In your garden you can do various things to help things grow ... but in the final analysis you can't actually make things grow. Only God can do that. And yet if you do nothing, things will still grow!
A meadow is a vibrant example of God making things grow, even without us. Our ability to go with God, seeing what He is doing is a spiritual exercise. Spiritual leadership is contributing to the growth processes that God desires.
In the first few verses Paul calls on the Corinthians to grow up spiritually and think differently to the rest of the world. The worlds has its standards, but if we just go by these we see all kinds of jealousy and quarrelling - we have had no shortage of that in our country recently! We are to be different: Jesus is Lord and for us everything is referenced through Jesus. Whether there is an EU or not, in or out, Jesus is still Lord for us and sets our thinking.
In verse v5 Paul pins himself up along with other leaders, almost as if lining up faces for a leadership contest. But he says 'Who are we?', and then self-answers with 'we are servants'. They are each on assignment by the Lord. They have different tasks, but are all equal before Him.
Their tasks are likened to gardening, but of course ultimately it is God who makes anything grow. Each leader helps nurture and contribute to the conditions, but God does the wonderful work. Furthermore we should recognise that it is God who directs the shape of the proceedings and how the garden will look overall. Our job as Christian leaders is to learn to see what God is doing and go with it. We should be in the habit of asking 'What is God up to, and how am I supposed to be a part of it?'. In other words going with God, rather than organising God.
To be a leader as gardener means having intentions rather than rigid plans. It makes room for surprises, open to possibilities without having to control all the outcomes. It looks for where the energy and growth is. It goes with the journey God takes people on, rather than intervening in every detail. It therefore keeps listening and asking questions, to monitor and adjust along the way. Yes there will sometimes be re-potting, even digging up occasionally, and at other times just letting things grow, simply asking the question 'Is it fruitful?'.
This image as gardener shouldn't be a great surprise. Genesis 2 starts with a garden for humans to take care of. Revelation 22 has the river of life, which provides for trees with crops and leaves. We of course live in a fallen and broken world, making the work that much harder (see Genesis 3!). Into that Jesus came to restore, a work that would take him to the cross. Once dead he was laid in a tomb ... which was in a garden. John records Mary seeing the risen Jesus, but mistaking him for a gardener!
In many ways the garden acts as a metaphor for the place where God has placed us for His work. We are now called to work with Jesus in His garden. Back in our Corinthians passage verse 9 Paul recognises himself as a fellow-worker in God's 'field' of people.
Isaiah 45:8 talks of salvation springing up from the ground - once again God bringing the growth. We want to see Kingdom Life across the city, i.e. God causing people to be saved and restored in all kinds of places. Let us work and lead like gardeners, creating conditions to work with Jesus and see what God can grow.