Prior to this fall, I hadn’t set foot in a pumpkin patch for many years. It’s not that doing so is inconvenient. Our neighbor Norm owns several acres adjacent to our subdivision, where he grows sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sells them by the roadside. And in the fall, he invites everyone into a large section of his mega-garden known as Kristin’s Pumpkin Patch.
One picture perfect weekend this fall, my wife, Beth, wondered aloud if our two-year-old granddaughter, Ivy, might be old enough to enjoy the pumpkin patch. Norm’s house is near its entrance, and he even provides a fleet of little red wagons with which to shop. So we invited Ivy and her parents to come and discover pumpkins with us.
Ivy absolutely loved it. She loved choosing the wagon and helping push it from behind. She loved walking through cornstalks five times her height into a vast, open field of countless pumpkins. She loved crouching by the pumpkins and touching them. She loved choosing her own pumpkins and watching us cut them from the vine. She loved organizing her pumpkins in the wagon and taking them back to Norm to weigh them. She even loved washing the pumpkins at our house and choosing where to display them.
None of the things Ivy loved about that experience were new or particularly exciting to me. But through her eyes they became new and exciting to me again. Showing her the little I knew about navigating a pumpkin patch rekindled a childlike joy in me. I found myself wondering why we hadn’t gone to the pumpkin patch more often.
Later I thought how much that experience with Ivy resembled evangelism and discipleship, or at least what they should be like. Out of our love for Ivy and our desire for her wellbeing, we told her about something wonderful that she had never experienced. We described the patch and told her what it would be like, but she had to decide whether she would enter into it.
Once inside, we walked with her. We explained things to her. We helped with things she couldn’t yet do herself, like cutting the pumpkins and pulling the wagon. But she was right there participating, learning, choosing, obeying, enjoying. She was a pumpkin patch disciple. And at the end of the day, in her own two-year-old way, she became a pumpkin patch evangelist.
I then thought how much discipleship is like leader development. Many people in a church don’t think of themselves as leaders, or haven’t yet been given an opportunity, or don’t yet have confidence in their gifting or abilities. Many have simply never been invited into that patch. But those of us who know how to select fruit and transport it know that they could too, if someone would invite them in, and show them how.
Perhaps more than ever, our churches need inviting, disciple-makers, and also pastors and leaders who develop disciples into leaders. It takes intentionality, and time, and of course some patience. Maybe that’s why we don’t do it more often.
The pumpkin patch has encouraged me, though, and I hope it will encourage you too, as a metaphor for both making disciples and developing leaders. Even if you haven’t been there for a while, it’s really not that far away, and it’s really not that hard to invite someone who’s never experienced it to join you there, and to discover and grow. Especially if you care about them, you’ll find that experiencing their newfound wonder and joy in the Lord will renew your own. And that’s a place to which we should want to return again and again.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.