(Part 2) In order to plant a ministry, start by thinking like a Farmer.
I come from a long line of rural Kansans, proud to be a fourth-generation descendent of a small town with just 2,300 people. My husband grew up on eighty acres just beyond the limits of what we called our "city." I was raised by a hardworking, blue-collar family who instilled in me the value of putting in a good day's work. Our family was fortunate to receive bountiful gifts of fresh fruits and vegetables f
rom skilled gardeners among our relatives.
I have never managed to keep any plants alive, no matter how hard I try. Whenever I visit garden centers and get inspired by landscaping ideas for my home, a sense of guilt washes over me as I purchase new plants. It's as if, just like some people shouldn't have a driver's license, I shouldn't be allowed to buy mums in the fall.
As you embark on the journey of establishing a Family Advocacy Ministry, there are valuable lessons we can learn from farmers. They possess a unique understanding of nurturing and growing, which we can apply to our own endeavors.
Farmers are obedient, committed, willing to suffer hardships, hardworking, and patient.
If you, like me, struggle with growing plants, don't worry. Start by planting just one tree. Putting a seed in the ground is something anyone can do, but it takes the right season, fertile soil, strong roots, ample water, and, above all, sunlight to bear fruitful results.
I recognize the sense of urgency that exists as families struggle in your church's community. Instead of discouragement, let's view it as an opportunity to comprehend the broader scope of family advocacy ministry. Breaking it down into manageable steps allows for more effective action. Remember, God has called you to this crucial work for a reason. The ultimate goal is for this ministry to thrive and make a lasting impact, even if circumstances change or you are called elsewhere.
Farmers are obedient
Obedience entails willingly carrying out instructions from a figure of authority. When establishing a Family Advocacy Ministry, we willingly submit to God's sovereignty and the leadership of our church. Are you actively involved in a local church?
To become a leader, one must willingly submit to the authority and adhere to the rules of the church. Moreover, our commitment is demonstrated through acts of service, including regular prayer, attending church, and giving. We also encourage others to ask challenging questions about ourselves, recognizing that our work is an extension of our church, intended to complement and work in harmony with all other ministries.
Individuals who are inclined towards foster care are often compassionate and selfless. They may possess a natural inclination to always say "yes" and find it challenging to decline something they perceive as a divine calling. Being obedient entails grasping the significance of the present season we find ourselves in.
Leading a ministry as a new foster or adoptive parent may be difficult, if not impossible.
The unpredictability of foster care and providing a home for children during this period is already overwhelming. As someone who has offered long-term placements and held a leadership role in ministry, I feel compelled to be completely honest by acknowledging that it was not without its fair share of difficulties. Sacrifices will need to be made.
Farmers are committed.
Gary W. Keller said, "You can do two things at once, but you can't focus effectively on two things at once." As a foster parent, you may have numerous tasks to accomplish today. However, in volunteer ministry, it's not solely about completing your to-do list; it's also about training and empowering others. Focus on equipping and guiding others alongside your own responsibilities.
Before you put your yes on the table to start a family advocacy ministry within your church, ask yourself these questions:
1. How many ministries and roles have I already committed to within the church and my community?
2. How strong is my marriage, and how do I connect with my spouse every week?
3. Am I setting time aside to connect one-on-one with my children?
4. Am I called right now to do this ministry at home or to lead and equip others to care for vulnerable children?
One of my favorite definitions for multitasking is "the art of screwing up several things simultaneously." Recently, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to transition from foster care to local missions. Engaging in local missions has always resonated deeply with me, and discovering that this new role aligned perfectly with foster care as a missional calling was truly serendipitous.
As I eagerly embarked on this journey, assuming a leadership role in a foster care ministry and embracing this expanded responsibility, I soon came to the realization that I had underestimated the demands it would place on my capacity (perhaps Evan had hinted at this possibility, but that is inconsequential now).
I am a lover of Jesus, a wife, a mother of seven, and an enthusiastic foster care advocate. At this stage, I can only lead one ministry with excellence.
Farmers are willing to suffer hardships.
In the 1930s, Caroline Henderson, a farmer living in Eva, Oklahoma, wrote a series of letters for the Atlantic. "Though stoic, her writing described the essential horror of that most epic of American environmental crises, the Dust Bowl—not just outside, where crops were buried beneath the sand, but even inside, at the center of the home, where the grit of the dust sapped the grit of the homesteaders."
The constant exposure to the dirt created a disease known as "dust pneumonia," where 7,000 men, women, and children died, while nearly 250,000 fled the area amid the great depression.
In a letter written in 1935, when asked why they had chosen not to leave, Caroline explains,
"To leave voluntarily— to break all these closely knit ties for the sake of a possibly greater comfort elsewhere—seems like defaulting on our task. We may have to leave. We can't hold out indefinitely without some return from the land, some source of income, however small. But I think I can never go willingly or without pain that as yet seems unendurable."
