How do you function as a spiritual leader in your classroom? Are you a gardener?
Scripture frequently describes our walk with God metaphorically, and its favorite source for metaphor is the garden. The Psalter begins with this beautiful assertion: the one who meditates on God’s law “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season” (Ps. 1:3). “A farmer went out to sow his seed,” declares Jesus in Luke 8:5, and he continues with one of the paradigmatic parables of the synoptic gospels, comparing our lives and our communities to four different qualities of soil. And Paul illustrates the partnership between various spiritual leaders by writing, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6).
We who teach are spiritual leaders, fellow gardeners with Paul, and our classrooms are like gardens where God the Holy Spirit helps children grow. As I apply the biblical gardening metaphors to my work as a teacher, I find that the Word addresses me with the following questions: Who am I as a gardener? What kinds of soils am I working with, and how will I seek to improve these soils? How am I cultivating the plants that are growing in God’s garden? Who are my fellow gardeners?
We’ll ponder these questions one by one.
Who am I as a gardener?
The central paradox of tending God’s garden is that I am both the gardener and also a plant. I am being cultivated even as I engage in cultivation! My work for the Lord must begin by resting graciously inside that wondrous paradox. I am the teacher of my students, but at a deeper and more fundamental level, I am a fellow child of God with them, older and (hopefully) a little wiser, a mentor and role model to them, showing what it’s like to be a plant tended by the Lord. This paradox holds several implications for my teaching.