The Tale of the Walnut Farmer

by | Jul 19, 2011 | Church Leadership, Church Planting, Outreach and Evangelism

A church planter may be likened to a walnut farmer.  At harvest time, he backs a tractor up to the tree, and with an attachment fixed to the rear of his tractor he shakes the tree. Nuts fall off, and he retrieves them.  He removes the outer husk, washes the nuts, and then either eats or sells them.  A week later he will return and repeat the process.  Again, he will retrieve walnuts.  But this time there will be fewer on the ground.

He may do this for several consecutive weeks, but each week the harvest will diminish until no amount of shaking will loosen the few remaining nuts.  If he wants those residual nuts he will have to climb up the tree and pull the nuts off by hand – one at a time.  Several simple truths emerge from this scenario that relate to church planting.

  1. The farmer that shakes the tree first (or hardest) will get most of the nuts.
  2. Not all trees have nuts on them.  A diseased or under-watered tree may not produce that year.
  3. If the tree has been effectively shaken before you got there, you will have to settle for fewer nuts.
  4. If other farmers are harvesting from the same tree, the one with the biggest tractor will probably collect the most nuts.
  5. The quality of the crop will always be impacted by growing conditions.  Soil temperature, ph levels, fertilizer, number of sunlight hours, and rainfall will play critical roles in harvest quality and volume.
  6. There will be four kinds of farmers in the community: enemies, adversaries, competitors, and partners.
  7. There might be a several year period after the tree is planted before any nuts can be harvested.
  8. Before climbing a tree to hand pick the few that remain after mechanical harvesting, the farmer has to calculate if the effort and expense will be worth it.  Would you spend four dollars to harvest two dollars worth of nuts?
  9. A wise farmer knows when to move to the next tree.
  10. An even wiser farmer knows when to move to a new walnut orchard.

In 21st century America, even though the average person remains un-churched, it is true that the universe of people available to participate in a new church is finite.  Most growing communities are awash in church plants.

In the community in which I live there are 25,000 people.  In addition to numerous established churches (32) there are more than twenty church plants.  It seems every suitable space has a new church in it.  Every imaginable post-modern ministry paradigm is being tried.  I don’t know if there ever was a “golden age” of Christianity in America.  If there was, it has surely passed. Noting that… how will we rise to this moment in time into which the Father has placed us?

If you are planting a church right now, there are certainly nuts that will fall with a shake of the tree.  In the fourteen years we have been doing mass marketing campaigns (www.tellstart.com) for new churches the dynamics have changed considerably.  We must all face simple truth number 11.  Farming is hard work.  Do you remember the old Smith-Barney (are they even still in business?) commercial?  “We make money the old fashioned way – we earn it!”  So, whether you are you a shaker or a climber work hard my friend, remembering that the only place success precedes work is in the dictionary.

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Phil Spry

Phil graduated from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, where his major was evangelism. He and his wife, Toni have planted eight new churches. Collective morning attendance is about 7,000 people. Today the Sprys make their home in eastern North Carolina where Phil pastors a another new church. Read More About Phil Spry At His Author Page