Seasons change. In some places, the differences between seasons are more extreme than others. You may own both ice skates and a bathing suit to use in the same lake over the course of a year. Sometimes a season seems to stay past its welcome, while other times it seems like you pass through more than one season in the course of 24 hours.
Seasons mean changes—in what we wear, what we plan, how we think, and how we feel. They may happen to us, seemingly out of our control, but our response is what changes what comes out of them.
The same thing goes for changes in seasons of ministry and starting fresh expressions of church.
As you read this, you may be in the midst of a changing season—perhaps literally, but more likely figuratively. You may have received news from a district superintendent or a call from a board or pastor in another town that you’ll be moving to a new church.
You may be graduating or nearing retirement or preparing for a new family member who will require much of your time in the coming months and years.
You or your spouse may have received a job offer you can’t refuse—which also means moving on.
You may have just started the journey of starting a fresh expression of church, people are excited, and you’ve had dreams and visions of God’s Kingdom sprouting up from weird places.
But now, of course, you’re looking around at the ministry you’ve done, the connections in the community you’ve made, and the ministry you’ve started, and there are questions keeping you up at night: “why now?” “what’s going to happen to it?” “God, what are you doing?” “will it die?”
You know life is about to get busy quickly. And the easy thing to do, the default response in a changing season is to do nothing. Let nature take its course.
But few people treat meteorological changes in season like this. There’s HVAC checkups and lawn cutting and shovel buying and vehicle modifications and weekend planning. Regardless of whether you live in Florida or Minnesota, one thing is always possible and very necessary for every changing season: preparation.
Prepare to Leave Strong Laborers
Jesus knew that human beings are limited beings. Living the human life in human flesh, Jesus knew his time on earth was limited, the places and people he could visit were limited, and he himself was limited.
There were so many people in need of so many things, and most of all, longing to know that God was with them and involving them in the greater story he wanted to write in the world. In Matthew 9, he surveys the crowded landscape and points out the key to preparation for the coming season, saying “to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matthew 9:37-38)
While Jesus recognizes the “harvest,” that’s not necessarily his focus as he begins to think of his coming departure. Instead, he points out what he and his disciples CAN prepare for; his words here is more on the laborers than the harvest.
In Matthew’s gospel, immediately after this scripture is Jesus’ calling of the Twelve—the “laborers” who will not only take over but multiply Jesus’ ministry in the coming decades. The laborers are what will make the difference.
The same thing goes for you. Whether you’re entering a changing season or know that inevitably, one is up ahead in the coming years, the key is leaving strong laborers.
Who do you need to spend time with to catch the vision of the ministry you are doing? Who you need to “apprentice” to take the baton and run with it? What “tools” will he/she/they need to continue what you’ve started?
Prepare to Leave This Season Well
In Matthew 10, Jesus shares with his disciples a whole bunch of lessons for the journey—where to go and where not to go, what to do and what not to do, what to bring and what not to bring, what to expect and what not to expect.
Instead of letting this ragtag group of guys figure these things out on their own, Jesus showed them, shared with them, and walked with them.
The next couple years of ministry involved many opportunities for them to try, to lead, to mess up. Jesus harnessed every moment as a teaching moment and a learning moment to lay the groundwork for what would come after. Matthew 11 begins with the following: “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.”
Jesus never got so caught up in the end that he missed the opportunities right in front of him.
When you know summer is coming, it’s easy to immediately fill your wardrobe with tank tops, flip flops, and shorts, forgetting that it’s still spring. Sometimes as we prepare for and even get excited about the next season, we forget the season we’re still in, which still needs our attention even though we may be nearing its end.
Who or what is in front of you that still needs your attention? What impact can you make in the time you have left?
Prepare to Lead into This Next Season
“You only get fresh eyes once.” A mentor of mine reminded me of those oft-repeated words as I prepared to start my new assignment. Anyone who has started a new season realizes this, but often only after the fact; it’s true, we usually only notice leave on trees after they’ve been bare for months.
When you’ve left the old season and entered the new one, a new location, new home, new church, new staff, new pastor, new community, new schedule, and new season can be overwhelming.
But it’s usually the best time to both look around to see what God is doing, where God is calling, and to begin to set the rhythms you will continue months later.
The ministry or fresh expression of church that you left in the last season may be something you begin again or at least follow the process of starting in your new season.
As you begin, ask yourself what are three key lessons you learned from the last season that will be important for you to remember in the next season? How can you prepare for the new opportunities that lie ahead in the next season?
Preparation is key to fruitfulness in the last season AND the next season.
Prepare strong laborers, prepare to leave well, and prepare to lead into the next adventure that awaits.
And know that whatever change in season, transition, or time between seasons of ministry and life in which you find yourself right now, know that the Lord of the Universe is ahead of you in the next just as he was in the last.
Kris Beckert is Coordinator of Operations for Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Associate Pastor of The Vine, A United Methodist Congregation in Falls Church, Virginia.