From the Mission USA director — Aug/Sept

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Thriving in red clay soil

I’m sitting in my home office looking out at our front yard where a tree grows. Why is this of any significance? It has taken my wife and me seven years to grow a tree in our front yard.

You see, we live in Oklahoma, and the soil in this part of the state is made up of red clay that creates an unbelievable barrier to tree roots. When a person digs with a shovel and chips with a pick and then digs and chips some more into this red stuff, sweating and moaning, just to make a hole in the ground to plant a tree, that hole quickly becomes just a big clay pot in the ground. Tree roots hit the end of the dug out hole and stop cold. The roots then wrap around and around, never going deeper than the hole, and the soil in the hole easily dries out. The tree struggles to survive in this pit—and well, it’s not a pretty picture.

We have previously planted four other trees that I can count in the dreadful tree hole in our front yard. They all succumbed to the “clay pot beast”—dead within weeks.

But finally we have a tree that is growing. We just had to find the kind of tree that is able to beat the clay pot. Actually, we finally got the brilliant idea of asking a nursery expert what kind of tree to plant. This tree, a Bald Cypress, is now growing like it doesn’t know what a barrier is. It loves red clay.

Now the analogy: In my opinion church planting is a lot like growing trees in challenging soil conditions. If we don’t insert the right kind of church plant into what are oftentimes very difficult circumstances and demographics, these church plants will likely succumb just like our first four trees did; dead within just a short period of time.

But with the right plan, the right planters and the right supporting team, we can watch these new churches grow—like they don’t know what barriers are. Obviously, we must ask the expert Gardener what and how to plant.

As one of those entrusted with church planting among Mennonite Brethren in the United States, I know how crucial it is that we get this right. As I watch the tree in my front yard, the green leaves are dancing brightly in the breeze. And even though it won’t last forever our tree will likely last for a long time.

But with church planting, the results do last forever. A thriving church plant reaches people for Jesus. A thriving church plant helps people follow Jesus, growing and maturing in their walk. A thriving church plant helps us as a conference of churches to be active, supportive and more alive as well.

Even in the difficult areas and in these challenging times, we’ve got to get church planting right. If we do, we’ll watch these new churches grow, thrive and dance in the breeze.

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