Piano_1024x768So another Catalyst event has come and gone. Every year I’m amazed at the energy behind this event. Of course given the level of excellence in all areas there’s no reason to be amazed I don’t guess. I was there to find out what sort of reception our new small group resource, Small Group Life, was going to receive. It was very positive. Those I spoke with were excited about Small Group Life‘s missional bent and streamlined experience—not to mention the price. That was all great to hear. (By the way, become a fan on Facebook and enter to win some cool stuff for your group—including a group retreat to North Carolina or New Mexico.)

The list of presenters at Catalyst 2009 was as strong as ever. I had an opportunity to hear Mitch Albom and Tony Dungy. Malcolm Gladwell was his usual intriguing self. I managed to catch most of Rob Bell’s time, too. But the most interesting thing I heard came from Shane Hipp. Shane was only on the platform for about 20 minutes. Or at least it seemed very short to me. He talked about the medium of the message, but what I thought was most profound was his description of his recent visit to a museum during which he observed a security guard posted at a rare painting. The guard wore a gun and uniform. He was equipped with several devices as well. The painting was sealed in an air-tight frame, protected from both the light and the air. It was only available to be viewed a specific times of the day by small groups of 5 or so at a time. The art was firmly secured to its metal moorings making it for the most part impossible to be removed—a virtual hortus conclusus—and the guard’s job was to protect the beauty enclosed behind the 2-inch thick glass.

And then he went outside the museum where a gardener was working in a flower bed. The garden was open and vulnerable to the elements. If it was hot, then the plants had to find a way to sustain themselves. During the cold the flowers he care for must endure. There were no boundaries to the garden so the gardener’s art availed itself even to the reckless, inconsiderate, and ill-intentioned. It could be trampled or even destroyed. The gardener can diminish risk, but he can’t totally remove risk and danger. The gardener’s job is to create an environment in which the garden can flourish. The gardener is all about exposing beauty for the world.

It occurred to Shane that were the skills required to be a guard suddenly placed in the role of gardener then the garden would surely die. He concluded with this question to the leaders on hand at Catalyst 2009: Are you a guard or a gardener?

I think we all know where Shane is headed, but for my part I’d have to say that this is another context where we must resist the urge to think in either/or propositional positions. Just like we are charged both to take care of the orphans and widows AND keep ourselves unstained by the world at once, we must also simultaneously play the roles of guard and gardener. And, yeah, it can be tricky and, yeah, the process might not ever be a tidy one. Go too light on the guard duty and you get something like what is described in Isaiah 5:5-7. Not enough gardener and you get the same: death. But does this have application to small-group leadership in the same way? Initially I thought so. But after thinking about it I wonder if small group leadership requires more of one than the other. Regardless, I thought Hipp’s Catalyst presentation was something for consideration.