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The Tale of the Carrot

by Heather Zempel

Where do carrot seeds come from?

My good buddy, Julie, is an organic farmer in West Virginia, and she taught me one of the most valuable leadership lessons I’ve ever heard.

Carrot seeds. Where are they? Have you ever seen them? How does a carrot reproduce? Here’s what I learned from my farmer friend—

You can plant a carrot seed, and in one season, that seed will become a fully formed carrot that you can pull from the ground and eat right immediately. You find instant gratification but lose the ability to reproduce it.

If you want carrot seeds, you have to leave that carrot in the ground, let it overwinter, and wait. In the second season, the flowering stalk will shoot up and produce seeds. Now, you not only have a carrot; you have a reproducible carrot.

One good carrot can develop in a season. It’s even possible for a great carrot to develop in a season. But if you want a carrot that can live beyond itself, you have to be twice as patient. Instant gratification does not produce reproducible carrots; patience produces reproducible carrots. You have to let the carrot lie in the cold, dark, hard ground for a long time.

Maybe you feel overlooked. Maybe you feel like you are in a cold and isolated place. Maybe you feel like you have served your time for far too long. You have stood by as others have been picked before you. You’ve been passed over while others have been picked. Is that unfair? Or is it possible that you are being groomed for a much greater purpose?

Maybe you are a good carrot—or even a great carrot. But if you want to be the kind of carrot that is reproducible, you may have to stay in the ground and trust the farmer to know when the time is right. In the Kingdom of God, it’s not enough to be good leaders or great leaders; we must become reproducible leaders. Leading at that level isn’t just about our ability; it’s also about our potential. Which means we may have to lay low, walk in patient persistence, and be willing to go seemingly unnoticed for a season. The best carrots aren’t picked immediately; they are strategically left in the ground so they can spread their influence more broadly later. Don’t short-circuit your potential by being too eager to come out of the ground.

A native Alabamian, Heather Zempel currently leads the discipleship efforts at National Community Church in Washington, DC, where she oversees small groups, directs leadership development training, and serves on the weekend teaching team. Heather put her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological engineering to work as an environmental engineer and policy consultant on energy and environment in the United States Senate before going into full-time ministry. She and her husband, Ryan, live on Capitol Hill, and she is the author of Sacred Roads and Community is Messy.

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