Spiritual Leadership and Gardening

If you are a spiritual leader in any milieu—or if you ever plan to be—you should learn to garden. Spiritual leadership and gardening both require the same mindset, the same skills, the same posture, and the same dedication.

This winter was so long. We had snow in the middle of April, for goodness sake! Since the weather broke, warm sunshine began peering through the clouds, and the world began to spring to life a few weeks ago, my family and I have been outside as much as possible. One of the things we most look forward to is the annual planting of the vegetable garden. I can already taste the tomato salsa we’ll make as well as the fresh strawberry shakes and fried zucchini. (Who says fruit and veggies have to be healthy!)

Last weekend, as I was putting the final touches on the new garden box, breaking up the soil snow-compacted soil, and yanking up a few bothersome weeds so Kelly could move in and begin working her magic in the garden, I had a thought:

Spiritual leadership and gardening are twin disciplines.

Life is a great teacher. In 17 years of ministry experience, I’ve learned a lot about what to do and, of course, what not to do. I’ve also learned so many lessons as a husband and a father, as a friend, and as a Christian wrestling to make sense of the world around me. Kneeling in front of the garden last weekend, I realized there are so many similarities between spiritual leadership (the overarching theme and goal of all those relationships) and gardening. They both require a similar mindset, skills, and posture.

The mindset of spiritual leadership and gardening

Our son wanted to plant carrots. A few minutes after we got them in the ground and watered them, he asked when they’d be ready. He was expecting it to be a matter of minutes, not months.

Gardens don’t grow overnight. They require that the gardener possess a long-term mindset. Someone who is planting a garden simply has to be patient. They plant in the spring and can only begin to harvest a few months later. And planting and waiting won’t work. A gardener must also demonstrate a great amount of dedication while he or she waits for the garden to produce. Growing a garden is a commitment. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, the gardener must continue to return to the garden to tend it. Patience and dedication are also required character traits of spiritual leaders. Like gardens, people don’t bloom overnight. They take weeks and months of dedicated, patient care.

The spiritual leader, like the gardener, must have the right mindset if they desire to see results. But, that’s not all. they must also possess the right skills.

The skills of spiritual leadership and gardening

I mentioned earlier that I do the heavy work. My wife has a green thumb, the one with the skills to keep the conditions right so the garden can reach its full potential. Spiritual leadership, like gardening, requires great skill.

A gardener expends a lot of energy cultivating, getting the soil just right. They work the soil so it is perfectly hospitable, conducive to the development of young seedlings. Additionally, and seemingly without end, they protect their plants and soil by pulling greedy invaders from the environment. It’s amazing how much weeding both gardening and spiritual leadership require. The gardener or spiritual leader who refuses to pick weeds puts his or her plants at risk. Finally, in addition to cultivation and weeding, a gardener must feed and water the plants. Without food and water, especially during the hottest parts of the summer, tender plants will be stunted, they’ll wither, and they may even die.

The spiritual leader must possess the skills of cultivating healthy environments, mitigating the effect of dangerous situations or malicious people, and to providing the nourishment required for sustained growth. Finally, gardening and spiritual leadership require the correct posture.

The posture of spiritual leadership and gardening

Every gardener understands that something supernatural happens when you plant a garden. And, they know that the outcome is really out of their hands. While they use all of their skills to give each plant the greatest chance of health and fruit, the growth of a seed into a fruit-bearing plant is the work of God. Therefore, spiritual leadership, like gardening, requires the proper posture.

My wife and I garden almost exclusively on our knees. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The proper posture of a spiritual leader, like the gardener, is a humble posture of faith and prayer. Spiritual leadership is ultimately—as the name implies—the work of the Spirit. He is the one who produces the increase. Placing a seed in the ground or planting a seed in a human heart is, therefore, an act of faith. The one who plants believes in what he or she hopes for and is certain of what he or she does not see (Hebrews 11:1). And, if planting is an act of faith, it stands to reason that gardeners and spiritual leaders must dedicate themselves to prayer.

In addition to the proper mindset, skills, and posture, there’s one more thing to say about spiritual leadership and gardening. The one who cultivates, plants, waters, weeds, and prays gets to enjoy the fruit of the harvest.

The fruit of spiritual leadership and gardening

I’m so excited for fresh tomatoes. I can’t wait to walk around the corner of the house and smell the fresh basil. We’re going to have some fantastic salads. And, have I mentioned that I make killer salsa? I can taste it already.

The elderly Apostle John summed it up when he remarked that nothing brought him more joy than the knowledge that his children were walking in the truth (3 John 4). In other words, it thrilled him to know that the Spirit caused the seeds he had planted and watered, in the ground he had cultivated, to grow and to bear fruit.

