Spiritual Gardening—Nurturing One Plant at a Time by Mark Steiner

Imagine the delight of a gardener carrying hard-earned baskets of carrots, tomatoes, beans, or potatoes into the house. The diligent labor—preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and cultivating the plants—is finally rewarded when family and friends sink their teeth into the fresh produce. Nothing is more satisfying.

Discipleship is very similar to gardening. Children are like seeds that eventually grow into mature plants that produce both good and bad fruit. In a healthy environment, kids have unlimited growth potential. The gratifying feeling of nurturing a young disciple who blossoms and flourishes is priceless. The apostle John confirms: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

When you plant a garden, each type of seed is different. Every pip will grow into a plant appropriate to its kind. Gardeners who work hard cultivating and weeding will likely harvest a bountiful crop. It’s the same with raising children. The satisfaction of raising a “spiritually successful” child cannot be surpassed.

2000 years ago, Jesus introduced a very successful (and innovative) training program for His twelve closest followers. Take a close look at Christ’s gardening methods to see how you can reap a bumper harvest.

Early in His ministry, Jesus told a large crowd about spiritual sowing and reaping (Mark 4:1-9). Unfortunately, His disciples didn’t understand what He was talking about. The Lord privately explained to the twelve that people respond to God like seeds respond to soil. Just as seeds develop differently in various soil types, children respond differently to God’s Word. Some initially embrace the message but soon lose interest, others eventually give up on God, some become captivated by the world, and still others produce a bountiful crop (4:10-20).

Jesus’ parable warns children’s ministry leaders that unless they are proactive, it is likely that three out of four kids will fall prey to the enemy’s devious designs. Current statistical research from sources like Barna, Gallop, Rainer, etc. clearly substantiate that danger!

In contrast to our present 25% success rate, how effective was Jesus’ training program? The inspired record indicates that out of twelve disciples whom Jesus personally mentored, eleven remained committed through the end of their lives. They carried out Christ’s command to make more and more disciples. Those eleven men trained others to follow the same principles of personal discipleship that Jesus had showed them.

Now examine your own disciple-making strategy and practices. Jesus trained the twelve to transform the world. If your ministry is truly based on Christ’s model, you will be personally invested as a “life-coach” who directly disciples others. Congratulations—your fruit will remain!

Schools, churches, media, and culture all have varying degrees of influence over your children. Like a good gardener, you can frighten away birds that swoop down. You can shelter seeds from the scorching sun. You can uproot thorns that threaten to choke God’s Word. With God’s help, you can grow kids who flourish.

Your disciples will someday blossom into adulthood—the harvest will come! Until then, nurture the soil in which each seed is planted. Resist the temptation to give up or to become complacent. You will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-10)!


Mark Steiner is the founder and CEO of DiscipleLand. He is committed to creating resources that help the Church raise up the next generation of disciples.

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