The first occupation of the first man was to cultivate a garden. Adam, who himself was taken from the earth, was placed in a garden GOD planted Himself.

“And the LORD GOD planted a garden toward the east, in Eden and there He placed the man who He had formed” (Genesis 2:8)

Today GOD is again placing His people in gardens. All over the landscape, in every corner of our country, in rural and urban towns, a quiet movement is growing– literally. I hear of more and more local church communities and intentional Christian communities who are starting community gardens or even small farmsteads. This movement that I speak of goes beyond the Christian community but I believe there is a unique call of GOD on those of us who claim to follow Him who created all things and who personally planted the world’s first garden.

This Christian community based agriculture can be a powerful shift, I believe, in how we function as local expressions of GOD’s kingdom of shalom. These farms and gardens can serve as places of spiritual renewal in congregations and communities that are struggling to remember what it means to be a missional, discipling people. We can renew both our theology and our practical expression of our devotion to JESUS as we cultivate together the land that GOD has given to sustain us.

I see five ways that this faith based community garden movement can encourage renewal in our churches.

COMMUNITY

First, these gardens can renew our sense of community. With grace and cooperation a sharing of labor is a beautiful and practical means to building friendships and forming healthy bonds of interdependence. As we relearn what it means to give ourselves together to a common task, our sense of community can expand to reach out to the wider local community where suddenly the garden becomes not just a place of labor but a place of gathering, hospitality and celebration. Out of this community can spring  forth the spiritual intentions uniquely cultivated amidst  GOD’s good creation.

MISSION

At some point in Church history we divided in two, the theology of mission from the understanding of what it means to be the Church locally. In the book ‘Embodying Our Faith‘ by Tim Morey, he says:

“Somewhere along the line there was a split between our theology of church and our theology of mission.” (p.60)

Today we have missions organizations and local congregations with largely different functions. But what if we restored our sense of mission at the local level? Community gardens can serve as a place where we renew our call to an embodied whole-life faith, to love the LORD with all that we are, to love our ‘neighbors’ as ourselves, to care for and cultivate the earth and to give expression to the Gospel of JESUS. We can ‘be about our Father’s business’ of healing and redeeming, inviting those who are spiritually and physically hungry to feast on the richness of all GOD has given us through His creation and His boundless mercy.

DISCIPLESHIP

There is much work to be done in a garden and it takes many committed hands to make laboring a joy. Through cultivating the land together with those who are new in faith and with our children (of all ages), we are in a prime environment for teaching and learning. In Ragan Sutterfield’s book ‘Farming As A Spiritual Discipline‘ he says:

“To grow food, to garden takes work and builds character” (p. 44)

The garden is full of opportunities to grow spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is full of pictures and parables of the nature and character of GOD and of spiritual truths that are reiterated in His written Word. Beyond our own ability to humbly use the garden as a place of teaching, we also find that working as a community, we too are taught and can further cultivate love and grace and the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

SOCIAL  JUSTICE

With church based community gardens we can also take the overflow of our harvests and feed those in need. From church farms and gardens a flow of organic, healthy, local produce can renew the depleted diets of those in our local area who survive in poverty on highly processed foods and cheap fast foods that contribute to diminished health. Can we use our gardens to not only feed but to empower those in need, teaching them the skills and sharing the resources needed for them to grow their own?

CREATION CARE

Finally, community gardens rooted in a theology of GOD as a Creator and Redeemer, leads us to participation in renewing and caring for the earth. Once again we can find ourselves, like the first Adam, called to fellowship and co-cultivation in a garden that not merely we have planted – but one that GOD, Himself has planted. The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it and we are called to steward all that He has given us wisely and with a vision for continued viability for generations to come.

These are not just gardens of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers but of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and of GOD’s redemptive work in the earth to heal and redeem . Are we ready to be placed in GOD’s gardens?

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So, are you ready to help start a faith based community garden with your local congregation? Take a look at these other links:

Creating a Faith Based Community Garden

Gardening With GOD

Wendell Berry: Gardening as Health Regimen and Holy Sacrament

Farming and Faith: Interview With Ragan Sutterfield

A Theology of Farming and Gardening

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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