“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” – King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 3:1
This past weekend my two boys and I road-tripped deep into Appalachia, passing through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky. Our mission was to secure a new buckling for our homestead in hopes that Thor (the name of our new goat) might eventually prove himself a capable sire for the next generation of goats. He definitely looks the part.
Our road trip was full of laughter, casual conversation, audio books, and consuming food we don’t digest very often. Our trip was also enveloped by one breathtaking view after the next with the colors of Fall. On several occasions I decelerated our vehicle, and with craned necks, we eked out a few more seconds of the rocked terrace bluffs, peppered with reds and yellows and oranges. It is no exaggeration when I say this was the entire trip.
Whether or not Thor ever lives up to his name is yet to be determined, but as I reflect on our road trip, two things stand out: the quality time spent with my boys, and the way in which the colors of Fall are still lingering in my imagination.
As a pastor and church planter, I’m currently in a season of self-reflection. I’m taking in many of the views from the past five plus years of living within a missional frame. Many are truly breathtaking.
We’ve now hosted almost 200 family meals in our home. The missional community photo album in my memory holds nights of amazing food and experiences of gospel hospitality. There have been house shows and bonfire nights and birthday parties. My memory recalls celebratory nights of missional community multiplication and moments of prayer when you feel the needle shift in your soul. The colors are bright and vivid.
I continue to be persuaded by Lesslie Newbigin’s theological framework on the nature and calling of the Church. Living in my local context has only sharpened and strengthened this biblical conviction.
There have been a variety of different seasons. Seasons when new life is budding forth, and seasons when things die off. Road tripping through the changing seasons of missional community life means encountering views that are sometimes not so breathtaking.
Inevitably, we all prefer certain seasons over others, yet each season is needed. Scripture teaches each season is ordained providentially by God whose intention is always for our good and His glory. Each season holds invaluable gifts and fresh opportunities to encounter the gospel of Jesus Christ in a deeper and more meaningful way.
Summer: The Romantic Idealist
We planted our church in the summer of 2015 with missional communities as our organizing structure from day one. The sun was out. The sky was bright and blue and not a cloud was in sight. Many of the snapshots I just shared reflect the summer
Anyone who has set out on the journey of missional community living knows firsthand the excitement and sheer energy this season brings, living life together as a family of missionary servants. Missional community nights lingering well into the evening, being good family with each other is contagious. Living into the church existing as a sent people and witnessing the gospel move out into the lost pockets and places of our culture is compelling.
Yet this season is often too optimistic and near-sighted. The implied speed and scale of this season can look more like the kingdom of Babel than the Kingdom of God. My original five-year strategic plan drafted for our missional communities included a multiplication scaling rate of two to three missional communities per year (among other like-minded metrics). This pre-plant idealism lacked the buffering that comes from living through the other seasons. I’ll never forget sharing this plan with our church plant of “where we were supposed to be” as we entered year five together. We all had a good belly laugh.
Winter: The Disillusioned Pessimist
In this season, the pendulum can really swing. The Gray Haven’s song entitled Summer Meets Winter illustrates the stark contrast between these two seasons.
If summer tends to be too optimistic, winter tends to be too pessimistic. Typically, something comes along that rocks the missional community boat: a few weeks go by and nobody shows up, the new missional community that multiplied out never really materializes, windows get broken and your kid’s toys go missing, or after several missional false starts, you begin to wonder if there is any low hanging fruit anywhere. (FYI, we’ve experienced all of these.)
With the winter season comes short days and cold nights. Winter carries with it the appearance that nothing seems to be happening. All that is living seems dead. There are no songbirds or radiant colors; just a dreary landscape. In this season, you might find yourself saying: missional communities do not work. In the dead of winter this pragmatist logic seems irrefutable. I understand why some would say that, but the appearance that they do not work may in fact be because they are working better than we think.
It’s been in the dead of winter that I’ve come to grips with the tragic cost of decades of non-discipleship cultures, the Goliathesque strength of the secular story, and the deceptive lure of a church-based consumerism. Couple all this with the American pace of life, which doesn’t allow any of us to slow down long enough to glean the gifts of a winter season. Persevering through the Winter season prepares us for what is to come.
Fall: The Sober-Minded Realist
More than any other, the Fall season is one full of beauty and wonder. Living into the nature and calling of the Church is stepping into a life of beauty and wonder at God and His ways.
As we road-tripped through Appalachia last week, we slowed down and observed. The deposit I made in my boys is full of sobriety and pastoral realism at what they are facing. I am strategically yet sustainably growing my homestead (fingers crossed).
We are entering a season of missional community living that is more sober-minded and realistic about the culture that lies in front of the church. Doing mission in our context has been painfully slow and I expect that to continue. We will continue to be strategic, yet also embracing a missional pace that is more sustainable and closer to the pace of Jesus. I don’t recall one Scripture where we find Jesus running frantically about saving the world, so why am I anxiously toiling again?
What about the Spring season? Our missional community has certainly witnessed hints of the Spring season throughout our journey. Living through the changing seasons is not a linear process. But one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, I look forward to testifying to the miraculous, regenerating work of Spring: a season full of the Holy Spirit’s surprising and transforming work of grace, creating multitudes of new life from among the old.
All the seasons find their proper place in a world ordained and ordered by God. Which season are you in?