While living in Phoenix, one of the things that has intrigued me the most is the way in which you grow a tree or a flower garden. How do you grow large trees or flourishing flower gardens when living in the desert? I don’t have much of a green thumb, but even a guy missing green fingers knows you need water to grow plants!

Target the root…

If you want to grow big, flourishing plants in Phoenix, you need a drip system. A drip system is a method of watering plants that uses drip irrigation that trickles down to the base of each individual plant. It is an effective way of targeting the root system while not wasting excess water. Many will turn on their drip system for a couple hours every other day. Drip, drip, drip, and so on for days, weeks, months, and years. The drip system allows you to target the most important part of the plant, the “root zone,” which allows for the roots to grow deep into the hard, dry soil. Otherwise, the plant’s root system will stay shallow on the ground’s hard surface causing it to be unstable. The product of what a little bit of water trickling over a long period of time, strategically targeted on most important part of the plant, can result in a large tree that  grows so tall that one can climb!

Our strategy for making disciples in downtown Phoenix is much like the drip system. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Phoenix consists of post-modern, post-Christian, individuals who share a great distrust for institutions and are skeptical of anyone who claims to know the truth. Many have “tried church” as a kid or young adult, but because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. There are many who consider themselves spiritual, believing in some kind of god, but have never heard how they can have an intimate relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. There are many who simply feel as though they do not need God and go about their lives in search of success, and yet are left feeling empty, wondering if there is more to life. And there are many who are marginalized, homeless, ostracized- longing to be connected, cared for, and loved.   

Be a disciple-making drip system…

We believe that if we are going to reach our diverse communities in downtown Phoenix, we must “be” a follower of Christ, with distinction, in our communities. It takes ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living missionally with gospel intentionality. Our “doing” for the community must come out of our “being”. 

Let’s look at Matthew 5 again. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”  We light up a city not because we come up with great strategies of building bigger lanterns that attract and invite for others to come and see. For those who are in Jesus (the Light), we are light, and by virtue of who we “are”, we light up the streets, homes, workplaces, coffee shops, gyms, grocery stores, etc., when we simply live, love, and serve the community with distinction. That distinction is the gospel. And just as a drip system, if we consistently, persistently, and intentionality drip with authentic faith in our community, over time it will lead to real transformation. 

Our intentionality is expressed through developing authentic relationships with people in our community, caring, and serving as a part of their community, which means, we must listen and learn how we can enter into it and belong to it. You might live in a community, but do you “belong” to it? In this post-Christian culture in which we live, many distrust anything that sniffs institutional, because it is perceived as untrustworthy. The uniqueness of the drip system is that it conserves water because of its target like focus on the specific roots and allows for a low rate of flow. 

As a church planting team, we have to ask ourselves how we are dripping in the community. Are we coming up with ideas of how to bring people of our community into our new biblical community? Are we also entering into their community, and being a part of it, serving alongside of it, partnering with it, belonging to it? As believers, we must demonstrate relational care which necessitates a steady drip of investment in relationships, and we must target the hearts of those in our community with careful, articulate application of the Word of God.

Drip-systems are amazing in that even though the ground is hard and dry, below the surface there is a steady drip of life on life targeting the root. Over time, the root reaches deep into the ground and launches itself into a beautiful tree that stands strong against the harsh elements that comes its way. It might seem discouraging to not see immediate fruit when others are using the latest, biggest, and best hose in their garden, but over time, it will grow and flourish into a beautiful garden with roots that run deep.  

To sustain our efforts and energy for long-term growth, we must not think in terms of doing, but doing that flows from our being in the communities we live, work, and play. If we focus on doing for the sake of doing – in the form of events, programs, and attractional venues – as our main conduit to the community, we will face disconnectedness with our community and ultimately lead to inevitable burn out of those who you enlist. As a city on a hill, we must advance the gospel in both word and deed, as a light of unique distinction. Please pray that we might be a disciple making drip system, that targets the hearts of every individual in our community, and whose roots grow deep overtime to produce a rich, flourishing garden in the city of Phoenix.

Anthony Cox is a Church Planter/Elder of Mercy Hill Church in downtown Phoenix, AZ.