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Leaders as Gardeners


Try googling the phrase, ‘leaders as gardeners.’


I did this last week, and my screen filled up with trillions of links. Quite a number came from management consulting firms, while others came from writers like Steven Covey (the 7 Habits man). There was even one from Richard Blackaby, who writes about Christian leadership. As you may know, several of my posts here have employed a gardening analogy, as I’ve sought to ‘dig’ (I can’t help myself!) into the lessons we learn about leadership from gardening. So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that my Google search offered up a ‘verdant field’ of ‘leaders-as-gardeners-shoots’. After a while, I was like a poorly tended garden myself—overrun! I was overrun with gardening-as-leadership metaphors—soil, the environment, showers, the destruction of pests, feeding, stages of growth—it was overwhelming. So I decided to go back to my Bible, which is much calmer and more ordered. An arbour instead of a jungle.


GARDENS APLENTY


As we know, the Bible starts with a garden—Eden—and it ends with a garden in the celestial city of Revelation 22. There are also two gardens in Jesus’ passion narrative:


When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden*, which he and his disciples entered.

John 18.1


Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

John 19.41

Gardens are peaceful places. At the most critical moments in the life and death of Jesus, they are also places where significant things take place. As an avid gardener, I was drawn to the roles these gardens play in Jesus’ story. And I was further encouraged by reading about gardens in Isaiah:


And you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters do not fail.

Isa 58.11b

I AM A GARDEN


There is a paradox in these verses—Isaiah 58.6-12. The Lord is calling his people to fast so that they might draw near and know him. And so they did. But for the wrong reasons. They were living impure lives, oppressing their workers and fighting with each other. God therefore calls them to fast for the right reasons.


Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isa 58.6-7


If they would do this, then the Lord assures them that ‘you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.’ (58.11)


The water theme is picked up by Jesus in John’s gospel.


Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

John 7.38-39a

JESUS IS A PLANT


Jesus employs a horticultural metaphor in his famous teaching in John 15. He describes himself as a vine (15.1) and calls those who believe in him branches (15.2). We, as branches, grow and produce fruit only when we abide in Christ. Life, health, and fruitfulness flow from the vine itself (Christ) to the branches (those who believe). So we must abide in Christ at all times in order to produce good fruit.


GOD IS A GARDENER


In John 15, when Jesus describes his Father as the vinedresser, we can see that he is borrowing from Isaiah’s prophecy.


I will sing for the one I love

a song about his vineyard:

my loved one had a vineyard

on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones

and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

but it yielded only bad fruit.

Isa 5.1-2


The work of the vinedresser is to maximise fruit production. So when he sees that the crop produces ‘bad fruit’ he says, ‘it will be trampled,’ and ‘I will make it a wasteland.’ The parallels with Jesus’ words in John 15 are clear. Jesus says that unfruitful branches will be ‘thrown into the fire and burned’, even worse than being trampled. Judgement awaits those who fail to produce good fruit. And this sounds frightening until you realise that the focus is on fruitfulness, not judgement. Jesus speaks to encourage his followers. He urges them to abide in him, telling them they are ‘already clean’ (15.3a). The pruning, he says, is to make fruitful branches more fruitful!


Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15.2b


Pruning sounds painful, but we know that when our lives are ‘pruned’, the Lord is removing those parts that are unfruitful. Pruning is for our benefit and for God’s glory, as Jesus makes clear in his summary verse.


This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

John 15.8


TWO LESSONS


As I thought about the gardening metaphor and the number of gardens mentioned in the Scriptures, I learned two valuable lessons that I pass on now:


SAMUEL RUTHERFORD


Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a great Scottish Puritan, who once wrote about God as a gardener and himself as a plant.


The great Master-gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand . . . planted me here, where, by his grace, in this part of his Vineyard, I grow. . . . And here I will abide, till the great Master of the Vineyard think fit to transplant me.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford, p.93


When Rutherford was confined in Aberdeen and forbidden from all public ministry, he wrote of living in ‘Christ’s palace at Aberdeen.’ He knew that the same Christ ‘who sent me to the West and South (near Anwoth in Galloway and then Oxford), sendeth me also to the North’ (Letters of Samuel Rutherford, p.119). Where we are now is because our Father the Gardener has planted us here, and Christ the King dwells there too.


As you consider your own situation—perhaps there are weeds or a struggle to produce good

fruit—be assured of this. The Lord has also planted you where you minister. You are not a solitary

weed, cast aside, but a plant lovingly ‘dug in’ by your Father, the Gardener.


So abide in him.


GARDENING PRECEDES HARVESTING


Gardening is hard work. Digging, feeding the soil, planting, watering, weeding, pruning, and tending—all hard work. But it’s necessary before there can be a harvest. For the goal of gardening is to harvest. The goal is to produce good fruit. Without gardening, there is no harvest. This is how our Father has ordained our life here on this earth, in his garden.


And when the time is right, and the fruit is ripe, the fruit falls from the tree. Harvesting is the easy part when the fruit is ready. But it takes a lot of sweat to reach that point. And so we garden, and the Lord in whom we abide produces good fruit in us and through us.


So be encouraged.


After gardening, a time of harvesting will arrive. Indeed, the Lord says it has already arrived! Hear his words in John’s gospel.


Don’t you have a saying, “It’s still four months until harvest”? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

John 4.35

 

* Matthew and Mark mention the name of the garden: Gethsemane.

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