-month course run by Grant Dryden, called ‘Farming God’s way.’ This training is being ‘exported’ across Africa and other continents also. The reason for doing the course was that I sensed God prodding me, as one who knew ‘zero’ about farming or gardening, to commence a reproducible vegetable garden in a poverty-stricken community nearby.
The garden could also supply fresh veggies for a home for abandoned children as well as a local soup-kitchen. Grant, who has an honours degree in Agriculture, had been mentored by a farmer in Natal who had pioneered a new approach to farming after crying to God in desperation, when all his conventional methods had ended in spectacular failure.
To shorten a long story, God led this farmer to certain biblical and agricultural principles which are impacting the farming world and even training institutions. Some age-old methods are turned on their head. E.g. no ploughing (it reduces soil quality and erodes vast areas – fly over E. Africa and observe the dust clouds hundreds of km’s out to sea); using ‘God’s blanket’ (dry leaves, grass) to cover the ground and fertilise it; new ways of composting (even from anthills); crop-rotation; etc. A revolutionary way but producing the goods, as many subsistence farmers in Africa can now testify.
As I shared this experience with my house church friends, those who had grown up on farms were surprised by the new principles and methods, but quickly became convinced as to their feasibility. E.g. in rural Transkei many have farmed maize the conventional way with decreasing harvests. Then, in the winter season nothing is planted. This wastes time (6 months) and precious soil. Instead the fields could have been used to plant nitrogen-fixing and other crops, with all-year-round benefit.
This is a classic parable for those who persist in traditional, institutional and denominational churches, even though these groups are radically declining across the globe. Note, it’s not pragmatism that drives us to discover new ways of being/doing Church, but the Scriptures.
Careful study of the NT reveals ecclesiastical principles that empowered the early Church to transform the known world! Few know that for 300 years the Church did not meet in church buildings (special ‘holy places’) but in ordinary homes. ‘Ordinary’ believers made do with minimal organisation, persisting in a simple, organic and Christ-centred lifestyle that changed society!
After 38 years of denominational, traditional-institutional church I ‘bailed’ the system to discover for myself how to be the ‘church’ in this day and age, albeit in a small way (after all, you can’t ‘go to church,’ you are the church). We are talking here not about another church program or model (‘Seven Easy Steps to Grow Your Church’) but a 24/7 ‘way of life’ in the footsteps of Jesus and in the power of His life within. Presently many are ‘re-discovering’ the ‘NT Jesus’ – see authors like N.T. Wright.
This divine life commences in the home/family and ripples out into the community and market-place. All over the world people are re-discovering that ‘small’ and ‘simple’ and ‘organic’ and ‘Jesus-centred’ are better. This is not some passing fad – its been coming all over the globe for decades, e.g. in China, India, Africa, and believe it or not, in the Western world including the USA!
How do you get there? Start reading the Bible with ‘new eyes,’ as if for the first time. Focus especially on Jesus in the Gospels – I consider Him the archetypal church-planter with his twelve men and supporting women. Re-read the Acts of the Apostles (Acts of the Holy Spirit). Talk to people who can no longer handle conventional ‘church’ and who are leaving institutional churches in order to preserve their sanity and spiritual life! Read books by Wolfgang Simson, Dr. Robert Banks, Tony and Felicity Dale, Kreider and McClung, Frank Viola, Tony Lambert (the House Church movement in China), etc.
For the academic types, try Howard Snyder, Roger Gehring’s House Church and Mission, etc. I promise you the greatest adventure of your life, and a new sense of who you are in Christ and His eternal purpose for our cosmos (Col. 1:15-23). Above all you’ll get your hands dirty with the real thing and bring a glory to Jesus that is worthy of His Name!