Working the Land and Living the Gospel

How do you suggest to a group of preachers that they shouldn’t be preachers?

And who better to pull it off than the farmer seminarian from Central who doesn’t want to be a pastor?

As I prepare to preach at the Academy of Young Preachers National Conference, I am starting to realize this perspective might make me a bit of an outsider. Thankfully, after attending Central for almost a year now, I think some of the few people who would understand this unconventional sermon are my professors and classmates.

The preaching festival’s provided topic? Jesus: Rabbi, Radical, Redeemer, Risen Lord. On both an episodic and a metanarrative scale, Jesus consistently starts with actions outside the expectations of his society, causing people, often religious outsiders, to gather and ask questions like “How can we be saved?” Then, Jesus preaches the good news – the kingdom of Heaven (or God, depending upon the account) is upon us.

Quite by accident, this has become the pattern of my life. About a year ago, during a two year struggle at the awkward intersection between conservative Southern Baptist theology and wherever the heck I have landed, I was driving a tractor in a field while reading an NT Wright theology book. In the middle of a row, I looked at the field and realized that I was not good news to the world around me. It was as if the soil looked up at me and asked me “How can I be healed?”

This question caused me to radically change my farming practices. In a polluted sea of conventional farming, my farm has become an emerald island of hope. My neighbors’ farms are brown right now, while mine are still capturing sunlight and storing carbon in the soil. The Rodale Institute has stated that if every acre in the United States did this, not only would farmers make more money, but the CO2 emissions from the entire transportation industry would be taken out of the atmosphere and sunk into the soil![1] Good news indeed!

But this isn’t even the best news. About once a week, a vehicle drives up the gravel driveway to my farm. After the normal introductions, they get to the real point of their visit: they want to know what in the world we are doing. My answer? I explain the science. I explain how I am replacing chemistry with biology. I explain how we are trying to heal and restore the soil and the earth. I explain how in the process, both my grandfather and I are being healed as well.

Before they leave, almost everybody has asked “Why are you doing this?” So, I smile and respond, “Because Jesus is the King of this farm.” I might just as well say, “Because the Kingdom of Heaven is upon us.”

This has been shocking. In the 15 years I have been in formal ministry, I have never had a person (not in church) ask me about the Good News. Since I have quit being a pastor and started living as if Jesus were the King of a farm, I preach the Gospel regularly, and always because I have been asked. No hijacking conversations. No guilt trips for random strangers. Simply the story of broken farmers on a broken farm in a broken system being healed.

Sure we need professional preachers and teachers, but even more we need image bearers – genuinely human men and women who embrace their God-given vocations and bring God’s healing rule to a broken world. That can be done from a pulpit, but sometimes it is done more effectively in a garden.

Maybe, some of these preachers will become teachers, nurses, bakers, engineers, and farmers and bring the Word became flesh into the broken systems of the world. Maybe, some of these preachers will learn to breathe vocation into the lives of their parishioners.

Hopefully, the world will have a few less preachers, and a few more image bearers. Then, the “Kingdom of God” will be very near indeed.

 

Joshua Payne
Central M.Div. Student

[1] Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change. http://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerative-organic-agriculture-and-climate-change/