03/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Seven Great Challenges of Sustainability

This past spring Nancy and I spent a week with some friends of ours in Iowa. They had asked if I would come and teach a seminar on the subject topic of my book Saving God's Green Earth in their church. These friends share our passion for ministry as well as our love for the country lifestyle -- so this was one assignment I was more than happy to fulfill. I also knew there was an Amish community in their area and I was anxious to visit a few harness and buggy shops. I had needed a couple of collars for my team of horses and learned the Amish were my best bet to acquire them, especially after I acquired a buggy while visiting the Amish in Northern Indiana.

After the seminar concluded, we spent two additional days visiting the Amish community and making some wonderful new friends. One morning we were invited to a family farmstead owned by the Yoder's. It was a brisk early spring morning as we leaned against a pasture fence chatting with the grandfather looking across a 120-acre plowed field. On the far side we observed Mr. Yoder's son and grandsons working a span of four huge Belgian horses. He took time discussing the operation of the farm that had faithfully served his family for generations and went on to openly share his deep fears of a collapsing economy and a rapidly changing world.

I had always thought of the Amish as being a people who weren't troubled with the cares of the outside world, especially those that were living as sustainability as this family clearly was. In my naivety I believed that somehow they would be exempt from the ramifications of a struggling globalized world. The elder Yoder shared in detail how Iowa's growing ethanol production and the escalating cost of grain and other commodities were threatening his entire lifestyle. He shared how many of the younger men were being forced to leave the farm in order to find work outside the safety of their community. This clearly troubled him. The reality hit us then that no matter who we are or how hard we try, it is impossible to be totally independent and self sufficient.

After our interaction with the Yoder family I concluded that true sustainability in this day and age might just be a myth. The world (with a growing population of 6.8 billion people) has possibly become too complex and too interconnected for an individual or society to maintain life on their own, yet I believe with all my heart that the pursuit of sustainability is not only a noble one, but is rapidly becoming a matter of survival.

As a Christian, I hold a deep conviction that the Lord will one day return and reconcile all things to himself. I earnestly pray for that day but at the same time am committed to the belief that, until then, planet earth has been given to us not only as a means of provision, but as a responsibility of stewardship. In Geneses chapter nine God commissioned his people (for all generations) to care for his gift of creation. We were called to be stewards of the earth's environment so that every plant, animal and human being would thrive and flourish. God made it clear that he had given us the earth to meet our every need, but with this amazing gift came accountability and responsibility. He said, "I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you-the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you--every living creature on earth."

In order that the earth and its humanity might be sustained for future generations I believe that there are seven critical areas of challenging concern. With close examination it is alarming to understand that all seven of these areas are suffering and in a state of growing global crises. If change is to occur, these seven areas must be addressed, not merely as a society at large, but as individuals who understand God's commission and the responsibilities that accompany it. The efforts that Nancy and I are attempting to make on our homestead are reflections of our personal concerns as individuals. As we address these seven areas of challenge, it is our prayer that others will join us.

Here are the seven great challenges I've identified and will address them one-by-one in future posts:

1. Sustainable and healthy food production
2. Fresh water preservation and supply
3. Renewable and sustainable energy sources
4. Efficient living space and shelter
5. Management, Conservation and protection
6. Renewable and sustainable economics
7. Functional communities that provide social, spiritual and educational needs

Tri Robinson is the pastor of the Vineyard Boise Church in Boise, ID, and author of Saving God's Green Earth and Small Footprint, Big Handprint. He lives on a homestead that is almost fully sustainable and blogs about his adventures there at