The leaves fall off the trees with little fanfare, at least in my backyard. I have seen better, more beautiful, more colourful, but not here where I live. Some of the trees are almost completely empty. The only sign that this is fall was the ugly yellow or brown colour that had replaced the green and then fell off the trees. If trees could feel, could have emotions, I bet the trees in my backyard would be jealous of the deep reds and orange trees display elsewhere.
There was a time they were beautiful.
These tree were once lush with green and even silver leaves. They provided shade and combined to make up a beautiful backdrop that covered up the ugly brick wall of the grocery store just behind us. Their branches gave a resting place for birds of all types, singing songs that made you glad you had a spare moment just to listen. Sadly, now they are only noticed for their limp dying leaves. Now they are just ugly and that ugly will fall, littering the ground, leaving behind a skeleton.
It won’t be long before the ground will be covered with snow.
We have already had our first dusting, a small glimpse into what will become the norm over the next few months. Winter has its charm, especially when viewed from behind a double paned thermal window in a well heated room. It wasn’t long ago that we complained about it being too hot. Now we long for that weather to return. Where I live there are four seasons each coming just when we get comfortable with the one that precedes it. All have a purpose, each one preparing the landscape for the season that follows.
Some seasons are shortened or lengthened by the weather.
Snow comes early one year. The leaves change late another year. A mild winter gives way to an early spring some years. Summer temperatures push their way into October other years. Regardless of the timing, regardless of the intensity, regardless of their duration, the season will change. We need a season of rest for the ground, a season of rebirth for the plants, a season of growth and a season of death to fertilize the ground so it can start again.
Your church has all four seasons as well.
They are inevitable no matter how outside influences affect the timing, intensity or duration. Things are going to change. The problem doesn’t lie in the change, it’s okay to have a season of death and a season of growth, what isn’t okay is if the seasons are not used to prepare for the next season.
The trees in my backyard can’t help that they lack brilliant colour in the fall. Your church can shine as it changes seasons. There will always be times of decline but this is the time for the church to show how beautiful the love of God can be even when things are in decline.
The winter may be cold but it forces a change in activities from the now cold outdoors to the warm indoors. Church can prepare for the next season of outside work while being forced by the season to stay inside.
Spring can be the most difficult time, growth starts slowly, temperatures are unpredictable and the melted snow combined with the rain makes for very muddy conditions. Church can be this way too. You may see the signs of growth but along with growth comes the mud, there is a lot that goes into supporting new growth.
The summer may seem like the best time of the year. Everything is growing and it appears to take little or no effort. The problem is that summer can also bring drought. Churches that grow can quickly enter a season of drought if there is no provision of living water.
Perfection for the church is to experience all four seasons at once.
I believe that as long as there are flawed humans in the church, so until time ends and the bride of Christ is pure and spotless, experiencing all four seasons at once will be next to impossible but here are a few ideas to try.
When ministries are dying off use what is left over (dead leaves) as fertilizer for the next growth cycle.
When there is a lull in outreach use the time to prepare and rest – Sunday morning service, devotion time, small group etc.
When new growth starts remember it needs to be watered (winter melt) – use what you have learned in your preparation and rest time.
When growth is at its fullest don’t forget to keep it fed and fertilized (the stored up water and decaying leaves)
The difference between the ridged season model in nature and the church is that you can be collecting the leaves, building up the snow, applying the fertilizer and water all at the same time. This only happens when we see the church as a multi-dimensional organization that does not have one mission but many.
We must be discipling while being discipled and making disciples.
If the church focuses on just one or two we are stuck in a ridged season model which may lead to a long winter that you will never get out of.