Every once in a while it is good to pause and look back on life and wonder how you got to where you are now. For me, if you would have asked me ten years ago where I would be and what I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have told you that I would be an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. However, I can tell you now that God used the past ten years, and my years on the Farm especially, to prepare me for full time ministry. Here are seven things the Farm taught me about God himself and life in general that prepared me to both be a pastor and to pastor God’s people.
First, God actually works in creation. Or another way to say it would be “This is my Father’s world.” As a farmer, you can’t help but wonder how a seed not much bigger than a grain of sand somehow transforms into an edible vegetable, whether it be a head of broccoli or a Vidalia Sweet Onion, in just a few weeks or months. In fact, it’s a miracle akin to a baby being formed in its mother’s womb. It’s just amazing. It seems impossible. In it, creation screams that God is real, and that He is working. This same truth has surfaced in the ministry of the Church—as people sit under the preached word, as they grow in the knowledge of who God is and as their affections for the Lord Jesus grow sweeter and sweeter, they are resurrected from death to life, from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, from living vain and futile lives to living for the glory of The Savior. As the seed of the Word is scattered among many, some grow up and produce fruit manyfold (Matt. 13:1-9). It’s amazing. It seems impossible. Seeing it screams that God is real, and that He is working.
Second, the Farm taught me what hard work actually is. Those few years I worked on the farm part time, then full time, then part time again taught me that work is hard. Working during harvest until the wee hours of the morning or all the way through the night to get that load of onions out or to get onions in. Icing broccoli in frigid weather. Priming irrigation pumps. Fixing pivot tires in 100 degree, 100 percent humidity, South Georgia weather. All the many hundreds of different hard and not so fun things on the farm taught me what hard work actually is, and that work is sometimes very hard and very frustrating. But also rewarding. To see the crop make, or the customer happy, or the check in the mail was truly satisfying. The same goes for ministry. Some days are very hard. Some conversations are very hard. Some things are not fun. But I enjoy it even when it’s hard. Because it’s what the Lord has called me to do. Even after the hard days and the hard conversations, hard work is still truly satisfying.
Third, farming taught me hard work doesn’t guarantee success. You can throw every last penny you have into a crop and it still might not make. There are hurricanes. There are snow storms. There are hard freezes. There are hail storms. There’s too much rain. There’s not enough rain. There are bugs. There’s bacteria. There are fungi. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, the desired out-come may not come out. My grandfather modeled this truth well—he worked his whole life really hard, yet at the end, wasn’t a millionaire and wasn’t able to leave his kids all that much. Yet, he taught all of us that hard work is still worth it, even if it doesn’t yield that much money. He taught us how to work hard, which will go a lot further than any monetary inheritance ever could. The same goes for ministry. We can throw ourselves into the work of ministry—every last part of us—but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The Spirit has to work to change people. That’s a humbling lesson to learn, and it’s one the farm taught me. But it’s still worth it.
Fourth, and similar to the third, the Farm taught me just how little control I have over my external circumstances. There are a lot of things that can be controlled in farming. We have irrigation systems now. We have helpful products that get rid of the bad bugs, bacteria, and fungi. We can maintain the nutrients in our soil with fertilizer, and not deplete it. We have tractors. We have other machinery that makes our jobs more efficient and easier. God, in his common grace, has blessed the farming industry the last 100 years with good products and good machinery so that we really can feed the world (!). However, it only takes one hurricane, one windstorm, one hard freeze, one hail storm, one excessively rainy season, or a season when everyone makes a good crop so that the markets are flooded and the crop can hardly be given away. Any of these things could happen and all that input could yield zero, or even worse, loss. It’s happened more than once. I would venture to say that no other profession has less control of its yield and business plan than farming. There’s just so much that’s out of the hands of the farmer. He must rely on God to ‘give him his daily bread.’ Again, the same applies to ministry. I can’t make the people do anything. What I can—and must—do, though, is be faithful with what I can do and trust God to work as He pleases, according to “the most wise and holy counsel of His will” (WCF 3.1).
Fifth, and again related to the last one, farming taught me to trust God. Since so many things are out of the farmer’s control, he is daily faced with the fact that he can’t control everything (hardly anything, really), and therefore look to God to sustain him and take care of him. Farming cultivates trust in God. And that was a hard one to learn for me. It was hard to realize that I’m not the god of the universe. Far from it. And it was even harder to place trust for food on the table tomorrow in the hands of the Lord. But, it was a necessary lesson to learn, and one I employ daily in my ministry.
Sixth, knowing that I can’t control everything and that I must trust God, farming taught me the importance of prayer. Praying for the crop as I was planting the seeds. Praying for it as I walked through it while scouting. Praying for it when I drove by one of our fields. “Lord, make the crop, and give us a market to sell it.” “Provide the resources to make the crop in the first place.” “Help us harvest the crop that You have made.” If a farmer doesn’t pray much, it’s not because there aren’t that many opportunities. The same goes for ministry. Knowing that God feeds, preserves, saves, and cares for his people and that I cannot gives me lots of opportunities to pray. His people need Him. I need him.
Lastly, and probably the hardest lesson to learn, was the fact that the farm taught me how to appropriately give my whole self to my work. To not just have a job, but to be passionate about my job such that the work becomes a part of who I am. Each crop and each season was like a child—it needed to be cared for delicately. The life of the farm was on the line. There would be real, tangible consequences for mishaps and mistakes. If it was abused, there would be consequences later on. If it was neglected, there would be direct consequences later on. Therefore, it was necessary to throw yourself into the work. The work became a part of who I was. Now, this can be problematic if taken too far…neglect of family, neglect of the Lord, or developing a Savior complex—“I can save this thing”, or neglect of all kinds of other responsibilities, will arise if this kind of throwing of oneself is not kept in check. However, God created man to work. Working was one of the things man was created to do—to glorify God through good, hard work. I experienced that on the farm—it became part of who I was. I was a farmer. And the same goes for ministry—I think in order for a man to minister well to his people, his work has to become a part of who he is. He has to be invested. It’s not just a job and a paycheck. It’s more than that. It’s part of who I am. The farm taught me that.
Praise be to God whose providence, especially those years and days on the farm, shaped me into who and what I am now. There is much growing left, and much left to learn, but this season of life grew me and learned me a lot.