The month of December conjures up multiple emotions as many local Adventist congregations prepare for new lay (and sometimes, pastoral) leadership. It is also a significant month for seasonal change—a time when the northeast U.S. begins preparing for winter and the lowest of temperatures.
These leadership and seasonal changes are often unpalatable and harsh for many. Those times challenge us to think warm thoughts and imagine tropical overtures, like gardening in the tropics.
It’s always refreshing to think warmth when temperatures decrease. Here’s to a focus on “tropical lessons” during the cold U.S. Atlantic Northeast weather.
A vast number of spiritual lessons are resident within the activity of gardening. Some include lessons on death as a sleep (sowing seeds), growth in Christ (demonstrated by all plants), and strong, deep-rooted faith in Christ, which often results in spiritually tall and sturdy Christians (deep roots/sturdy trees). Jesus Christ, Himself, explored many similar lessons as He prepared His followers for both leadership and discipleship (Matthew 21; Mark 4; John 15, KJV).
Warm, Plantain/Banana Lessons
Boasting an extensive variety of more than 100 cultivars, plantain is the term used in reference to a large group of bananas. In Spanish (Spain and Mexico), the term used for plantain is plátano, and it is readily used to denote all types of bananas (Scientia Horticulturae, vol. 234, pp. 126-133). Other Hispanic countries use specific terms, such as, guineo or banana, for the fruit which is eaten ripe and usually sweet. Thus plátano is specific to plantain which is cooked before consuming. The fruit is produced as adjoining fingers which are often harvested as hands.
Similarly, youth ministry is the broad umbrella term used to represent all who serve in the youth ministries arm of our Lord’s service. However, there are diverse specialties within youth ministries. It is not a one size fits all kind of ministry. The various branches include ministries for children and teens (Adventurers, Pathfinders, teen leadership training, Pathfinder Bible Experience), young adult ministries, public campus ministries, senior youth ministries/AYM, master guides, camp ministries, Bible bowl, and compassion ministries, among other culturally-defined branches. All these aforementioned fingers are linked to form the hand of youth ministry; none is more significant than the other. Instead, all are equally essential for youth ministry’s best practices across any given conference field.
Plantain/banana palms are known to grow perennially. Accordingly, successive (daughter) plants are formed from palm suckers (shoots) that often develop from lateral buds which emerge at the base of the main plant. The main plant often bears only once, then dies as the shoots develop to take its place.
Youth leadership should also grow perennially. Ongoing, uninterrupted growth is the ministry’s greatest asset. Just as the plantain palm will not experience the blessings of perpetual growth without the formation and nurturing of shoots, youth ministry will not embrace sustained growth
without the nurturing of successors. It was Ron Whitehead, director of the Center of Youth Evangelism, who noted to the attendees of the 2018 Northeastern Conference Youth Leadership Convention, that if you have not prepared a successor to take your place, you have not led.
None is to think or utter, “I will not produce ‘suckers.’ The ministry will die with me or nothing can go on without me.” Each leader is to ask the Holy Spirit to give them humble discernment, so that they can nurture new “suckers” who will grow up and replace them (with just about the same root system) and grow tall in service.
Only through the main plant can those “suckers” survive—so all leaders build on the shoulders of another. However, if the younger shoots do not receive space for growth, these (main/older) plants can become hindrances to the ministry’s growth. It is expedient for the older, main palm, to make space for the younger shoot’s service; it’s about leading, while producing for another season.