Postscript: Compost

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

It was truly a joy to be with you at the Nebraska Synod Assembly. Your pastors and lay leaders were gracious and welcoming. Dakota Road was as inspiring and relevant as ever. You sent your bishop off with a big bang. You elected your next bishop, Scott. I came home with a new musical instrument (always a cool thing). Your singing of Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam will go down in history as perhaps the cutest and campiest pop-up song in assembly history. Your new bishop (whom I know from Twitter as “Go Big Rev”) will have the full support of his colleagues in Region 4. I look forward to working with him and continuing our warm Nebraska-Texas connection.

I don’t want to brag, but I took what might arguably be the most close-up shot of Bishop Maas at the assembly:











Together we considered the analogy of the garden when thinking about replanting our congregations for a new season of ministry and a fall harvest. We looked at:

  1. Praying
  2. Planting
  3. Watering
  4. Feeding
  5. Weeding



This is what sets us apart. The church prays. When all things are done listening for the movement of the Spirit, we act with divine purpose. We imagined praying weekly in worship for the guidance of the Spirit as we vision and plan the next steps. Tent cards for kitchen tables, so families can pray together. God, where are you calling us to go? To grow? Learning to pray again is more than a summer my sermon series. It is a way of life.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:29-31



The vast majority of people come to church because they were invited by a friend. Most people say the reason they look for a church is to make friends. 80% say yes when invited by a friend. We discussed a culture of invitation. We also imagined the many, many ways to attract a crowd. Here are just some:



Really, attracting a crowd is not the problem. That’s easy. People are spiritually hungry. They are looking for friends. The challenge is welcoming them and growing them. We talked about the warm welcome and the follow up call. Often people who visit churches are in crisis or at a crossroads. We thought together about how vulnerable many folks are. Are we ready to listen for what is stirring in their lives? This kind of ministry does not happen in the majority of churches in the U.S. when someone visits. When it does, it’s like water for a thirsty soul. Getting them to come the first time is not such a challenge. Inviting them back a second time is where the rubber hits the road.



When people receive that kind of welcome, they return, but then what? Some of the seeds fall on rocky soil, and because they don’t have depths of roots, they wither and die as soon as the sun comes out. Newcomers join bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, until all of a sudden, a little conflict crops up. If they don’t have roots, they’ll get scorched. Bible studies grow people deeper spiritually and connect them in life-giving friendships that will withstand the inevitable storms. If people don’t get connected to a choir, a service group, a Bible study, or some kind of ‘life group’ within a few months they will eventually fall away. On the other hand, those that do get connected and grow often become leaders.

A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed some fell on a path

and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up.

Some fell on rock, and as it grew up it withered for lack of moisture.

 Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it.

Some fell into good soil, and when it grew it produced a hundredfold.

Luke 8:5-8



This was the hardest part of our time together. Some seed falls among the thorns. In every human community there is conflict. How that conflict is managed is critical. If bullies are allowed to run loose in the garden, they will tear it up. Leaders are the immunity system of the organization. Healthy leaders establish healthy values about the way we talk to one another, treat one another, and transform conflict. Conflicts can help us grow and become stronger than we were before if we don’t chew one another up in the meantime. We don’t usually evict people; we establish strong values around behavior and reinforce them in crucial conversations. When that happens, bullies, who thrive upon weakness, don’t tend to stick around. The church then becomes a much more enjoyable and safer place to be for everyone.

We discussed a few other things in planting our garden, but that’s a good enough summary for now. The fact is, barring disasters, if you plant flowers, you will have beautiful flowers. If you plant vegetables, you will reap vegetables.



Some alert Nebraskan brought up to me the idea of compost. I thought about that quite a bit on the way home. My dad was a master composter. He would take his coffee grounds, banana peels, and other refuse and toss it in a pile all year. In the dead of winter, you could dig through the snow and feel the warmth and energy as the nutrients baked together. That rich compost made his garden grow.

God takes the refuse of our lives and uses it to fertilize the garden. All our brokenness, our conflict, our pain and suffering is transformed into something beautiful. My friend who was abused as a child became a counselor who has since helped countless victims of abuse find healing and hope. A congregation that struggled over a social issue now has a clearer sense of identity and purpose. God transforms our hurt into hope and healing in ways I’ll never fully understand. Whatever you’ve been through, no matter how bad it’s been, God is not done with you yet.

According to Jesus, most of the seed doesn’t make it due to birds, rocky soil, sun, or thorns. Some of the seed, however, falls on good soil. When it does it yields a great harvest, ten, fifty, one hundredfold. Let those with ears hear. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray the Lord of the harvest will send workers out into the vineyard.

Thank you for the invitation to be with you.

Bishop Mike