Is your church a grocery store or a garden?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : October 4, 2005

My wife and I recently bought a house.  The yard was in pretty bad shape…and we haven’t alleviated its condition much since we moved in; landscaping has been pretty low on our priority list.  I hope to prepare the yard before winter for the coming Spring, with the intention of using a large portion of our yard space for gardening.  We want to give a portion of future vegetables away to local food shelves–so that food shelf patrons can have fresh veggies in their diets as well. 

Yesterday, I was pondering which vegetables to grow in our future-garden while Amy and I were shopping at the local grocery store (Rainbow Foods).  I was struck by the difference between growing food and shopping for food.  The way we engage in securing food in gardens is very different than the way we engage of securing food from grocery stores.  At grocery stores, we have high expectations for nearly-perfect food, on demand, without waiting, in the shape, size color and price we want.  If the tomatoes aren’t perfectly round and shiny-red or if our favorite cereal is out of stock or if we have to wait in line for too long, we get upset.  In other words, when our sovereign consumer will is thwarted, we get indignant. 

Not so with a garden.  Gardening requires care and discipline.  The act of growing the food is for many people more significant than eating it.  Mishapen vegetables are loved along with symmetrical vegetables.  We take the time to care for our gardens–longing one day to literally enjoy the fruit of our labors.

Gardengnomepipe9rI think grocery stores and gardens can be used as allegories for two different approaches to doing church. Grocery stores are for consumers who want to eat uniform goods.  Gardens are for gardeners who want to eat the fruits of their labor.  Grocery store-churches are for people who want to be fed religious goods delivered at low cost.  Garden-churches are for people who participate in the act of growing what it is they will feed upon. 

Being "fed" in a grocery store church is a passive activity.  Being "fed" in a garden church is an active one.  In a grocery store church, attendence of events and reception of religious goods and services are central.  In a garden church, discipleship and participation–a call to ministry–is central. 

Obviously, not every church can be put in one of these categories. However, I hope they are illustrative to the distinctions between churches which produce passive consumers and those that produce disciples.

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5 Responses to “Is your church a grocery store or a garden?”

  1. Chris on October 4th, 2005 10:07 pm

    I think you make a good point, but what about the Farmer’s Market churches? These are the churches where people don’t want a garden, but they want to participate in the fruits of someone’s labor. They want the feeling that they have grown the fruit or vegetables they are eating.

  2. Van S on October 4th, 2005 11:10 pm

    Excellent point, Chris!

  3. Jennifer DeGlopper on October 5th, 2005 9:21 am

    I hope you don’t mind me commenting on your blog…
    I think today to many churches are grocery churches. People come to get their weekly fill and are not involved beyond that.
    Thats what we want to move away from here in the big MI…

  4. Michael Rew on October 5th, 2005 11:27 am

    Then there are “Food Bank” churches, which give away unwanted and out-of-date goods to the poor, to whom grocery store churches do not cater.

  5. Mike on October 7th, 2005 3:23 pm

    Good point.
    It must be remembered the grocery store is for a society that is moved away from it?s food source. As a society and church we have moved away from the source. When your forced to work the land, patience care and understanding result. The key is getting back to the source

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