The following is the introduction to a writing project I’m working on. It has to do with re-planting a church, something we have gone through at The Exchange Church. Enjoy!
From the time I was in Kindergarten all the way through high school I lived in the same house. It seems as though that isn’t that common these days. In the back yard we had two enormous apple trees. They were huge, at least as tall as the house. The house was built sometime in the 1930’s so I assume the trees were planted around then. Whether these trees were ever really tended or not, I don’t know. They were already way out of control when we moved in. Every year hundreds and hundreds of apples would blossom, fall off, and rot on the ground. I had the pleasure of clearing them before the lawn was mowed. Sometimes I would make apple sauce with the lawnmower, but don’t tell mom. I never dared to eat the apples because they were always wormy and bruised.
One year, one of the major limbs of one of the trees collapsed. About 1/3 of the yard was covered by this great mass of branches, leaves, and apples. Less to mow! It was decided that the whole tree should be taken down as the rest of it hung over the fence and over the neighbor’s garage. All that was left was a depression in the ground about three to four feet across where the huge, neglected tree once stood. A few years later it’s sister tree also lost a medium-sized limb, but the rest of it stands to this day.
In the Old and New Testaments, God’s people, individually and collectively, are compared to trees, branches, vines, and other such organisms. Fig trees without fruit. Wild olive branches grafted in to the cultivated olive tree. Branches than need to abide in the vine. These kinds of organisms need tending. Their purpose is to grow to maturity and bear good fruit. They can live and be fruitful for a very long time. In my hometown there is an apple tree that is thought to be the oldest in the Pacific Northwest, if not the entire western United States. It’s pushing 200 years old. Sadly, it has some cables tied around it for support. I’m sure this was done for historic, if not sentimental reasons. Otherwise it would collapse completely and die.
I think it’s fair to compare local churches, and sometimes movements or denominations, to trees. A church needs tending because it’s purpose is to grow to maturity and bear good fruit. If it isn’t tended properly, it can grow out of control, produce bad fruit in impressive amounts, all the while rotting on the inside. It would only take one good gust of wind to knock part, if not all of it down. Some churches and movements/denominations have been around for years and years. Is it possible that some of them have been held up by man’s efforts for historic, if not sentimental reasons? Are people afraid that if the church or movement were to be removed that all that would be left is a depression in the ground?
After our tree was removed, my parents had the option of planting something new. They didn’t, but what if they had? It was clear that the soil was good enough to support the previous tree. We certainly get enough rain in the Northwest, and we do get sufficient sunshine contrary to popular belief. If they had replanted something and chosen to take good care of it by pruning and cultivating it, we could have enjoyed some quality fruit for many, many years. Mmmm. Apple pie.
What if we translated this kind of thinking into the world of the church? As I write this, church planting is all the rage. I believe that a fair amount of it is being done sincerely, but I also believe some of it is being done because it’s “cool.” But what about church replanting? There are thousands of churches across this country, some large, some small, that have been around for years. They are functioning, but sometimes, if we are honest with ourselves, they aren’t doing much more than that. They have good soil, plenty of rain and sunshine, but they have not been well tended over the years. They already exist in communities that are in desperate need of the kind of fruit that these churches are capable of producing. Can they be replanted?
Many of them already have limbs that have split off of them, and what’s left could potentially cause more damage to the neighbors if they fell off as well. Could it be time to dig it up and plant something new, something that can be well cultivated from the beginning, again? I think it is. I know it is, because that is where the Lord led me and my family in 2007, to a church that needed to be replanted. We didn’t know that at the time, but it quickly became apparent.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this. I have not done this numerous times. I’ll let you know when I’ve finished it once. However, I’m sure there are plenty of churches out there that are going through experiences where the best solution is to be replanted. Maybe the Lord is done with them, maybe not. But instead of carrying on with business as usual, leaving room for the same kind of thing to happen again, perhaps it’s time to dig up the roots, begin with a fresh sapling, and take good care of it. Get a church “do-over” as it were.
My goal in writing this is to honestly, yet gently, share the story of our church in such a way that chronicles the steps we have taken in replanting. This is by no means a cookie-cutter approach or a “how to” book. It’s a, “this is how the Lord led us to do it” book. My hope in writing this is that other local churches, perhaps even a movement or two, might be able to glean from our experience so as to consider how they might grow or even replant in the future.
The things that God makes in our natural world have an amazing ability to bounce back after devastating events. Take a trip out to Mt. St. Helens if you have any doubt of that. His church is the same, yet even more so because of His Holy Spirit. Is it possible that some churches should cease to be? I think so. Everything has a season. Is it possible that the Lord takes some churches through devastating events so as to demonstrate His glory and His power to restore, redeem, and rebuild a broken situation? Absolutely. I believe He specializes in that. Our church and the lives of our people are proof of that. The Lord is far from done with us. We are still a growing and maturing sapling. As long as we abide in Him and submit to his pruning and cultivating, I have no doubt that we will be the fruitful thing that He intends us to be.
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