03/27/2009 04:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Sustainability's Three Big Questions

When I consider a life of sustainability I can't help but think about what it would have taken for those first pioneers to load their small wagons for such an expedition. They had to pack everything to sustain their families on a long treacherous journey as well as enough to hold them through their first winter. They would also have to include the tools necessary to forge out a homestead capable of sustaining a family for the years ahead.

True sustainability is not just some romantic thought to me; rather, it's one of deep admiration and a testimony to the durability of the human existence. Sometimes I tie up my horse and wander around these old places where the residents have been long gone. I find myself contemplating what they must have felt like living in such isolated areas, what resources they used to build structures, and how they engineered water systems, root cellars, smoke houses and feed storage. In addition to the homesteads, I have noticed where people settled there is usually an abandoned one-room schoolhouse, post office, church and graveyard only a short wagon ride away.

There is much to be gained by wandering through the remnant ruins of a people who understood true sustainability. Some of my discoveries have challenged me to ask three thought provoking questions in my own pursuit of a more sustainable lifestyle:

1. What would I put in my wagon?
If I had foresight in preparing for a life journey toward sustainability and knew that money may become hyper-inflated, what would I purchase now? Stockpiling food may be helpful in the short term, but if planning for a life of sustainability I would consider not just my immediate need for food, but how I might produce it, preserve it and store it for the future. I would think about every kind of food--vegetables, grains, fruits, eggs and meat. I would also consider how I would feed the chickens that would lay the eggs and the other livestock that would provide milk and meat. I would consider sustainable and renewable forms of energy for heat, cooking and electricity. I would consider materials necessary to develop clean water resources and seed to be reproduced and used season after season. I would need to prioritize and ask myself the kinds of questions that I've never had to consider before--those such as what is really important for the welfare of my life and my family. I would need to evaluate and establish what my priorities really are--realizing that the wellbeing of those I love is at stake.

2. What would I put my hands to?
What would I first invest my time, money and energy into if I were to begin building a sustainable life based on what history tells me? What kind of a dwelling would I live in--how many square feet would I want to heat and cool? What rooms would be the most important? I would need to consider garden plots, orchards and animal housing. Plans would have to be made for food storage, animal feed storage, irrigation and tools for harvesting hay and other crops. I would need to have vision and a master plan that would fit the amount of property I had available. I would need to possess physical stamina for the labor before me, and also family or friends that were willing to lend a hand.

3. What kind of community would I be a part of?
Why did every successful pioneer community have a school and a church as a foundational centerpiece of their community? If history holds true, community is an essential element of the sustainable life, and that community provided not only physical help, protection and a means of commerce, but ministry to the mind and soul of each person as well. Even today, people are discovering their need for community. People have never done well as an island unto themselves, but communities that held common and Godly values ultimately prevailed even through seasons of extreme hardship.

One great example is that of the Pilgrims of New England in comparison to those who attempted to establish Jamestown. The Pilgrims suffered but prevailed because their motive for a sustainable life in a new world was based on a dream to worship God freely. Those who inhabited Jamestown were motivated by the goal of economic prosperity. The residents of Jamestown ultimately failed and the majority of their community perished even though they faced less extreme conditions than the Pilgrims. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Communities function best when the individuals involved are not looking out purely for their own interests, but for the interests of the common group.

If you are interested in learning more about faith and environmental issues, join me at the 2009 Flourish Conference on May 13-15 in Atlanta for gathering of leaders to discuss how these two issues intersect and impact culture.

Tri Robinson is the founding pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID and author of Saving God's Green Earth: Rediscovering the church's responsibility to environmental stewardship and Small Footprint, Big Handprint: How to live simply and love extravagantly. In his spare time, Tri manages his homestead, which is moving toward sustainability, and blogs about it at Follow him @ Twitter: tri_robinson.