Wendell Berry says that there are things about being a farmer which can only be known by farming: living on the land over time, tending to it in season and out of season, watching how the wind sweeps across it, observing how water flows over it, seeing the tracks of animals that call it home, and listening to the wisdom of those who have given their lives to land. Like all the important realities of life, one becomes a farmer by keeping company with other farmers and by doing the hard work of farming even before one knows fully why or how to do it. Berry wrote:
My grandson, who is four years old, is now following his father and me over some of the same countryside that I followed my father and grandfather over. When his time comes, my grandson will choose as he must, but so far all of us have been farmers. I know from my grandfather that when he was a child he too followed his father in this way, hearing and seeing, not knowing yet that the most essential part of his education had begun.
And so in this familiar spectacle of a small boy tagging along behind his father across the fields, we are part of a long procession, five generations of which I have seen, issuing out of generations lost to memory, going back, for all I know, across previous landscapes and the whole history of farming. . . . I am in the middle now between my grandfather and my father, who are alive in my memory, and my son and my grandson, who are alive in my sight. If my son, after thirty more years have passed, has the good pleasure of seeing his own child and grandchild in that procession, then he will know something like what I know now.
This living procession through time in a place is the record by which such knowledge survives and is conveyed. When the procession end, so does the knowledge (Life is a Miracle, pp. 151-153).
Learning to be a Christian is not so different from leaning to be a farmer. We tag along behind Jesus, hearing what he trains us to hear, seeing what he points out to us, doing what he shows us how to do, and, over time, becoming what he is.
Often, the process of becoming Christian begins long before people know that it does. Surely that is true with children who grow up in Christian homes, in families which tell and live the stories of our faith, and in churches where the practices of Christian discipleship get carried-out. They see and hear and feel what a Christian life is like; they have experiences of the love, grace, and mercy of Jesus; their minds, hearts, and wills are being prepared to say yes to him. In fact, they are saying a kind of “yes,” whether they know it or not, whenever they do the kinds of things Jesus did and does.
I think the same thing is true for almost everyone. I don’t think that we will argue and persuade many people into a relationship with Jesus. I don’t think it’s a matter of presenting them with mountains of facts and volumes of truth-claims about God, Bible, Jesus, and church. Instead, what most people need in order to become Christians is to hang-out with other Christians: to see what their lives are like; to observe how they respond to life’s challenges and opportunities; to “overhear” what happens in worship; and to learn, not just what our beliefs are, but what the practical, everyday impact of our beliefs is.