My first landscape project nearly killed gardening for me. Our parsonage yard butted against the church parking lot. Congregation members randomly appeared on my back patio by strolling in from said parking lot. If we weren’t outside, they’d appear at the slider to our family room. Sometimes we were dressed, other times not so much. One week, resting on the couch during a rough surgical recovery, I’d randomly see faces by the slider screen. Due to pain pills, I’m still not sure if all of them belonged to real people, but I think so.
I welcomed people to our home, but longed for them to use the real back or front doors. Unannounced arrivals usually prompted Martin Luther and Johnathan Edwards, our theologian dogs, into barking protection mode. It startled the skittles out of us and woke up baby Jennifer.
Ken and I decided some strategic landscaping might indulge our love of yard design and solve problems. If people insisted on sneaking up on us, they’d have to wade through some flora and fauna to do it!
Clay dominated the yard with a little black topsoil. Every hole we dug tested our determination and shovels. Persistently, we planted the border. Within a month, delphiniums, hollyhocks and foxglove died and half of the trees and shrubs looked suicidal. Over the next couple of years, we learned every plant which tolerated clay, and didn’t. At times that garden looked so horrendous, I wanted to go after it all with a chain saw.
The thing is, I discovered that I loved gardening while I labored on that battlefield. I determined a garden would flourish in this clay valley. I learned how to amend and improve my soil with sand, compost and mulch. I gained plant knowledge. The border eventually became lush and afforded us the privacy we needed. Recently, I drove by that house and took delight in seeing mature shade trees and neatly trimmed shrubs enjoyed by a new family.
This month’s topic is things which create valleys of despair for leaders. Today let’s ponder a lack of growth. It’s disheartening when something we are passionate about doesn’t thrive. Is your church membership number stagnant, despite all those church growth seminars you’ve attended? How about a company, ministry or school that is languishing for any number of reasons? Maybe it’s a relationship that used to produce fruit but lately, just leaves.
Here’s some lessons learned in gardens and life about growth.
Growth occurs when the right conditions are present. This is a biological principle that applies everywhere. My original plants didn’t belong in clay. Maybe your business is gasping because you haven’t adapted to market changes. My husband built a large insurance company fifteen years ago, with telemarketing. If you tried that today, it’d be as smart as when Kodak decided digital photos were a passing fad.
Is your church ministering to the community that IS around you geographically or are you still structuring things for people groups who USED to live there? Did your organization used to fill a need but that need no longer exists and you’re not sure what to do?
Whatever your non-growth situation is, you need to learn what your soil is made of and what will grow best in it.
Why did God position you, your family, your company, church, etc. where He did? What gifts, skills and strengths do you uniquely possess? What felt needs of people can you meet that others can’t? What plants can grow in your soil?
Growth is a sequential process. With perennial plants, (the ones that come up each year) there is a saying, “First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap.” The idea is that for the first two years of a perennial plant’s garden life, growth happens underground in the root system. If you respect roots, after two seasons of patience and care, you should see a real show in year three. One year, my impatience caused me to use Miracle Grow on all my plants. For a while, EVERYTHING looked amazing and lush, just like the commercials. Then midsummer, while the annuals continued to thrive, my perennials fell over. A master gardener taught me that Miracle Grow is junk food for perennials. I forced them to grow beyond what their roots were prepared to sustain.
I’ve observed this exact scenario in organizations, businesses, churches and ministries. Eagerness for growth causes people to launch things prematurely. We see something working somewhere else so we grab it, whether it suits our roots or not. Impatience is a poor decision maker and leaves a wake of failure behind it.
Build and respect your roots in these ways:
Strengthen and improve what you’ve got. Train folks, re-model your facility or website, prepare, prepare, for when God brings His show to your doorstep. What if increase came today? Are you ready?
Create new systems with your existing people to accommodate growth. If your business processes are structured to only handle 20 clients, what are you going to do with 50? If your church nursery only holds five infants, where are you going to put four new ones?
Learn what your strengths are then build and market on them. Small organizations possess qualities of camaraderie and community that large entities struggle to create. Large endeavors offer variety and options. Whatever your strengths are, there are people searching for them who don’t know about you yet.
Amend your soil with new ideas and methods. Your core message doesn’t change but methods must. My generation loved flannel graphs, today’s children are computer savvy. My husband is building a different book of insurance business using no telemarketing. Instead he’s enjoying success with social media and referral rewards.
Take heart, growth is God’s idea. When you combine the right soil with the right plants, there’s no end to how well things can grow.