Next Tree…Next Church

this began in our family in a dixie cup!!

It’s intriguing to me that these two days I’m spending in vision development and long range planning should come at just the time when a miracle happened in my backyard. This tree (that’s right, it’s all one tree) you’re looking at is probably 60′ tall, though when things get above about 25′ I lose all sense of perspective.  What’s fun, though, is that the tree is a gift from my mother in law, who got it at a school carnival near San Francisco.  It was in a dixie cup when she became the owner, and stood a proud few inches tall.  It spent some time in Anacortes soil before being transferred to soil in the Cascades and then, in fall of ’96 we moved it here to our backyard in Seattle.  It was about 8-10′ tall then.  Suffice it to say, we won’t be moving it anytime soon.

It’s grown as our church has grown, and they’re parallel lives have been instructive for me because Jesus talks about growth being the work of God. If we sow seeds of hope, seeds of God’s good reign in the world, God is saying they’ll bear fruit.  As the tree in our backyard has grown by simply receiving the nutrients of soil, water, and sun, so our lives have grown (mine, and others) by receiving the nutrients of God’s word, fellowship, prayer, and worship.  Our own growth, as individuals, conspire to create a healthier gathering of Christ’s people, and this becomes inviting to others and then suddenly the church itself

some soil was prepared...

begins to grow.  But really, it’s God who’s at work.  There’s no magic here – no silver bullet – no marketing technique that, if applied consistently will bring about the elusive ‘growth’.  Growth comes from God, and the timing and scope of it is his prerogative.

On the other hand, though it comes from God, we can get in the way.  If we leave the tree in a small pot, we’ve defined the limits.  When we reach limits, our capacity to be a blessing to others becomes hindered.  This is the challenge our church presently faces because God has brought growth over the past decade, and especially over the last couple of years, as we’ve moved into a larger container.

new trees! do you know how much I love this?

So, as I’m praying about all this, I look down into the soil of our tiny plot where there should be vegetables sprouting and what do I find?  New Redwood Trees!  I’d always hoped for a new Redwood tree to come from this one because I’d like to give it to one of my kids.  If I’m fortunate enough to get several new ones, I’d give each one of them away.

NEW TREES from mature ones.  Look at them.  These new ones are fragile.  They’re intense, with each needle “knowing” its vital role.  And they, like their parent, will grow – miraculously, yet just as surely – to the extent the water, soil, and sun of Spiritual Formation, Fellowship, and Mission unfold.  They’ll grow up to bless their neighborhoods in profound ways providing shade, cool, beauty, hospitality, life – just like a redwood tree.

The Vision for my church’s future isn’t hard to see.  It’s in the soil in my backyard. To become a tree producing other trees isn’t optional at this point (if it ever was).  The parent tree will continue to grow, and wrestle with that, but the arborists (that would be the church leaders) will expect growth as long as they continue to nourish towards health.  And as the parent tree grows, it will eventually multiply.  I was taught by my mentor to expect fruit, and I do – because the nature of Christ’s life is reproductive.  Seeing new redwood trees though, at just the time when our church is starting remote locations and considering future vision?  This was marvelous.

I can’t explain this to you fully in a blog post, but Redwood trees are profoundly significant in my own spiritual transformation (more in my forthcoming book).  As a result, watching this tree grow in our backyard as our church has grown has been a constant reminder:  sow seeds, provide nutrition, give it space – and watch what God does.  And now, just when our church is ready to multiply, God’s tree speaks.  This, I think, is why I have so few books about “the church” on my shelf – there’s always been wisdom, God’s wisdom, in the tree.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Lisa

    As one who finds God in my garden I can appreciate this imagery and understand, in part at least, what those tiny redwood sprouts mean to you. Thank you for sharing.


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