Breaking Ground

“Breaking ground” means taking the healthy values you have identified for your church and actively working to impress them upon the congregation. Don’t think for a minute that good intentions are enough or that you’ll get lucky and things will just fall into place. Hope is not a strategy. You may get fortunate, but it’s unlikely. If you want God to bear fruit through your ministry, you must cultivate a healthy environment for that to happen. You’ve got to address the soil and purposely do things to enhance its quality. You must be intentional. You must act! Yet this can be challenging and often draining…

Cultivating values into an existing church is hard work that takes time and intentionality. First, you must envision your crop by determining what God is calling your church to be and do. Then, you need to test the soil and honestly evaluate the present state of your congregation. And finally, you must enter into the challenging process of breaking ground and gracefully nurturing the appropriate values into the life of the church.

In spite of all these efforts, there is no promise that the culture of your church will change. People may push back and resist the values you are advocating. Others may question your heart, your motives, and your competency. A dominant personality or a discontented family may undermine your credibility and message. Some may try to drive you out.

Yet if you are fortunate enough to see the soil quality rise, three things are guaranteed to happen. First, your church will become a healthier, Christ-centered community. There will be higher morale, more focus on the “big picture,” more loyalty to Christ and the church family, a greater sense of unity, and more simplicity and speed in decision-making. There will likely be more humility, more self-sacrifice, and more spiritual growth occurring in people’s lives. While still flawed, your church will be a more God-honoring community of faith.

Second, your church will be a more vibrant place. There will be more life, more passion, and more energy. Whenever God is moving and people are becoming more spiritually healthy, there is joy, zeal, and enthusiasm. You don’t have to teach people to smile as if church were a Zig Ziglar seminar. Laughter and hugs will be commonplace because when the culture is healthy, the church is naturally more alive (Romans 8: 11).

Finally, God will do His best work, and the ministry of your church will likely be more effective. This doesn’t mean that we can dictate the outcomes. In spite of our best efforts, we must remember that Jesus is the one building His church and that God is the one who gives the growth. We cannot manipulate that growth, nor should we impose our desired results upon our sovereign Lord. Yet Jesus told us that He wants us to bear much fruit and that when the soil is good, the harvest may be thirty, sixty, or one hundred times what we have sown (Mark 4: 20).

The fruit of your labor may not be as big as you might hope. Or it may exceed your wildest expectations. Your harvest might be visible for all to see, or it might not be manifested until after your death. Ultimately, the outcomes are God’s concern. Our focus should be on staying faithful, being obedient, and making the most with what God has given us by working to improve the culture of our church.

I hope you find this encouraging as well as challenging. And I pray that God gives you the strength, courage, and wisdom to break ground by nurturing and developing a better quality of soil within your church. In so doing, may you be able to see and experience what the Psalmist wrote many years ago: “They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish” (107: 37-38). 

--from Chapter 12 & “Final Thoughts” of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation