Tomato Tomahto: Leadership and Tomatoes

In Planting In Hope, I mentioned that our garden has expanded. In fact our garden has expanded even further as of that date and has come to include live animals. Last season we planted tomatoes directly into the ground from seed in late May. They grew exceptionally but our season isn’t long enough to have them come to full ripeness in order to enjoy the fruit of our labor. This year we planted starts earlier as well as planted maturing plants. However, I’m not here to share how our tomatoes are doing, but how gardening brings with it many humbling leadership lessons. Those lessons are threefold: tomatoes take time, tomatoes need pruning and direction, tomatoes need help and support.

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There are certain plants that have quick dates to maturity, while others take more time. Tomatoes are one of those fruits that have a longer date to maturity. And because of where we live, sowing seed directly into the ground won’t allow for full maturity before the frost comes. To allow for timely maturity, we need to extend the season by sowing seeds earlier into starter trays or using a greenhouse and controlling the necessary ingredients for healthy growing: soil, light, heat, air, water.

Likewise, leadership takes time to develop. It can require a training ground, one where conditions are controlled, where you can train for the outdoors. But how do you train to lead if you have no one to lead? One man once said that he wasn’t a leader because he has no followers, to which I would reply that he is a leader by nature. You always have at least one person to lead and influence. The training ground to producing much influence is to first be able to lead yourself: to have self-control. And perhaps if one is faithful in that, his influence may grow outward. Some may already have others they have been called to lead. If you are a husband and father, your wife and children are the first people to lead and influence. Once that is accomplished, perhaps you will be given the additional responsibility to influence your neighbor, community, and country.

Tomatoes Need Pruning and Direction

By simply watering tomatoes, they will tend to grow but the growth will be in all directions, and the fruit might be sparse and of lesser quality. It takes less energy for a plant to grow leaves and vines than fruit. And although you won’t get good fruit without leaves, leaves can crowd the plant, block sunlight, and minimize airflow. Because of that, it requires a gardener to prune shoots and leaves. Leaves toward the bottom of the plant are older and are first to get “sick”. These need to be pruned off to help focus the energy toward the healthy leaves and fruit. Furthermore, there will be additional stems that will start growing that also need to be pruned because they will cause multi-stemmed, multi-directional plants. When all is said and done, there are two reasons for pruning: fruitlessness and fruitfulness.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:2).

When a plant is fruitless, it can waste a lot of the gardeners time, it wastes space in the garden, and takes energy from the soil. Sometimes, a gardener can decide to do some heavy pruning to help focus the plant and other times the gardener can choose to completely cut down the plant to make room for a new one. On the other hand, when a plant is fruitful, the gardener can chose to prune off certain fruits to focus on the bigger and better fruits and to grow more fruit.

One of the central traits of leadership, is to have direction for the growth of your influence. People will follow one with a sense of direction, a sense of vision, and focus. This is because it is a difficult and humbling task to be a leader. It requires one to take responsibility for the fruit of his followers. What happens to tomatoes can likewise happen to leaders: lack directional growth. Leaders need constant pruning. We need to understand the idea of trade-off and come the humbling realization that God created a world where there are exchanges and sacrifices. These can cause us short-term pain in exchange for long term fruit. In order to do this, we need to have a sense of direction and keep the stem growing upwards toward the sun.

Tomatoes Need Help and Support

Last year tomato plants

Last year, we made all three of the mistakes by not planting early, not pruning regularly, and not supporting. This year we attempted to not make the same mistakes. We planted starts earlier in the season, constant pruning has been happening, and supports are in place. Previously we let the tomatoes grow, not knowing that they will be falling over and interweaving among one another and only after they got big did I attempt to support the vines where ever I could. The supports weren’t very stable causing a lot of the vines to crawl on the ground.

This year we put up cattle panels all long our fence line and have been weaving the stems all throughout the panels. Every few days the new growth received new support. This keeps the plants growing straight and not cross one another allowing for good airflow and great sunshine.

In the same way, a leader needs help and support. Leaders need trellises. Some believe that they’ll be fine without any help, without any support, without a team of people keeping him from crawling on the ground, however that is a misconception. Without a constant support system, the leader will collapse. A trellis helps sustain the heavy growth and direction of the leader. Believe it or not, a leader isn’t necessarily the one holding himself up. The leader is held up by others and is held accountable by his support system. The vision and direction comes from the leader and yet that vision is guided by the support system.

This year

Leadership, like growing tomatoes, can be a difficult task. But if done faithfully, the fruit will abundantly abound. By starting early, pruning constantly, and supporting properly, our leadership effectiveness will grow. At the same time we are to keep in mind that we can start on time, prune and support properly, and be found fruitless or diseased. This is because behind all of our adventures, it is God who gives the growth. Therefore, we do all things by faith.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:5-9).

Leaders Take Time
Leaders Need Pruning and Direction
Leaders Need Help and Support

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