The Parable of the Neglectful Gardener


There once was a gardener named Sam. She loved the idea of a garden. She imagined walking out to the backyard to pick fresh lettuce, beans, and tomatoes for dinner.  The picture of serving crisp, flavorful vegetables to her family inspired her. She planned, prepared, and planted. It was fun. Each night she would walk among the plants, picking weeds and pruning the extra leaves. 

The sweet peas came up first. The family enjoyed snacking on a few handfuls. Then the rains came. For a couple of weeks, it was really wet and cloudy. A fungus grew on the tomato plants, it spread to the peas. Sam’s enthusiasm waned. Weeds grew up around the sickly plants. She stopped finding joy in walking among her plants. In fact, she started avoiding that part of her yard for fear of discovering some other invasive garden problem.

Then, one day, while letting the dog out, she spied a bright red tomato poking its head out among the weeds. “Maybe I will have a harvest after all!” she thought. With great energy and lots of guilt, she dove back into the garden. She found overgrown beans, too late.  But, there was still hope for the tomatoes, lettuce and new beans.

Yes, the parable is about my gardening experience this year. The lonely tomato is on the counter in my kitchen.

The parable also speaks about the current situation in many church small group discipleship ministries. We love to imagine what could be — people meeting, studying, praying and doing mission together. It is exciting and energizing to get started. Maintaining, supporting and caring for ministry is tough, challenging work. Not all small groups go well. Busy schedules get in the way. Relationships do not work out as planned. Some groups do not mesh. Leaders get discouraged. Does this sound familiar?

Once again the gardening terms are helpful.

The roles of protecting and problem-solving illustrate the varieties of ways that leaders can care for their group or garden of small group discipleship communities. Think about these questions:

  • What is your plan to pray for groups and leaders?
  • How do you provide ongoing support for leaders?
  • How do you determine the health of your groups and leaders?
  • What is your process for addressing problems that arise?
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Sam, your gardening analogy is interesting.   I like my garden with potatoes as high as my pockets, and peas, beets, carrots doing their thing.  Weeds are probably the biggest hindrance to growing a good garden, with fertility a big second, after moisture, of course.  In your analogy, it would be interesting to imagine what the "weeds" are that we need to pull out, in order for the garden to thrive.  And how do we pick these weeds without hurting the crop we want? 


Interesting question. I also pondered that question. I would love to hear what you think!