God The Gardener

“I am but dust called to die to self and live in Christ. My walk with my Lord is limited by my belief in myself and my desire to be something, anything, other than dust.” — Wendy Cohen

The Garden

When did we start to view the Kingdom of God in manufacturing terms rather than organic terms?

In manufacturing, we build our widgets, perfect them, create a market, sell our products, build our capital, float public shares, organize take-overs and mergers, and exist for wealth creation. We measure our effectiveness according to the capital we acquire: property, facilities, equipment, inventory, cash reserves, etc.

In manufacturing, we report regularly to the Board or the stock-holders, who expect tangible results, improved products, expanded product lines, and a healthy “bottom line.”

But the Kingdom of God is distinctively organic. It corresponds more to a biological plant than a factory plant. It incorporates people not machinery. It embraces cooperation not competition. And the bottom line is not cash but Christ.

Let’s not underestimate the implications of such a shift in metaphor. When we discard the industry model and embrace the garden model we discover some remarkable freedoms.

First, nobody assesses gardens by the criteria “bigger is better.” While we may marvel at acres of gorgeous landscaping, we can delight just as much in a small plot. Second, we may diligently tend a garden but we can’t force growth. That’s the Gardener’s job (1 Cor 3:6). Finally, organic entities have natural life-cycles where decline and death is normal not shameful. The Gardener holds a shed full of options when it’s time for a re-plant.

Jesus chose metaphors and parables for the Kingdom from the agricultural context of His day — seed sown by a sower, grain and tares, mustard seeds, etc. Was He simply accommodating the agrarian culture of His day? Or might He still use such images today, to move us away from “God the Industrialist” to “God the Gardner”? I suspect the latter.

The manufacturing model for the church reduces people to either salesmen or customers, and assumes that accumulation signifies success. It demands quarterly reports and clear job descriptions (spiritual gifts). But the organic Kingdom of God confronts such spiritual capitalism. And by doing so, it frees us.

Consider this important change of metaphor … and let’s bloom where we’re planted.

In HOPE —

David Timms

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David Timms serves in the Graduate Ministry Department at Hope International University in Fullerton, California. “In HOPE”, however, is not an official publication of the University and the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Administrators or Board. “In HOPE” has been a regular e-publication since January, 2001.

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5 thoughts on “God The Gardener

  1. can I just say that, as a budding green thumb myself that speaks to me SOOOO clearly!

    I definitely like that metaphor for church, life, God and everything. Thanks Scott for posting David Timms article! Is it posted online somewhere else? I’d like to visit it and submit it to stumble upon!

  2. Next question is how one person within a ‘business’ or ‘manufacturing’ style church can hold that metaphor as a ‘working’ metaphor and not just a personal opinion:)

  3. I love the organic metaphors – one of my favourites is to note the way grass and ‘weeds’ ie., LIFE will, over time, exploit the weaknesses in such manmade structures as concrete paths. Notice how the solidity, dependabiltiy, “guarantee” of the carefully structured path yields inexorably to the subversive, unwelcome fecundity (it’s in the dictionary, Scott) of life. If the gardener wasn’t there, sooner or later the path would be totally overwhelmed by the humble plants.
    Now, my question is this: is God actually the Gardener, or is God in the weeds? Apparently mustard seeds display dangerous, weedy, unwelcome, take-over properties – quietly, relentlessly doing their hilariously infuriating thing no matter what control-freaks like me try to do to stop them.

  4. I think the problem is that we are conditioned to think in terms of institutions. And if we don’t happen to like one institution… we take great pains to create another. And that is ok, except when we get to the point of loving the institution more than God and our neighbour.

    Amd then it is a slippery slope. We need funds to pay the bills, so we need more people to give more, so we need more converts to give money to pay the bills to keep the institution running..

  5. yes, jesus uses agricultural metaphors
    But he also uses many metaphors from the “business world” of his day – merchants, landowners, etc.
    So, maybe it’s both!

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