Garden Variety Leaders

Maybe it’s the continually rising transportation costs being passed along to consumers, but my dollar doesn’t seem to stretch as far as it did in the marketplace.  Especially the “market” place.  The place I go to buy the fresh produce I should be eating more of.  The place I go to stock up on the fruits and veggies I should be enjoying instead of the packaged and processed stuff I generally fill up on (why is crap food so cheap anyway?).

And if I, a guy who has a pretty decent income and ample access to good and healthy food options, struggle with paying the price for fresh fruits and vegetables, how much more so do those whose income barely makes ends meet?


Understanding this problem for what it is, economic and political injustice, a group I know has recently been working on establishing a community garden.  Starting with scores of donated seeds, this group is set to multiply the gift as they bless community organizations and families with fresh vegetables.  It’s been inspiring to watch as they prepared the soil, started seeds for planting, and enlisted the help and support of others.  This is the Church in action and it’s exciting to experience even vicariously.

Thinking about planting and tending a garden to reach and feed others has me thinking about Paul’s use of this metaphor when addressing leadership issues in the Corinthian church.

There Paul shares his role in planting the church, an image that we are paying a great deal of attention to in recent years as we see the greatest growth in North American Christianity stems largely from new church starts (another agricultural/garden image).  He also talks about what some see as a competing leader’s (Apollos) role in providing ongoing teaching and instruction in the Corinthian church.

But here’s what I think I’ve missed and/or ignored…

“I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (read it in context in 1 Corinthians 3)

Paul says, the real power, the real life-bringer isn’t the one who plants the seeds (gathers the people) or the one who waters them (teaches/encourages the people), but God who makes them grow (shares new life with the people).

Plant all the seeds you want and without water they won’t grow.  Water the ground all you want and without seeds nothing emerges.  Which act is most important?  Which act should be most valued?  We can’t say, because both are necessary.

It’s not about which leader preaches the best or has the best jokes or is even the most relevant.  It’s not about who started the thing or who continues it.  It isn’t about the leader at all.  It’s about God.

Leaders are simply called to plant seeds, to provide some water.  God is the power.  God provides the life.  God provides the growth.  We get to play, but let us who lead remember where the credit for the growth belongs.

Now, the term “garden variety” is most often used to describe “common” or “ordinary”.  What if we started seeing more leaders who understood themselves as workers in the field?  What if more leaders determined their role(s) were about helping the Master Gardener, instead of trying to be the Master Gardener or seeing themselves in competition with other helpers?  What if we started seeing so many leaders living and leading this way, we might say “She/he is just another garden-variety leader”?

And what if those who live in the garden (this is all of us), didn’t try to pit one helper against another?  After all, Paul is writing in response to a complaint that Apollos is undermining him, challenging him, becoming more important  than him.  Paul maturely shares, “It’s not about us. It’s about God.”

So if you’re planting seeds today or if you have the opportunity to water the seeds planted by others, do so with humility.  Do so as a response to God’s call to join in building the Kingdom.  Do so, because it is a joy to be a part of watching new life spring up and flourish.

Planting seeds might look like:

  • Naming a gift we see in another
  • Sharing what God is doing in your life with a friend
  • Inviting someone to join you in mission
  • Paying for the order of the car behind you

Watering the seeds might look like:

  • Listening to a friend journeying through grief
  • Encouraging a young person struggling with self-confidence
  • Preparing and delivering a meal for new parents
  • Facilitating a small group in your home

Garden variety leadership.  What could God grow if we just planted and watered the seeds God gives?

Life is better together,

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