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Everything I know about church planting I learned from my father.

When my father emigrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, he brought with him a strong work ethic and a love for plants. Growing up in Miami, I can recall having a vast array of fruit trees in our backyard. But of all the fruit trees that my father has grown over the years, one tree in particular was special—so special that it received media attention.  

In 1990, Sábado Gigante, the most popular Latino variety show on television, came to our home to conduct a special interview with my dad and his famous tree. What made this particular tree so famous was that it had eight different fruits growing from it. That’s right—one tree with eight different citrus fruits!

When the host of the show, Don Francisco, asked my dad for his secret, my dad explained that success required a healthy tree and a proper understanding of the grafting process. Grafting is the art of fusing a living branch (or “scion”) of one plant to another plant (the “stock” or “host”).

It’s now been almost 18 years since the interview and 16 years since Hurricane Andrew wiped out the most popular tree in our back yard, but my father’s tree still has much to teach me about life as a church planter.

Jesus says in John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” He gives us a picture of God the Father as the gardener, God the Son as the vine, and the Christian community as the branches. In the same way that my dad chose the healthiest citrus tree in our yard to successfully achieve his goal, our Father in heaven sent Jesus Christ to be the true vine through which salvation would come to God’s people. I have no other purpose as a church planter and as a Christian than to point out the deficiencies of every counterfeit vine this world offers, and to point people in the direction of the true vine.

We are called to encourage those already grafted into Christ to remain in him. And to those who are not, we are compelled to proclaim, “Be fused to him.”

I love the way the Christian Reformed Church describes its church planting initiatives with the motto: “Deep Roots, New Branches.” As we heed this call, we soon discover that God loves variety. But because we’ve grown so used to seeing the same color of fruit hanging from our branches, I fear we’ve unwittingly closed ourselves off to the blessing of what a little grafting can bring to our congregations.

Our heavenly Father still has a lot of work to do in us, but as we move forward to revitalize existing congregations and plant new churches, may you come to the same conclusion that God’s grace has been revealing to me: Everything I know about church planting I learned from my Father . . . in heaven.

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