One of the most rewarding experiences a gardener can have is watching the growth of seeds that have been planted. To see flowering buds that hint at the fruit to come is exciting. I find incredible satisfaction in the natural process of tilling, planting, weeding, feeding, and harvesting and have no doubt that it was inspired by my grandfather who had a vegetable garden when I was growing up. I remember the rows of carrots, cabbage, lettuce, potatoes, okra, strawberries & watermelons in the backyard of the lakeside home he shared with my grandmother.
There are a few things that were etched in my memory from the hot summer afternoons spent running around and playing as a child. One of them is of this burly man, in denim overalls and large-brimmed straw hat, reminding us kids to stay off the rows so we didn’t crush his seedlings. I also remember his frustration when some plants became “critter bait” instead of seasoned dishes on his dinner plate. And so I watched him adapt his gardening techniques over the years so that his labors were protected. It was a painstaking discipline. It took hours of back-breaking work in the hot sun. It took diligence as he tilled the ground in preparation and then carefully maintained it to prevent it from pests, invading weeds, and hungry scavengers unconcerned with the proper authority which governed the space. It required investments in both time and finances. It also required intentional & careful planning. Yet, in spite of how much effort was involved, he loved it. He told me once that it reminded him of how God works in us.
I learned early on from my grandfather that not all plants were compatible: that they each had their own unique needs in order to thrive and fully grow. I also learned that one plant could choke out another if the gardener was not careful in the sowing season as to where he placed them because they each needed their own space to properly take root and sprout. Finally, I learned that there were other plants that flourished when planted together. The process that one plant underwent in transforming from seed to fruit became nutrients for another long after it had been harvested. My grandfather was a very good gardener: he planted with the harvest in mind and was never discouraged or intimated by the work to be done in the growing season.
This precious and wise man has been with God for a few years now. I look forward to the day when I can thank him; because the lessons I learned in a classroom of dirt and seed, continue to guide me today as a wife, mother, minister, and friend.
As a parent, it been one of my greatest joys to watch my children grow into the adults they are becoming with each passing day. These incredibly complex creations of the Almighty are so unique that it is often, simultaneously, baffling and breathtaking. And while some things apply to all; providing them with a secure & safe place to grow, being diligent about fighting off emotional & physical scavengers, and preparing the spiritual soil by demonstrating the goodness of God in my own live…other techniques and ideas do not. I could no more coerce one child into another child’s destiny than I could force a potato to be a strawberry.
I am being reminded these days that life in ministry is no different. Building church serving teams from scratch is hard. Probably more so than growing any vegetable garden because carrots don’t struggle with insecurity, fear, or pride, but people do. As leaders of these teams, we have a responsibility to plant with the harvest in mind…and not just the immediate harvest but the ones to come for generations. We have to be aware that human beings are not interchangeable commodities. We have to be sensitive to the fact that some of them need more light to grow while others thrive better in the coolness of a little shade. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we must remain diligent in nurturing and leading them through discipleship, in Jesus Christ, so that both grace and accountability prosper. We must be willing to work hard to protect them and to be sure that they are planted so that they have space to grow. We also have to remember that while we are called to be kind and compassionate to one other, loving all others as Christ loves us, we are uniquely designed to bloom under the influence of some more than others and so we must be aware of where we place these seedling ministers of the gospel.
Anyone in ministry will tell you that life as a servant leader in the kingdom of God requires a sacrifice of blood, sweat, and tears. But more than that, it requires a sacrifice of pride, ego, and heart. We won’t always get it right. Not every seed we plant will bloom and grow to the point of harvest. There will be occasions when we are at fault for not properly caring for our seedlings but there will also be other times when the seed that we’ve planted simply does not respond well to the environment in which it has been placed no matter what we do. The heart of a servant leader is faithfully positioned in the court of the Father and tender to the urgings of the Holy Spirit no matter the success or failure of our endeavors. We learn, grow, and do better when we know better. Part of health in ministry is understanding that we must adapt and humble ourselves before the Lord and seek His wisdom and revelation as we lead.
In order to plant with the harvest in mind at a kingdom level, we must adopt the desire of the Creator to see all things come to the fullness of their design and to be obedient in cultivating them well in any area we are called to lead.
This is my prayer and my mission as I walk out my own calling.