This week, I realized a childhood goal by successfully germinating a seedling from an apple. I used to loves apples as a kid; so, I tried all sorts of completely unsuccessful, haphazard ways of producing more apples from those I happily consumed at virtually every turn. Nothing worked–not even freezing the seeds for a couple weeks to simulate their passage through winter. (I was really banking on that one, too.) Eventually, I put the matter aside, figuring I just wasn’t meant to cultivate apple trees. Yet.
Fast forward to a few months ago when I learned how to germinate cucumbers and cantaloupe from my buddy, David Bareford, by drying out their seeds, then stuffing them in the fingers of a vinyl kitchen service glove with a damp wad of cotton. Something about that process suggested a solution for the failed apple growing attempts of my youth. (I rarely take things completely off the range of my life; I just have an incredibly spacious back burner.) I checked around for articles online and found the method for acquiring apple seed growth is almost identical to everything else, except that you must refrigerate the seeds while germinating them in that damp wad of cotton or bit of cloth or something. Bam! I now have about half a dozen properly germinated apple seeds and precisely one precious, viable seedling. I am calling him el guapo because he is so handsomely eager to grow into my first apple tree–you read it here first.
In a lot of ways, my experience with Jewish-Christian ministry is like this. Although I was acutely aware of my Jewish heritage growing up, although I was surrounded by a robust, missionally engaged, Christ-centered community virtually free from the sorts of anti-Judaic tendencies plaguing many ostensibly healthy Christian congregations across the world, my experience with forms of ministry attempting to bridge that Jewish-Christian divide never quite cleared the germination stage. Don’t get me wrong; there were all sorts of great experiences. They just never seemed to coalesce into a healthy, nuanced, transferable, scalable pattern for growth and life in Jesus for me as a self-identifying Jewish follower of the self-identifying Jewish Messiah.
There are a lot of ways to solve problems, and the final resort to which I used to turn during my studies of applied mathematics was “brute force.” If you’re totally lost on how to solve a given problem, exhaust all of your available options until one of them sticks a bit better than the others. Adapt your approach accordingly, and loop the whole process over and over until you have achieved success or can conclusively show with mathematical certainty that there truly is no solution for the problem at hand.
There’s another parallel with my experience of apples and Jewish-Christian ministry. Every time I learned yet another way to not grow apples, yet another way to quash effective Jewish-Christian ministry rather than successfully cultivate it through my efforts, I did happen to gain just a little bit more information about more promising paths to explore. That body of apparent failure, if dealt with in an optimistic, non-fatalistic way can function as a battery of resource when some potentially game-changing event or bit of information drifts your way. That’s the thing about catalysts; they don’t magically act in a vacuum. They create change for some other group of substances within a preexisting set of conditions.
The last couple years have been marked by a pretty substantial body of misses for me when it comes to Jewish-Christian ministry–the loss of extremely valuable relationships, the lack of a certain sense of belonging, the encroaching effect of multiple other responsibilities demanding my time, my own felt need for ever more equipping and research and networking and guidance and straight up chutzpah… But these past few years have also been visited by several key, catalytic events, and I have been blessed by God’s grace to have been able to respond alongside a precious few, fellow travelers without blowing the whole shebang.
As a result, I’m elated to say that I have been able to help cultivate the very beginnings of an approach to Jewish-Christian ministry alongside some amazing men and women that promises to accomplish some things none of us have ever witnessed in our lives. Like my little seedling, el guapo, it really is a bit presumptuous to claim bushels of fruit when the thing at hand seems barely larger than a thimble. But there’s life in that thing, the conditions are well prepared for its roots, and my compatriots and I have learned how to help it grow in a positive sense even through all of the missed opportunities and false starts that I and they have encountered in the past.
In subsequent posts of this category, I’ll delve into greater detail about the biology of this approach, and I’ll more carefully define a lot of the terms I have thrown around somewhat casually above. For the time being, my pastoral self is just as flippin’ excited at what God has in store as my inner, six year old child also happens to be about cracking the code on acquiring trees from apples. Facilitating as of yet unheard of growth in Jewish-Christian outreach, discipleship, community building, education, celebration, theological equipping, and (dare I say) winsome transformation of the church at large–should God will it–by germinating The 2:16 Ministries Network? You read it here first.