Gardeners Grow the Best Disciples

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9 Lessons Plants Teach Us About Sustainable Ministry

I love gardening. It’s good for me. It grounds me, literally.

As dirt squeezes its way below my fingernails, God squeezes his lessons into me. My garden has become a classroom for me, one God uses to shape me as I participate, labor, and listen. Perhaps I feel at home in the garden because it is the area of my life most like ministry, with its joys, hard work, and frustrations. Many seeds won’t make it. Hail can move through like a herd of elephants. Bending over to tend a garden leaves me with a sore back.

The predominate narrative in our culture today is the factory. Machines dominate our processes. We produce things, we don’t cultivate them. Scripture calls those who are thirsty and hungry for Jesus “disciples”. Disciples are “made” through cultivation not “made” in factories. The gardener has invited us to learn from him and partner with him.

As I water and pull weeds I secretly, almost embarrassingly, pray for fruit to emerge. I also pray against cosmic car-crushing hail and ravenous bugs that could decimate these tender chutes. I had the privilege of being on sabbatical this summer and He changed my classroom location. God taught me through another apprenticeship in the garden this spring and summer. Whether it’s allegory, image or experiential learning here is what God taught me about ministry and discipleship this summer.Guardrails

  1. Plants need space to thrive. Boxed in plants lose nutrients in the soil and stay small. How can I release leaders around me and give them more space to love and lead?
  2. My rain barrel (a 55 gallon drum that collect rain from my roof to water my plants) gets low every few days, but it fills up during the next rain. I don’t produce water for my garden, I wait for it. How am I trying to minister to others from a depleted barrel? Am I waiting on and asking God to refill my tank?
  3. Plants suck up more water than you think. Seedlings require only a mist while large plants require a whole bucket. Am I gauging the right amount of energy I need to minister to people each day and week?
  4. Meaningful work is good for the soul. Am I resisting righteous labor God has asked me to do?
  5. Home-grown veggies don’t always look pretty, but they taste better. Do I have an unrealistic expectation of disciples and leaders around me? How can I take joy in the quirks and imperfections of those I minister to and among?
  6. Plants aren’t groaning and whining when they’re producing veggies; they are designed to produce! How have I treated ministry as an unrealistic task instead of a beautiful invitation
  7. Gardening is simple, but it’s hard. How have I complicated discipleship? In which areas have I believed ministry is supposed to be easy?
  8. A little bit of chicken wire stretched above the garden allows plants to extend and produce more vegetables. What simple structures do I need in my life and ministry to allow for God to bring more fruit?
  9. Gardening takes time, intention and repetition. How do I need to be more intentional and faithful to regular practices in my life?

Discipling others is a rugged journey that can be exhausting. Guardrails is a book grown out of the garden of discipleship to give structure to growing the body of Christ. Can we grow disciples without burning out? YES. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it can be simple. It’s time to transition from an exhausting ministry of addition, to a fruitful ministry of multiplying disciples, leaders, and churches.

Alan Briggs is the Director of Frontline Church Planting, a network and equipping hub in Colorado. He is also the Multiplying Pastor at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs where he makes disciples and trains leaders to multiply.

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