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The Guilty Gardener

Updated: May 9

Before there can be any harvest, there always has to be a season of gardening.”


-Greg Koukl


I’ve mentioned before that my early Church experience was deeply legalistic… but it was also deeply evangelical. Recently I went to a missions presentation in the same denomination I grew up in.


I had not been in this type of Church for probably almost 6-7 years. It felt strange in some ways. Some things had changed… for instance they had a projection unit for the sanctuary. When I led a youth group in my early twenties in the same denomination we were not allowed to use an overhead projector because the bishop said it was too “worldly”.


During the presentation I noticed it was mentioned several times that we were not doing enough in comparison to Christians in less affluent countries in regards to Bible reading and evangelism.


As a teenager such messages often reverberated in my overactive mind. I never measured up… not in my own mind and certainly not in Gods eyes… at least that is what I thought. My early walk with God was mostly filled with guilt from not doing enough.


I’d have to say most of my early adult life I felt guilty for not evangelizing enough, not praying enough, not worshiping energetically enough or not reading my Bible enough.


It was only after I came to a place where I was laid completely bare and really had nothing left to offer that I began to rebuild my faith on a different bedrock. I had previously made my faith into a checklist. The words of this old Hymn seemed appropriate as they echoed my lack of assurance of who I was in Christ…


“Pass me not, O gentle Savior, Hear my humble cry, While on others Thou art calling, Do not pass me by”


We were taught “Jesus alone” but our examples and our church culture said “you can never measure up and can never be 100% sure” in regards to salvation. With regards to evangelism, if those around you weren’t fully exposed regularly to the gospel of Jesus Christ you were not doing it right.


Modern evangelicals are also very “religious” about sharing their faith. Many have grown up in households where their parents or grandparents walked forward during a Billy Graham crusade to accept Christ. There is an imprint within the modern Church culture that everyone must be some sort of evangelist… and if you are not you have blood on your hands.


Ah… blood on our hands.


That of course brings back memories of heaven and hell plays where a Church we were involved in had guest speakers that played out repeated situations where someone died and would go to either heaven or hell. The message was clear that if we didn’t share our faith with everyone their blood would be on our hands. Judgement was the mantra if you didn’t check the boxes correctly.


Times however have changed… the world is a darker place today. What worked in the seventies and eighties no longer works. I have some doubts it ever fully worked as the North American church grew a mile wide and an inch deep in this highly evangelical environment we created. Out of such performance driven faith came the nineties “purity” culture… and with it a whole new set of checked boxes to measure up to.


The world is cynical towards religion now… with many of today’s atheists knowing Bible verses better than the religious faithful. Many of todays most notorious atheists were raised in churches steeped in evangelical fervor. Even as a Christian I struggle with a deep aversion to alter calls and other “pressure” tactics to bring people to Christ.


All this in mind… how do we reach this world for Christ?


I love Christ!


I want others to experience Christ and walk in relationship with Him. I want to see my friends and family and those who I interact with find the strength and faith that only Christ can bring… and to KNOW they have eternal life and forgiveness of sins.


But how do you reach a cynical world?


How does one reach those who do not want to be reached?


If evangelism is just a guilt or shame induced sharing of the gospel it is merely another DEAD work and has almost no chance of actually succeeding while very likely alienating the very person we wish to reach.


And anyway… what person wants to be a checked box in your so called faith?


But then how do we make an impact for Christ?


That is where I’m going here… we are NOT all called to be evangelists!!!


You heard me right!


We have been listening to overzealous legalistic evangelical teachers for too long… its time to dig for scriptural truths and find out what God is saying of spreading the good news.


I want to see people - see believers set FREE from the bondage of checked boxes.


You do NOT need to share your faith… you only need to live it!


Further to that… not every Christian is called to be an evangelist… a harvester.


Most of us are called to simply be gardeners. What is a gardener?


A gardener is someone who tends to the plants, takes care of the soil so it can support growth. A gardener tries to make sure the weeds stay away. They trim and prune dead branches…


Think about “asking questions” here. It’s about a relationship with the people in the places you are planted


A gardener doesn’t rush anything… they just make sure that the atmosphere the plant is in can accept water and sun without getting choked, strained or otherwise hindered from growth.


Let’s look at scripture here:


1 Corinthians 3 talks about Paul and Apollos… see how they don’t try to fulfill each others callings here:


“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 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.”


In Matthew 9 Jesus says to his disciples “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”


I find this interesting… he didn’t tell them they were the harvesters… though later in life they were. He said to pray that God would “send” or call out people who would bring in the harvest. This indicates that someone has worked to get the harvest prepared. That is the work of the body of Christ right there.


I would venture to agree with Nabeel Qureshi, who says of Evangelism:


“Effective evangelism requires relationships. There are very few exceptions.”


That my friend is gardening… pure and simple it is cultivating relationships that leave those who come into contact with you wanting to know more about the faith that flows from your heart.


Nabeels friend David Wood spent a number of years in deep friendship… not so much “evangelizing” Nabeel to immediately accept Christ but rather he asked him many questions… he tended to Nabeels heart and simply enjoyed hanging out with Nabeel as friends. Faith was not forced into the conversation but grew organically from the friendship.


That is gardening.


Gardening can be as simple as a question that leaves a stone in the shoe of someone you meet… that stone of truth just sitting there and being truth - every step. Not painful but a constant reminder that there is an eternal truth they need to deal with sooner or later.


Gardening is fun! It’s not a chore to make friends. I never “feel” like I have to share my faith anymore, it comes naturally out of the relationship I have with Christ and those I come into contact with.


Some friends want to avoid conversations about faith… and I respect that. Even so we can have deeper conversations about truth itself apart from faith. Truth inevitably leads to faith.


To be clear… real gardening isn’t my thing… but for my wife - she loves it. I do love coaching and mentoring though. It’s the same but not with boring plants as I get to see people I care about rise up and do things they thought they could not do.


I also love seeing people getting set free from dead religious traditions, set free from addictions, set free from shame, set free from self induced performance quotas… even the guilt of “evangelism” itself.


That’s the gardening I love doing. Tending to plants that are weakened by their environment, encouraging people to get into better environments with healthy “soil”.


If we love Christ we will love to see people walk free and grow in the knowledge of Christ.


I pray many believers see the chains of modern evangelicalism fall off and grow to love gardening in the eternal sense.


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