By the end of every season, it seems like I’m ready for the next. Cold winter days give way to warmth and new growth in spring. Spring’s pleasant temperatures depart as hot summer days and humidity arrive, also with longer days and cool dips in the river. Summer gives way to autumn, with crisp, cool air, and beautiful leaves falling to the ground in brilliant display.
In nature, and from year to year, new seasons come and go. Sometimes we long for the season prior, but often we long most deeply for the season ahead. Church and ministry can also be that way.
Sometimes when a season in church-life changes, it means all the seniors in youth group graduate and you suddenly have no youth group. It may mean that the nursery is not as full as it once was, or that it’s filling up quickly. Every church has natural life cycles for age-graded ministry. Before beating your pastor or associate minister up about how “we wish we had more youth,” ask yourself where on the life cycle your children and youth programs are, or where on the life cycle your church is.
Sometimes seasons in church-life change with culture, for better or worse. When my current church was founded in 1875 just years after the Civil War, it had black and white members, who served equally in every capacity — including the office of deacon. This was surely an anomaly at a church just 40 miles from the Confederate White House. Our founding pastor’s father was even a general in Lee’s Northern Army.
It’s remarkable to me that in 1875, people of different races worshipped together. By the advent of Jim Crow laws my church had no black members. As segregation became the norm enforced by law and violence (even public lynching) the church (and other area churches) entered a new season. What had looked like spring in terms of rebuilding after the Civil War quickly turned to winter. In Virginia and other parts of the South, the wicked cloud of white supremacy still casts a shadow.
For many churches, and many believers, it may still feel like winter when prominent faith leaders blame natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey on LGTBQ people (seriously; see examples here, here and here). It feels like winter when people who’ve made millions off proffering prosperity gospel poppycock seem slow to open their hand in a time of desperation, as though the warmth of God’s love is somehow ice-bound.
What season is your church in? A season of warmth and growth? A season of dormancy and even death?
The psalmist once wrote “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37:4-5, NRSV). As we delight ourselves in and commit to the Lord, God blesses and God acts. Whatever the future holds, if we truly commit ourselves to the Lord, I believe God will continue acting mightily in and through our churches.
Many churches and pastors may find themselves in a season of weariness:
Weariness from a culture that seems each day to embrace hate and bigotry, no matter what progress has been achieved in the past;
Weariness from worrying that families might be split apart and that Dreamers might be deported to places where they don’t even speak the language;
Weariness from having to constantly reassure LGTBQ friends and family, immigrant families, and people of color, “Yes we’re Baptist, but not that kind of Baptist.” It can be maddeningly difficult to positively state one’s identity when culture forces you time and time again to negatively differentiate.
Those in rural locations (who are moderate or progressive) may struggle with weariness from isolation that can come from being shunned by local clergy groups. My church (proudly) has women deacons, and there are churches in town who wouldn’t partner with us to build a wheelchair ramp for an impoverished family.
Whenever I think of weariness in ministry, I’m reminded of the Apostle’s words, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (Gal.6:9, NRSV).
Harvest is a beautiful season, and my heart longs for it. Every new season has challenges and blessings, but as we trust in the Lord, God will continue to lead our churches through each new season. Are you longing for a new season?