Q. Why did you choose the metaphor of organic farming for your book?
A: Everywhere you look these days you’ll find the certified organic label. Restaurants and grocery stores tout locally sourced, organic produce. And in the church world, organic has stirred a lot of conversation about a new way to look at how we do church in the 21st century, which is really a call for return to biblical patterns with a church that is less program-centered and more Jesus-centered. Having grown up on a farm, when I read the Gospels I can identify with the many times Jesus talked about agriculture or growing things, concepts that might not be familiar with the typical urban or suburban twenty first century person. So I decided to write a book that explored these themes about growing as a follower of Jesus.
Q. What is organic spiritual formation?
A: It’s funny, when I mention it in some circles, people seem to think there might be something subversive about the term, “spiritual formation.” It is just another way of describing discipleship, a biblical concept that we are familiar with in the Gospels. Organic spiritual formation describes my vision for a biblical process of natural growth that occurs when authentic faith in Jesus Christ is merged with intentional alignment to the principles of Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit, while living with and serving others. It is not a program, but a process centered on a person, Jesus.
Q. What did Jesus teach about spiritual growth? How did he do it?
A: Jesus was a model for growth as Luke 2:52 provides the pattern of Jesus, saying that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” So here we see that Jesus grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially. He was perfect, fully God and fully man. He worked closely with twelve ordinary men he apprenticed over a period of three years. While training them and others, he often told stories, and those stories frequently had to do with growing things. Often called parables, those stories showed his followers how to grow spiritually and grow closer in their walk with God. Jesus employed this method to show us how to be and do what God desires; to love God with heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Q. What are the components of this organic spiritual formation?
A: It all starts with a seed – God’s Word. In what we commonly call “the parable of the sower” Jesus described the process of spiritual transformation and growth using the metaphor of a seed germinating and growing. This is how faith begins. Once a person believes the Gospel and receives Christ, then a process of life development begins. And because this is not a solitary process, it involves a community of faith. Faith, life, and community. Another way of looking at these components is to consider the birth of a child. Jesus described this metaphor in John 3 when he suggested the process of being born again. A child is conceived, and that is when the seed germinates. In other words—this is when faith begins. Next the child develops, both inside and later outside the womb—this is life. And once born, the child is nurtured in a family—this is community.
Q. Why don’t people act more like Jesus after spending a lifetime attending or actively engaged in a local church?
A: That is a great question. I don’t propose to have all the answers but I do know that church activity does not equal spiritual growth. The Willow Creek Reveal study makes the point that a person’s level of spiritual activity does not equate to spiritual growth or closeness to Jesus. Some people begin the journey with Jesus, but soon fall into a pattern of believing that Christianity is just a set of behaviors. So they diligently perform their duties, without growing in their relationship with Jesus or a vibrant experience with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. A life of faith is an adventure requiring courage. For some people, it is safer and easier to just conform to a set of rules, doctrines, or behaviors that may not require dying to self and fully living for Christ.
Q. You share a quote from Albert Goss, the past master of the National Grange, who wrote in 1930: “The question has been asked, “How long will the Grange live?” I believe it will live as long as it continues to serve the welfare of agriculture and the nation. Whenever it becomes ingrown and selfish, and the members look on it only as a means of bringing them pleasure, entertainment or profit, it will fade away.” How do you think this applies to the organized church in America today?
A: Thankfully, many churches are discovering that they are not just called to be a self-serving organization to meet the needs of their congregation, but they are called to serve the community in which they reside. The truth is, many churches sadly only have an inside focus, and thus have a shelf life—normally corresponding with the age of their youngest members in aging congregations. However, our model should be taken from the early church. Beginning on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit led the 120 disciples in the early church from where they were hunkered down in an upper room, and moved them out to the streets of the city where the people were. That empowerment and move initiated by the Holy Spirit gave birth to the church and made all the difference. Like the Grange organization, churches need to ask how they are being relevant and making a difference in their communities.
Q. You say that there are many young people in your denomination’s congregations but the biggest challenge is retaining them. Why is it important to learn how to do this and what can we do to ensure the life of the church through our young people?
A: Virtually every denomination in America is facing a crisis in retaining younger people, and in finding younger ministers to replace aging clergy. Younger persons are generally suspect of institutions and organizational structures that emphasize command and control strategies or bureaucratic tendencies. The thriving companies who are engaging younger persons are agile, nimble, and able to change with changes in technology and global currents. Churches are often steeped in tradition and systems that stymie creativity and growth. Young people are not necessarily rejecting Jesus, but rejecting institutions that seem irrelevant in today’s world. For example, aging adults may find it inconceivable to exist without a landline telephone or use of the yellow pages. Younger generations see no need for either one, and haven’t for years. Since the Gospel is good news for any generation at any time and in any culture or place, the church will remain relevant if we make Jesus the main thing—not our religious traditions that can seem as outdated as a landline in an iPhone world.