The joy and fulfillment for the gardener is very similar to the experience of watching someone you’ve led bear fruit. It’s the joy of the harvest that keeps the gardener focused. Spiritual leaders, keep working. Keep pulling weeds. Keep watering and feeding. Your work is not in vain. As you continue praying, hoping, and trusting God to bring a harvest, you will be encouraged to know that your hard work is not in vain.

If you are a spiritual leader—or if you ever plan to be—you should put in a garden this spring. There’s still time. Becoming a gardener will make you a better leader.

Four Tips for Parental Discipline

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I’m teaching a marriage class at church and I opened the floor for participants to ask me any of their marriage and family related questions. And, they submitted some excellent questions. Last week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

I probably raised more questions than I answered in my previous post about parental discipline. There’s certainly a lot to learn and I felt like it was vital to lay the groundwork first. This post is designed to go a little bit further, to give you a quick set of tips to help you implement what we talked about last week.

Here are four tips for godly parental discipline:

1. Be aligned

If you’re blessed to be raising a child along with your spouse, regardless of what parenting method you choose, it’s imperative that you’re aligned. Take the time to get on the same page. If you’re not aligned, it’s going to be stressful for your marriage, confusing for your child, and ineffective.

2. Be clear and consistent

Kids need to know where their parents stand, where the boundary lines are drawn, and what the consequences will be for misbehavior. It may feel contradictory to you, but kids thrive when they have clear and consistent rules. It gives them a sense of security and well-being and is what is best for their soul even if they tell you it doesn’t.

3. Be self-controlled

If you have a temper—like me—you’ll find that the moment you lose control is the moment you’ve ceased being the parent your kid needs. Do what it takes, as much as it’s humanly possible, to be calm and composed when you’re disciplining. If you have to walk away, that’s OK. Take a few minutes. Whisper a prayer. Use the timeout to consult with your spouse. Then, in a calm, measured, controlled, and loving way, deal with the issue at hand.

4. Be gracious

By all means, teach your children about God’s grace. Find ways to help them understand the weight of their sin (which, let’s be honest, is the driving force behind much of our children’s misbehavior) and then to understand the freedom and joy that comes when their sin is forgiven and the consequences are removed. And, don’t stop there. Show yourself some grace, too. You may be trying to emulate God but you’re not him. Admit your mistakes. Apologize to God and to the kids. And move forward in the grace he gives.

This parenting thing is tough. Disciplining fairly and constructively is extremely difficult. It’s as much art as it is science. But, following God’s lead, we can raise kids who don’t resent us. More importantly, we can raise kids who love God and who are open to his transformative discipline long after they’ve left our loving, if imperfect, care.

Discussion questions

  1. Are you and your spouse aligned in your parenting philosophies? If so, how did you get aligned. If not, what do you need to do to get on the same page?
  2. Do your kids know where the boundary lines are drawn? Or, are they unsure? What can you do to help define what is acceptable (and what isn’t) with and for your kids?
  3. Is your parental discipline more characterized by self-control or a lack of self-control? What is God revealing to you about his will for you in this area?
  4. Do you need to get better at receiving and giving grace? Read [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 2:8-10″ display=”Ephesians 2:8-10″] and reflect on God’s grace in your life.

Want to Get Noticed in Ministry?

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I’m an ambitious person.

Not a characteristic you typically associate with someone who is in ministry? I agree; at first, that may seem like a contradiction. We typically think about ambition in a negative sense because we’ve witnessed so many ambitious people doing whatever they can to climb the ladder, to achieve, and to protect their status. But, in and of itself, ambition is morally neutral. It can be used for evil or it can be used for good.

I’ve always been ambitious to make any contribution to the church that I can. Occasionally, that ambition has been accompanied by a strong desire to ascend in leadership, to take on greater responsibilities at a higher level. Actually, I think that’s a good thing. In men and women who God calls and equips to lead, there’s always an inner pull, an ambition, toward greater leadership.

But, what do you do when you’re not given greater responsibility? When your ambitions fall flat? When you don’t get to lead at the level at which you’re capable?

There’s one man whose ministry in obscurity encourages me greatly.

I want to be like Andrew

Andrew was one of Jesus’ first disciples but he wasn’t the greatest. He’s best known as Simon Peter’s brother. He rarely appears in the Gospels. He isn’t included in Jesus’ inner circle; James, John, and his brother occupied that space. And, other than a quick mention in the book of Acts, Andrew never appears again in the text of the New Testament. When it comes to notoriety among the disciples, he’s pretty low on the list. He wasn’t a leader. He wasn’t prominent. He didn’t hold a special position.

