The Farming Church

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:7-9

When I was asked to contribute to the Gospel Alliance blog on the topic of missional effectiveness locally and globally, I celebrated because the church my husband and I attend has done a wonderful job fulfilling Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations. The ongoing success is due to the congregation’s heritage. To help us best understand how a church located in a rural farming community approaches missions, I knew a bit of local history was in order.

Our congregation was organized in 1868, a mere twenty years after the first Dutch immigrants arrived in Iowa and founded the town of Pella. Some of these families set up businesses, practiced professions, or entered into civic duty. But most of these immigrants invested in farm ground. In discussing some congregational and family history with my husband, we concluded that even the citizens in town had close ties to the land either through making those investments themselves or from family members who settled on farms.

The birth of the congregation involved the local farming community. These were people who knew how to live in faith that the seeds planted in the rich Iowa soil each spring would someday produce a harvest.

One hundred and fifty years have passed since we first became a congregation, but we still farm. The same faith required to plant a seed, help it grow, and then bring in the harvest is the very faith needed to follow Jesus’ call to advance his kingdom through missional work.

First we must take the risk of planting. Seeds appear dead and for sure are dormant when they hit the ground. But this is really as it should be. Jesus himself said, in prediction of his own death, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

There is a letting go and an act of surrender in the planting process. All may very well be lost. The large expanse we’ve prepared so carefully to accept the seed may produce nothing. The possibility of loss is reality, but it’s also a chance we have to take.

This is because God has a part to play, too. We must plant in faith so that God can produce growth. He sends the rain. He shines the light. His timing is perfect. While the season of growth passes, we share with him in the nurturing and careful tending of the crop.

The month we are in right now is November. Combines are rolling across the fields kicking up dust as they gather the corn and the soybeans from the dry stalks. It’s harvest, the time when we finally see the fruits of all that hard work of the growing season. In the advancement of the kingdom, we are co-workers in God’s service. People are his field.

Every time I read Matthew nine, I can almost hear in Jesus’ voice the concern of a farmer for what is growing in his fields. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus says. “But the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

And so we farm. Planting the seed of the gospel. Tending the growth. Joining with God in the harvest of souls for his kingdom. Discipleship, evangelism, and missions are done in faith. And, as we celebrate this week, also done in Thanksgiving. Great is His faithfulness.

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