New Expressions of Ancient Practices

Posted on December 21, 2023 by Jon Trotter

A new expression of mission combines old spiritual practices with the fresh beauty and breath of the Holy Spirit.

By Seth Crissman

This fall, there was a week when I had a long conversation in which my optometrist helped me and I helped out a friend with a stovetop skillet. Seem unrelated? Let me explain.

Back in August, I needed to order some new contacts, so I called and made an appointment. During my contact exam, I told the doctor what brand I used so I could order enough for the next few years. She kindly explained to me that the contacts that I was using were already obsolete when she was in medical school, and that was 10 years ago.

As someone who is oddly loyal to strange things like contact and dish soap brands, I explained to her that I had always used that brand of contacts and they worked great for me. Why should I change now? She explained to me that I was lucky they didn’t damage my eyes and that she could not, in good conscience, prescribe that specific contact for me to use: they were made of far inferior material. I reluctantly relented and tried what she recommended. I could tell immediately they were much, much better than my old ones.

Later that week, we were visiting friends. I was cooking lunch and needed a big skillet. They only had a small one because both of their brand new, large non-stick skillets had their coating scorched and ruined by their beautiful new stove. This time I knew the solution: switch to cast iron. I knew from experience and explained why any old well-seasoned cast iron skillet would do.

I think that part of why The Soil and The Seed Project has been successful and connected deeply and broadly, is because it both reaches back (like the skillet) by incorporating spiritual practices as old as the church, and does so through music, art and little liturgies that are new and fresh and exciting—catching the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit (like the contacts). Forming faith in Jesus Christ through prayer, art, music, scripture and spiritual practices is as old as the church itself, but everything about the project feels new and beautiful. My favorite new expressions of the church hold both together.

I remember the first time I saw a kid on a balance bike. They must have been 3 or 4 years old. They were wearing a helmet and absolutely flying around the parking lot, but there were no pedals on the bike, let alone any training wheels. My whole life, I thought the best way to teach a child how to ride a bike was using training wheels: it’s what everyone did. And yet, here I was encountering something new, something quite different than what I thought was the best way to learn. And frankly, it looked more natural and way more fun.

If we are going to dream with God so that we can follow the Holy Spirit’s leading and join in God’s work in the world, we need to approach life and the world around us with open hands, ready to learn from God and others in ordinary moments (and not just when we’re sitting in a church pew or a Sunday school class). We enter into the life of Christian discipleship as learners first, called to follow Jesus. If we can maintain an ongoing posture of learning, it can help us to let go of some preconceived ideas about what the best way to be “sent” and joining in God’s work in the world looks like. We can then follow Jesus and join in God’s work in the world in new and beautiful ways.

We’ve learned that listening to God and to others has been really important and has consistently sparked our imagination for this work. We’ve worked to discern what is best (Phil. 1:10) in conversation with God, church leaders, parents/caregivers, neighbors and children. When what is best comes into focus, we move. Listening to God and others helps orient how we understand our work and sparks our imagination.
VMMissions has been a perfect incubator for our work. Their commitment to provide flexible support for outside the box ideas like The Soil and The Seed Project is a gift to the church and an example of faithfulness. I could not be more grateful. New ministries like ours are a ton of work and impossible without a team of people working together with a massive community of partners (individuals and churches) who want to join in what God is doing.

I think that part of why The Soil and The Seed Project has been successful is because it both reaches back by incorporating spiritual practices as old as the church, and does so in ways that are new and fresh and exciting.

Because of the individuals, families and congregations that have partnered with us, we have been able to give away 10,000+ copies of the project to folks in 20+ different denominations across 30+ states. The music from the project has been downloaded or streamed by people on six continents in more than 90 countries. God has done more than we could have imagined.

Musical contributors to The Soil and The Seed Project perform at a concert fundraiser on October 14, 2022, at Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Seth Crissman

Rapid growth has required us to work hard, plan diligently and pray imaginatively. I spent 6 weeks in early 2023 writing a grant proposal to increase our capacity to do this work through additional funding. VMMissions supportively and generously submitted the proposal on behalf of The Soil and The Seed Project. In June we found out the endowment chose less than 20% of the 400 organizations/ministries that applied, and we had been chosen! God provided, and it is a game changer.

A lot of folks have asked me if the grant covers all of the funding needs for the project. The answer is no. The grant doesn’t replace any of our previous need for support from financial partners. We will need to fundraise about the same amount as we have each of the last two years (about $100,000 every year) to be able to do this work. The grant’s funding will, however, enable us to create new opportunities to gather people together as individuals, church leaders, parents, caregivers, and communities. We will continue doing what we’ve always done: nurture and cultivate faith in Jesus as together we turn towards Jesus and believe the good news. We’re excited, because this is God’s work.


Seth Crissman is Project Director for The Soil and The Seed Project, based in the Shenandoah Valley. He is married to Theresa Peachey Crissman, and they have four children. To support the Project and the Crissmans, visit: thesoilandtheseedproject.org/support

Filed in: All posts, Transforming

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