But, what we do know about Andrew is a huge encouragement to me:

Every time we meet Andrew in the Gospels, especially in the book of John, we find him bringing someone to Jesus.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 1:40-42″ display=”John 1″], Andrew is the one who actually introduces his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Peter was the leader of the disciples and the central figure in the first few decades of the Church.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 6:7-8″ display=”John 6″], Andrew is the person responsible for bringing the boy with the fish and loaves to Jesus. Jesus used the boy’s lunch to feed 5,000 people.

In [biblegateway passage=”John 12:20-22″ display=”John 12″], Philip is approached by some Greek men who want to see Jesus. He doesn’t know what to do so he gets Andrew. And, of course, Andrew brings them to Jesus.

I love it! Andrew isn’t the disciple whose name gets placed on the marquee. He’s not at the top of the organizational chart. But, that doesn’t faze him. He continually goes about his business of introducing people to Jesus.

So, what happens when your ambition for greater responsibility doesn’t get you noticed? You remain faithful. You keep bringing people to Jesus. You keep serving, continue loving, and continually pray for God to convert your ambition into greater depths of dedication to your role.

When ambition exists because you want to get noticed in ministry, that’s trouble. Ambition is OK as long as long as the object is bringing people to Jesus.

What about you?

What is your ambition in ministry? Is it to get noticed? Or, is it to bring people to Jesus? If you’re not a vocational minister, what’s your ambition? Do you consider it your job to bring people to Jesus?

Ten Ways to Serve Your Spouse

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The concept of serving has always been close to my heart. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little kid. I have always enjoyed the experience of doing something significant—or seemingly not so significant—simply from a place of love and a desire to encourage someone.

It’s that time again: time for this week’s installment of the Saturday Serving Spotlight.

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If you’re looking around to discover ways to bless people, you need not look any further than the person sitting across from you at the dinner table. Here are some ideas about how you can serve the person you love the most, your spouse.

1. Plan a date. Never mind what the romance gurus say, it takes a good amount of intentionality, planning, thoughtfulness and work to keep a relationship strong and full of life. No matter how long you’ve been married, there’s no replacement for a good, old-fashioned date. Take the initiative and start planning.

2. Take the kids out so your wife can get some quiet time. If your wife is a stay-at-home mom or if she’s building a career, chances are she could use a break. Find an activity you and the kids enjoy doing and take them off mom’s hands for the evening so she can get some rest and enjoy some quiet time on her own.

3. Book a tee time for your husband so he can go golfing with a buddy. If your husband enjoys golfing, he’s sure to appreciate this act of service. Whether he gets out on the course once or twice a year or once or twice a month, he’ll appreciate the fact that you have planned a special time for him to do something he enjoys.

4. Clean the bathroom … without being asked. The bathroom is everyone’s least favorite room to clean. So, what better way could there be to demonstrate your love than to roll up your sleeves, grab a sponge and make everything shine like new?

5. Let your spouse sleep in on Saturday morning. Get up early on Saturday with the kids, gather them together and keep quiet. Then, when you think the timing is right, make breakfast. When your spouse wakes up, greet him or her with a hot breakfast before his or her feet even hit the floor.

6. Wash and detail your wife’s minivan. Somewhere, buried beneath melted crayons, book bags, athletic equipment and stale French fries, lies a once beautiful, new minivan. If your wife spends a lot of time running the kids around, she’s sure to appreciate your efforts to make her vehicle look (and smell) like new.

7. Give a back or foot rub. If your spouse is stressed, find a comfy place on the couch, bed or floor, and give your best day-spa massage. You don’t have to be a professional to work out the kinks and to help your spouse work out the tension he or she has accumulated.

8. Call your in-laws … just to talk. Most people have laughed at at least one in-law joke. People wouldn’t laugh if the jokes didn’t contain a grain of truth. Surprise your spouse and your in-laws by calling them out of the blue just to ask how they’re doing and to tell them you love them. It might be out of character for you but you’ll find that it will communicate volumes about the love you have for your spouse.

9. Finish all of the jobs on the “honey-do” list. Most wives have a list of things they’d like their husbands to do around the house. They contain things like: change the batteries in the smoke detectors, fix that squeaky door hinge, take care of the leaky faucet, clean out the garage and paint the fence. On and on it goes. Find a free Saturday, get up early, and knock out as much of the list as you can—without grumbling.

10. Establish a specific time of the day to pray for your spouse. The most significant way you can serve your spouse is to pray for him or her. Pick a specific time each day, drop everything and spend a few moments in prayer.  Then, watch your prayer life, your spouse’s life and your marriage grow.

Jesus’ call to serve goes beyond the walls of the church. It spills over into every area of life. Surely you can develop a lifestyle of service by reaching out to the person who is closest to you, your spouse.

