By Ryan Williams
There’s a little heirloom seed company near my hometown in southern Missouri. Being a hobbyist gardener myself for the past decade or so, I have come to enjoy looking over their wide assortment of vegetable seeds, ranging from the familiar to multicolored and shaped wonders with their own diverse flavors.
It is in this diversity that I was drawn to move from doing the type of gardening where you go to your local home and garden store to pick up some plants in early spring to attempting to plant my garden entirely from seed. I soon learned in my first season doing this that when planting from seed, the gardening game begins much earlier than early Spring.
Not long after ringing in the New Year, I am usually at work planning my garden plot for the upcoming spring. And by mid-February, I am usually making little pinkie-sized divots in potting soil filled trays and dropping in tiny seeds that I hope will become delicious and juicy tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, tender and delicate broccoli florets, and a whole host of other vegetables. Hope is the operative word there of course, because with each season, any number of things can happen that prohibit the success of any one crop. Yet with optimism and a prayer, I planted my seeds this February.
We forget that our lives, the nourishment we receive from God and the earth, the flavors that are able to create such varied delight on our tongues, all these things are so very contingent. It can become so easy to fall into the consumerist flow and think that food is an ever-present commodity. Food comes from the store; not from the ground; not from God.
With this mindset, I think our food can become an afterthought; something we pick up on the way home from an overly packed pastor’s schedule; something someone else takes care of and prepares for us. It is almost like food is something that we can cram into our day; food is something that we squeeze in to fuel and us and maybe give us some sort of delight. But once you step into the garden, it is easy to quickly realize that food is not something that can be crammed.
In the garden it becomes clear that the work of growth and nurture—of weeding and watering—this kind of work can’t be put off and fit in when convenient. This kind of work must be a daily habit and discipline of patient persistence; of seeing what can so easily go unseen; of caring and laboring in small and seemingly insignificant ways—ways that may not ever show a true pay off. Because if anything, gardening is a reminder of our contingency as God’s creatures. In the garden we realize that we don’t have our hands on the wheel, but there is still work to do.
Digging my hands in the dirt this February preparing for the coming spring, it struck me—just like you can’t cram when it comes to gardening, neither can you cram when it comes to pastoral ministry.
In my church setting, I can’t sweep into a ministry situation like you are Moses bringing truth from the Mountain top and think that good will come of it. Likewise, I should never confuse God’s Kingdom work with good marketing materials, a great church strategy, or exciting new programming. Good and proper ministry takes patient persistence, just like in the garden. It is a work that reminds us of our own contingency and need for God’s grace filled presence each day. And it is also a work that requires daily care and nurture, seeing what often goes unseen, because I am willing to be with people in all of the mundane facets of life. It is in this kind of work that I am reminded of Jesus’s parable about the Kingdom being like leaven in bread, or the mustard seed; you may not ever see it actually at work, but eventually the results of this invisible labor will be felt.
Ryan is in his third year pursuing an M.Div. from Duke Divinity School. He is also currently serving as interim pastor for Antioch Baptist Church in Red Oak, Va. Recently Ryan and his wife, Anna delightedly welcomed their first child into the world, and are just now remembering what sleep feels like.