Q. What is the importance of vision in the future today’s church?
A: That is another excellent question because for young people the future is where their vision lies. Change is welcomed and embraced. For older generations, vision is often unclear and change is suspect. By the time persons reach middle age, they have more memories of the past than they will potentially have years in the future. Thus, clinging to things as they are and as they have known them can feel comforting, and be mistaken for mission or vision. Nostalgia sets in along with rigid adherence to the way things have always been. However, young people only have a few years’ worth of past memories, and their future is ahead. They want to follow someone who can move them forward, and provide a compelling vision of a positive future. Jesus is very good at providing a compelling vision of the future. He was not a timid leader, and was not attached to rigid traditions. In fact, he reserved his strongest judgments toward those who clung to their traditions instead of clinging to a living and vibrant relationship with God.
Q. Why do you think most churches do not emphasize or have a clear understanding of discipleship? What are we missing?
A: We have made it too complicated, and assumed that it could be done through a program involving ten easy steps or five hard ones. However, as I try to show in the book, for Jesus is was not a program, but a process that was very organic – involving an apprenticeship with a master and disciples. The church is sometimes good at evangelism, in talking about numbers of people who make a profession of faith, but not always so good in following up and nurturing those spiritual babies. That is why faith must be combined with life and community for growth and maturity to occur. Many churches do not have spiritual mentors, or coaches, or disciplers, or whatever you want to call them. New believers cannot thrive and grow because we do not place them in an environment where they can grow. We might make the false assumption that they will somehow catch whatever they need to grow during a one hour worship service per week, and maybe with a Bible study or small group thrown in. While these things are important, we would never expect a child to mature and grow in a healthy way under such conditions. We are missing ways to measure spiritual growth, and healthy models for making and growing disciples. This may look different for every local church with differing environments, cultures and individuals just as farming looks different in different parts of the world.
Q. What are the dangers of living in the past-meaning holding on to the way church ‘has been done up until now’ mentality?
A: I often say, “When our memories of the past are more exciting than our vision for the future, we have begun to die.” I think that is true for individuals, and also for organizations—whether they be denominations or local churches. Rather than returning to something in the past, we need to be asking, “What is Jesus up to in the world today? What should a twenty-first century church in our community look like?” My book and the entire organic theme is not meant to just hearken back to an earlier and simpler time, although I would love to do that. Instead, it is a more foundational call to look at the incarnation of Jesus in the first century and consider what that might look like for us in the twenty-first century. Today Jesus might not use all the agricultural metaphors. Instead, he might well pick up a thumb drive and use it as an object lesson to make a point about memory or storing up things on earth, or something meaningfully relevant with a spiritual application to today’s world. People get hung up on music, and styles, and buildings—confusing those things with the Gospel. Jesus is alive, immutable, unchangeable, but also able to speak to every generation in language they understand. He is our pattern, not some tradition that we dearly hold to. In the book I state, “As the people of God, our heritage is in the past generations of the church of Jesus Christ; church history and tradition should not be ignored. But we cannot live in the past. We should have learned by now that every generation needs a new experience with God in a way that is both biblically based and culturally relevant.”
Q. While I am curious as to what organic spiritual formation looks like, I’d love to hear what it does NOT look like. Please give us a few examples.
A: It does not look like a book, pamphlet, class, or program. Spiritual formation may involve use of these things, but we have confused the ways with the means. Parents would never consider handing a newborn baby a pamphlet on child care, or sending them to a “newborn” class. Yet we may do that for a recent convert, ignoring the fact they may need some intentional nurturing and care during the period of incubation following birth. Nor does organic spiritual formation look like evangelistic meetings or special church services. Again, these things may have their place, but the disciple needs a person to be apprenticed to, like Paul said, “follow me as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) Nor does it look like telemarketing or a North American televangelist promising miracles and spirituality with a shortcut that does not involve taking up your cross and following Jesus.
Q. What makes the harvest possible?
A: Harvest is a metaphor for a couple of things in the Bible – including evangelism and bearing fruit as a fully developed follower of Jesus. I suggest that teamwork is the thing that makes harvest possible. Back on the farm, we may not have used that specific word, but understood the concept of teamwork, since bringing in the harvest is seldom a solo occupation. The urgency and timing of the task requires as many hands on deck as possible, whether you are bringing in the hay, picking the fruit, harvesting the wheat or corn, or rounding up livestock for market. Jesus told us to pray for more workers to bring in the harvest. There seems to be an ongoing need for teams of people who learn how to work together in a community of faith to transform both people and places with the presence of Jesus. Even the metaphor Jesus used in Matthew 11:28-29 when he invited us to “come, all you who labor and are heavy laden” brought with it the idea of yoking together with Jesus – just as a team of oxen would plow together. When we let Jesus lead our teams, we will be more productive, because he knows how to lead us in the right direction, and always carries more than his share of the load. That’s why he said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The fact that many followers of Jesus suffer from fatigue, stress, and labor under heavy burdens might be an indication that we need to better team up with Jesus to bring in the harvest.
For more information please contact publicist Rhonda Funk at Bring It On Communications:
Phone: (541) 549-1099
To schedule Don Detrick to speak to your group:
NW Ministry Network: 425.888.4800