The growing season was upon me. I was sure that, like every new year, it was going to be great. I had added a new raised bed. I had dug up the soil and added amendments. A tomato plant I had started from seed was properly placed in the bed. I couldn’t wait to get going. Bring on the tomatoes!
As the season progressed, I noticed my prized tomato plant was not growing well. I knew the three basic elements of growing: sun, soil, and water. Everything I thought necessary had been done. It was in the ground, getting sun, and it was watered. So come on tomato plant, get moving!
After a couple weeks of waiting for the plant, I noticed something surprising. Just three feet away, in a different part of the garden, another tomato plant was growing well. The leaves were lush and the flowers on it promised my desired fruit. What was going on here?
To humble me further, this other tomato wasn’t even one I’d planted. It was a volunteer that had popped up from a tomato that fell in the previous year. I had not done a thing to that soil. So, what was making the difference between success and defeat?
As I mulled it over for a few days, I remembered: two years back I had moved my compost pile from that spot to another location. The fertile soil around that area now was invigorating everything that grew there. That was the difference between the dirt in my raised bed and the soil around my old compost pile.
What was happening was what soil scientists call the soil food web. It is a field of study that agronomists are now relearning. It is going back in some ways to the ways my grandfather and his father farmed the land. My compost pile had enriched the soil, so much so that any seed there flourished.
Healthy soil starts at a microscopic level with bacteria and fungi, working up the chain with protozoa and nematodes, then all the way up to earthworms, birds, and animals. When these elements are present and all working together, it produces a wonderful spot for plants to grow. It will even inhibit diseases. That’s why that volunteer tomato was thriving!
It takes a team of microbes working together to build healthy soil.
We see this too in building a disciplemaking culture. It takes a team, a core team working together, to produce disciplemaking throughout a congregation. We can transfer two principles from the soil food web to disciplemaking: variation in roles and symbiotic relationships.
A variety of roles: Some microbes are shredders, others are predators, and some others break down elements found in the soil. These various elements play different roles to produce great soil.
We see in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 that there were roles in the body of Christ, too. The Apostle Paul writes, “I planted and Apollos watered.” Both roles were a necessary part of growing the early church. Paul was assigned to initiate. Apollos followed up, encouraging long-term growth. Each accomplished a vital task.
Likewise, on a core team certain roles are needed. A point person leads the team to next steps. Core team members must champion disciplemaking in their lives and their church. Others need to pull new folks into discipleship. Many are required to be active learners in a discipleship group. Still others must take the step to become a disciplemaker, not simply a disciple. All the parts are needed. Much like Paul planting and Apollos watering, we need all types of people and personalities to advance the gospel of Jesus and His Kingdom.
Symbiotic relationships: In the plant world, a plant releases exudates from its roots into the soil. Bacteria and fungi eat it, releasing nutrients that nematodes need, continuing all the way up the chain. These individual players in the soil must work together for healthy soil and plants. If the soil has too much bacteria or too much fungi it throws off the balance of the soil and inhibits growth. It weakens plants, making them susceptible to disease. It takes each of these microbes doing their part together all the way up the food chain.
First Corinthians 3 continues along this vein: “He who plants, and he who waters are one” (3:8 ESV). In fact, they are so connected in building upon one another’s ministry that they are working as though they were one. Without some who plant, there would be no need for watering. If there’s no watering of God’s people, they will wilt. Together they accomplish God’s good work.
The challenge for us is our addiction to doing it our own way. We desire to build disciples (and most everything) in our bubble without anyone else interfering. Rogue discipling in a church undercuts any possibility of a disciplemaking culture forming. We each must participate and collaborate with others as we serve. It takes a team coordinated with a variety of gifts and roles to build a disciplemaking culture. This core team is crucial to our shared goal in the Great Commission.
At the National Disciple Making Forum in Nashville, October 5-6, 2022, we will continue this discussion. Together we’ll unpack what it takes to start a disciplemaking culture with a strong, healthy core team.
Ready to start the soil for your core team today? Download our ebook here.
Wishing you a season of growth… In your garden, and in God’s church.
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