Different trees should be pruned at different times of the year, and different trees require different nutrients for their health. To understand a tree and care for a tree it is important to know what kind of tree it is, what season of the year it is, and where the tree is in its life cycle. Pruning a tree out of season may cause permanent damage.
Trees and shrubs that have been long neglected look unsightly and the untrained may engage in radical pruning, but radical pruning taken too far may result in the death of the tree – better to prune a certain percentage now and see what happens, then more later, and then more yet later. Shocking a neglected tree by excessive pruning may kill the tree.
Guiding others in spiritual formation, shepherding others, requires that we know what kinds of trees we are working with, what stages of life they are in, and understanding their growth patterns. We should neither expect nor desire that an apple tree be a holly tree, or that a dogwood tree behave as a Bradford pear tree. Is the tree a sapling? Is it in middle age? Is it nearing the end of its life cycle? Is it a majestic oak which has witnessed generation upon generation come and go?
We err when we think that all trees must look the same, have the same patterns, bear the same fruit, require the same nutrients, and be pruned the same. While there are common principles in care that transfer from tree type to tree type – these principles are rooted in understanding and knowing types of trees.
When I insist that an apple tree become an oak tree I damage the apple tree and I frustrate myself and others; when I insist that an oak tree bear apples the angels think me foolish.
We often act as if God only planted one type of tree in His Garden; that tree just happens to be our particular way of thinking or our experience of God or our personal history or the particular flock of God with which we fellowship; while the Bible portrays God’s people as a many-membered body with different functions, gifts, and graces – we tend to gravitate toward those like us – we do this in our teaching, our expectations, our service, and our acceptance of others. In terms of discipleship, we often treat all trees the same; we provide the same nutrients, we prune them in the same season and in the same manner, and we expect the same fruit. This is not wise, nor is it showing deference to the Master Gardner who planted all the trees in His Garden. We do well when we look to Him for guidance on how to care for the souls which He has planted.