Ten Ways to Serve Your Kids

saturday-serving-spotlight

The concept of serving has always been close to my heart. It’s been a part of my life since I was a little kid. And, I have always enjoyed the experience of doing something significant—or seemingly not so significant—simply from a place of love and a desire to encourage someone.

So, I’m going to devote one post each Saturday to blogging about serving-related topics. I’ll refer to it as Saturday Serving Spotlight.

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As we look for opportunities to serve, we really don’t need to look any farther than the people with whom we live. Our spouses and our kids are prime recipients of our loving acts of service. As a matter of fact, there may be no better way to show your family that you love them than to do something kind—an act of service—for them.

Here are ten ways to serve your kids:

1. Give plenty of hugs and kisses. Whether they’re toddlers, elementary-aged, teenagers or adults, your kids need to be reminded that you love them. One of the easiest ways to reinforce your love for your kids is to give lots of loving, reassuring touches.

2. Establish a regular daddy or mommy date night with your kids. Life can be busy. When demands overwhelm, something has to give. Often it is regular time with family that is the first to go. Establish a time and date for one-on-one time with each of your kids and don’t violate it.

3. Help with homework. Of course you can’t do it for them (probably because you don’t remember how to do it). But, sit down with them and dig in. Help with the hard problems. Take interest in what your kids are learning. Instead of just being concerned that it is complete, sit down and help with it. You may learn something you had forgotten years earlier!

4. Take time to listen to what’s going on in their hearts. There may be no more important question for a parent to ask their child than, “What’s going on in your heart?” You ought to know what your kids are worried about, what they’re scared about, what they’re proud about, what they’re struggling with and what they believe in the fiber of their being. If you’ve learned how to communicate about the normal things, you’ll be able to talk about the tough things that come down the road. And, you’ll be able to encourage their hearts all along the way.

5. Make a habit of writing letters to your kids on a regular basis. Make it a discipline to sit down, at least a few times a year, to write letters to your kids. Record special events. Tell them what is on your heart. Let them know the thoughts and feelings you encounter as you raise them. You may choose to read them to your kids along the way. Or, if you’re feeling creative, scrapbook them. If you want to create a special treasure, bind them and give them as a graduation or wedding present. You’ll create a legacy for your kids by simply writing to them.

6. Take them to work with you. Every kid is interested in what their parents do from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Get permission from your boss and let your kids come to work with you. You may not think it’s glamorous work but your kids will be thrilled to see a different side of you.

7. Read to them. Find out what they’re interested in and read a chapter a night. It may be The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter or—better yet—the Bible!

8. Eat lunch with them at school. Pack your lunch and drop in on your kids at school. Unless they’re teenagers who might not think you’re the coolest person to eat lunch with, they’ll love the extra time together and getting to show you off to their friends.

9. Establish traditions around special occasions. Kids crave traditions. And, there are enough special events, holidays and celebrations throughout the year that you should have no trouble planning plenty of special ceremonies and activities around them.

10. Serve others together. If you set an example of service to your kids and if you take time to serve others together, you’ll sow seeds into your children’s hearts that will continue to grow and bloom for generations.

Enjoy every moment together. And, use lots of those moments to serve your kids. You never know what might happen as a result.

Ministry Highs and Lows

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I love being in ministry.

I enjoy working at a church with people who are committed to God. It’s fantastic to know that my work has real, lasting meaning. No, it’s not a fairy tale like some might imagine it. There are real conflicts, real worries, pressures, demands and struggles. But, I’ve found that the good far outweighs the bad.

In ministry, it’s a privilege to share the highest of highs with people: weddings are conducted, babies are born, huge personal growth happens, people make decisions for Christ. And, I get to be there as a witness and partner.

In ministry, it’s also a privilege—albeit a heavy one—to share in the lowest of lows with those same people: jobs are lost, diagnoses are handed down, marriages split up, children stray, death strikes. Just as in the good times, I’m often trusted to be right there.

Ministry highs and lows overlap

Just this morning, I arrived at the office to a voicemail from an excited young man asking me if I’d be willing to lead him and his fiance through premarital counseling and preach at their summer wedding. Then, no sooner had I scribbled down his phone number, I learned that a teenage girl lost her lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis. The parents are going to hold a memorial service in our building in just a few days.

Exhilaration. Heartbreak. All in the span of two minutes.

Ministry will fill you with joy. It’ll also crush you.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad that Jesus was just as in his element at a wedding feast in Cana as he was at a grave site in Bethany.

I’m beyond grateful—in good times and bad—to be a part of the Body of Christ.

May God continue to purify her and prepare her for the Great Day when tears will be replaced with smiles, fear with security, sadness with laughter, loss with joy and hope with sight.