Dirt and Church Culture...They Matter

Jesus used the issue of soil as the basis for one of His most popular parables. Three of the four gospels record the parable of the sower (Matthew 13; Mark 4; and Luke 8)….Through this parable, Jesus affirmed that not all soil is the same and that the same seed can produce different results if it’s planted in different ground. He linked these truths to the condition of the human heart and the ability of God’s Word to produce fruit in it. When the heart/soil is hardened, shallow, or diluted, the results will be limited or non-existent. When, on the other hand, the heart/soil is fertile, amenable, and receptive, God’s Word produces a great harvest….

The key variable in the parable is—the soil. It’s not about the sower. It’s all about the dirt. Jesus tells us point blank that it is important to be sure that our soil is “good.” Why?

Dirt Matters. It really does matter.

And it matters for the community of believers as well as individual people….

Every church has a unique culture that serves as the soil where its ministry occurs. A church’s culture is the somewhat nebulous and complex blend of norms, beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and practices that define the congregation. The culture establishes the environment that often predetermines the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of God’s Word within that body of believers. It influences a congregation’s potential impact more than techniques, programs, or pragmatic changes.

So, the dogma of dirt applies to churches as well as agriculture. Just as the quality of soil directly affects the harvest of a field and the condition of an individual’s heart affects spiritual fruitfulness, a church’s culture directly affects ministry outcomes. Whether we like it or not, unseen, intangible issues reside below the surface and shape the culture of a congregation, which in turn influences the potential fruit that a congregation can bear.

Failing to realize that dirt matters not only neglects a basic scriptural principle, but it also leads to frustration and disillusionment. In the process, it perpetuates a systemic problem in Western Christianity—channeling our best energy and focus into the wrong areas.

--from Chapter 1 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

In the coming weeks, I will share from other chapters of Dirt Matters–chapters that flesh out church culture and how we can make it healthier, but next week, I will offer a section from Chapter 2 that highlights a primary reason churches get distracted from addressing the issue of soil quality.