I’m really happy to have J.R. here today to talk about the patience needed for spiritual growth. As ministers, leaders, teachers, or parents frustration can set in when our efforts seem fruitless. This post will encourage you with needed perspective!
Thanks, J.R. !
The Impatience of Ministry: Waiting for the Vegetables to Grow
by J.R. Briggs
A few years ago my wife did something for the first time that she had wanted to do for quite some time: plant a garden in our backyard. We live in Pennsylvania, one of the most fertile states in the Union. The saying around here is if you can’t get your garden to grow in PA you’ll never get it to grow anywhere.
She bought a few small plants and spent an afternoon delicately placing them into the soil and watering them. Basil, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and mint, among other things. It was a relatively small garden, but enough to find great enjoyment out of growing items we could enjoy. There is nothing better than eating dinner in the summer with items you grew a few hundred feet away.
Our oldest son (who was three at the time) was excited to hear that mommy was planting a garden that afternoon and he wanted to help. He got his boots on and with trowel in hand, helped mommy dig around in the soil and water the plants once they were in the ground.
As they finished the planting process that afternoon, it was time for his afternoon nap. He was disappointed when I called him in and cleaned him up before heading up to his room. When he woke up a few hours later, his first question to my wife was “Are the vegetables ready yet?” With a smile, she explained that they won’t be ready for at least several weeks. Plants just don’t grow that fast.
He was sorely disappointed and confused. I will never forget the look on his face: completely downtrodden. All my wife and I could do was try to keep from him noticing our smiles.
As cute as this story is, I find it a fitting reminder for pastoral work. Its easy to place impossible expectations on people in our churches to grow and produce fruit – and do it immediately.
We become impatient and wonder what’s wrong, why nothing is working, why it seems nobody around us is growing in the same way we read about in the last issue of a ministry magazine or heard about from the stage at the last pastors’ conference we attended. Why are the vegetables not ready yet? Its been a few hours already!
My son provided a good reminder – and a poignant challenge – for me and my approach to ministry. In fact, I’ve told this story dozens of times to other young pastors who are anxious that while they are faithful to do what they are called to do, they wonder why they aren’t seeing tons of fruit yet. And, yes, I’ve had to tell it to myself multiple times, too. True fruit production in the lives of people trying to be like Jesus is a long process, full of dirty and mess, which requires a great amount of patience. As Eugene Peterson wrote, spiritual maturity is a long obedience in the same direction.
The vegetables will come – but not this afternoon. We must do our part: wait, water, pull weeds, tend to the soil. And wait some more. It is dirty work. Fruitful work, but dirty nonetheless. The vegetables will come, but they will not come by this afternoon.
This is God’s work to be done, not ours. We cannot attempt to do the work that does not belong to us.
The vegetables will come, but not this afternoon.
There is no need to be disappointed.
J.R. Briggs serves as Cultural Cultivator of The Renew Community a Jesus community for skeptics and dreamers in Lansdale, PA – a suburb of Philadelphia, which he helped start. He is the founder of Kairos Partnerships, an initiative that partners with leaders, pastors and church planters during significant kairos moments in ministry. As part of his time with Kairos Partnerships, he serves on staff with The Ecclesia Network and Fresh Expressions U.S. and coaches leaders, pastors and church planters across the country.
He also oversees the Renew Apprenticeship Program, a year-long experiential program that equips, trains and teaches young leaders and pastors to become effective and faithful church planters for contextual ministry in the 21st century. He is the creator and curator of the Epic Fail Pastors Conference, which helps pastors embrace failure and grow to see failure as an invitation to growth and an opportunity for grace and healing, instead of shame.
He has never helped write a Wikipedia entry and will never outgrow the joy that comes from popping bubble wrap. He’s prone to put too much wasabi on his lunch, but he is a proud card-carrying member of the Clean Plate Club.
J.R. and his wife Megan have two sons, Carter and Bennett, and live in the heart of gritty Lansdale, PA.