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.