In my first blog in this series I introduced the idea that Permaculture farming offers us a helpful metaphor when thinking about Christian mission. One of the guiding principles of Permaculture is to plant the things that require the most tending closer to your home and the things that require the least tending further from your home. What if we began to engage the mission of God in the world with this same framework, beginning right here in our own homes? In this blog, I want to talk about Zone 0. In Permaculture farming Zone 0 is the home and the people living within it.
There's a number of things that can go wrong when Christians, zealous to do something great for God, ignore Zone 0. We forget to tend to our own hearts and end up burning out. We fail to discern our unique design and contribution, choosing rather to squeeze ourselves into someone else's mold, harming ourselves and those we try to squeeze into the same mold. We pursue "success" and recognition to validate our hard work and often neglect the relationships that we say are the most important to us. We fail to cultivate the deep intimacy with Jesus that we are made for and our hearts long for.
The impact of skipping over Zone 0 can be literally devastating!
We're all familiar with the tragic story of the pastor or missionary caught in moral failure. Sometimes its a "celebrity" pastor. Other times its a missionary our church supports. Maybe it was even your own youth worker. There's often a common thread in these instances: a lack of soul care and accountability.
Over the years I've spoken with a number of children of missionaries (MK's) whose childhood is scarred by horrific abuses while attending boarding school. There are many reasons why some parents (my own included) have made the agonizing decision to send their kids away for school. Sadly, the most common answer I've heard is something on these lines: We believed that the mission of sharing the gospel with [...] was the most important and urgent thing we could do, and we were willing to make any sacrifice in order to do it. I wonder what impact a different paradigm for mission may have had for these families?
Author Tim Soerens (The New Parish) is fond of talking about the "Cult of Technique". This is the tendency of people to look for silver bullet techniques that get the results they want fast. In the Christian world, we look to leaders who've had success (and written a book about it). We then try to copy their model in our own church or ministry. Sometimes it works. More often than not, it leaves us disappointed, disillusioned, wondering what we did wrong, and looking for the next quick fix. The people who carry the brunt of this mistake are the ones we tried to force a new methodology on, never taking the time to pay attention to them, their specific needs, or the context in which they live and work.
Since I assume we all want to avoid these painful consequences, what are some things we can do to tend to Zone 0?
1. Make a commitment to self care and take steps toward practicing it!
There are many ways to take care of your own heart. The first step might be to start exploring what things actually fill your heart. Explore some personality constructs like the Meyers-Briggs typology or Strengthsfinder. Experiment with different types of praying. Not everyone connects with God in the same way. A former colleague of ours, Myra Perrine, wrote a book called God Languages where she explores 9 different spiritual temperaments and helps people identify and practice the primary ways they connect with God. This could be a good place to start. Another big thing you can do: give yourself permission to be a finite human being. We aren't created to do and have everything our minds can think of. Begin practicing the discipline of sabbath and honor your limits by saying "No".
2. Explore the unique design and contribution God has made you for!
Most people need some help with this one. Its not easy to identify the gifts God has given you without others to point them out, encourage them and cheer you on. In Ephesians 4 we learn about some archetypal ways God has equipped the Church, typically called the 5-Fold Ministry. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start. One of our favorite ways to help people grow in this area is through our Life Compass process. In Life Compass we investigate our stories, gifts, personalities, values and articulate a vision for the future. Together, these pieces form a "compass" that help guide us in making the greatest impact in God's kingdom that we can. Rather than try to copy someone else's technique, we begin from a place of healthy self-awareness and calling. A coach or mentor can be a hugely helpful person to have along for the journey of discovering and articulating your unique contribution. Whether you have a coach or not, this journey cannot be taken without others!
3. What's good for the family is good for the Kingdom.
Several years ago I heard this quote from the folks at the Boiler Room in Kansas City. I really resonate with this maxim. It is so easy to believe the lie that our family is an obstacle to following God's call. But what if its just the opposite? What if the best thing we could do for the Kingdom is to start right here in our own homes? There's an ancient Hebrew prayer found in Deuteronomy 6 called the "Shema" which articulates the bedrock of all Jewish faith and practice.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall
write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
The bedrock of Jewish faith begins in the home with this missionary proclamation to love and respond to the LORD of all. When Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 what is the greatest commandment, he quoted this passage and added that the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). In doing so, he affirmed that God's mission to restore, renew and reconcile all things begins at home.
4. Above all, pursue Jesus!
When Jesus visited his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus in the town of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42) He surprises us with what is at the heart of his movement. Martha was busy making preparations. Mary was sitting at his feet learning along with the disciples. Martha got upset because Mary should be helping with the work, and as a woman should not have been sitting at Jesus' feet. What Jesus said to Martha is remarkable. "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her."
What the permaculture metaphor teaches us is that mission starts here in our own hearts and in our homes, with those of us who live together within it. This is Zone 0. Its the first place we tend before we head out onto the farm to tend the ground. Before we head out our doors to tend to and listen for the work of God in our world, we listen for and tend to the work of God in us. We are God's first "mission field" where He invites us to respond in obedience to his work of love, renewal, reconciliation and salvation within our own hearts and in our most intimate of relationships.
In what ways is God inviting you to tend to your Zone 0?