This has such a beautiful parallel to our walk with Christ. He could have turned his back on us all, seeking only the comforts of heaven. Still, he had a mission, and to redeem the lost, there would be suffering.
While it is unlikely that we will endure hardships on the scale of the Great Depression, leading a ministry can still bring its own share of challenges and struggles. It is normal to find oneself in difficult circumstances when taking on the responsibility of leading a family advocacy ministry.
Isaiah 43:2 says,
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."
It's not a matter of if, but of when. It states that when you go through turbulent times or face challenges head-on, even while suffering, the promise is that you will not be overcome or consumed. Jesus will never abandon or forsake you and remains steadfast through all ages, unwavering in His faithfulness.
The more you radiate your light amid the darkness, the more you may attract attention and face challenges. Expect strained relationships, moments of isolation, and obstacles that may seem insurmountable in various aspects of your life. But always remember, Jesus will be by your side through it all.
Farmers are hardworking.
Having experience with the child welfare system or adopting children unmistakably reveals that it's a challenging journey. Our purpose, however, isn't to make them conform to our ways, but rather to seize the opportunity to extend the love of Christ to others. In his profound work, "A Faith to Live By," Donald Macleod beautifully captures this sentiment, stating,
"But the important point is that he did not, as incarnate, live a life of detachment. he lived a life of involvement. he lived where he could see human sin, hear human swearing and blasphemy, see human diseases in observe human mortality, poverty, and squalor. his mission was fully incarnational because he taught Men by coming alongside them, becoming one of them and sharing their environment and problems."
The calling of family advocacy is truly a mission, albeit in a unique way. As leaders, we aren't simply sent by the church; instead, we are sent to the church to remind them of Jesus's compassionate heart for those in distress.
Just like a farmer's hands become soiled with the toil of the land, we implore others to walk alongside individuals who are grappling with immense challenges. These challenges may include a mother battling addiction, who has tragically lost custody of her children or a father who has been shuffled through the foster care system, never truly experiencing the love and guidance of a paternal figure. Acknowledging that this work will not be pristine or comfortable is important.
Reflect on your past and the person you were before encountering Jesus. Now, delve deep into your most wretched and worldly traits - the ones you wouldn't dare reveal to anyone, not even your closest friend or spouse. Craft a sentence that encapsulates this: "I was __________, and I am ___________." Take a moment to comprehend that even in your darkest moments, Jesus embraced you wholeheartedly. As we grow in our knowledge of Him, we are called to share this understanding with others and guide them on a similar path.
Farmers are Patient.
Despite not being inherently patient, which often surprises others, those who have known me for years might consider me relatively "chill." I strive to exhibit compassion and mercy, qualities that are evident in my approach to parenting my children. However, my struggle with patience arises from the challenge of waiting, as it is not a virtue that comes naturally to me.
Although I often struggle to be patient, it is a trait I have grown to appreciate in other people. Specifically, farmers are known for their patience and resilience. They understand that great things take time and cannot be rushed. Their faith lies in knowing what will come will be worth the wait.
James 5:7-8 reminds us,
"Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near."
The Family Advocacy Ministry demands immense patience. It recognizes the importance of waiting for the opportune season to commence its work, selecting the most suitable soil for planting, and allowing sufficient time for roots to establish and anchor a tree. It acknowledges that witnessing the fruits of its labor can often take years, accompanied by moments of triumph and adversity.
When you look at all these characteristics, it's tempting to say, "But I'm not a farmer." You can dissect these qualities and say, "I can't grow a thing, and I wouldn't describe myself as obedient." And you know what? I feel the same way! It's unlikely that you embody all of these characteristics. But here's the beauty of it: Jesus doesn't expect perfection from you. He simply asks you to love Him and, in doing so, love others. Then, in turn, disciple others to love. That's probably why He's calling you in the first place.
Your dedication to the ministry of advocating for families could be likened to a farmer's diligence in planting his crops. You work tirelessly, plan carefully, and wait patiently for your efforts to bear fruit. Your preparation involves cultivating relationships with those around you and studying God's Word so that you are prepared to share it with others.
We are called to this work not because we are obedient, committed, willing to suffer hardships, hardworking, and patient. Instead, we are allowed by leadership to experience obedience, commitment, suffering, hard work, and waiting. Ultimately, that process makes us more like Jesus and invites all who are a part of the work to do the same.
Farmers understand that while they may have some control over the immediate environment, there are forces beyond their control. They recognize that a successful harvest will not come without hard work and dedication. In the same way, we must recognize that our work is part of a bigger plan. We may not be able to see the full picture now, but if we remain faithful and continue to serve God in all we do, one day, He will reveal His perfect plan for us.