Growing Season

Yes I’m grounded

Got my wings clipped

I’m surrounded by all this pavement

Guess I’ll circle while I wait for my fuse to dry

-John Mayer

I recently met with a pastor friend who expressed his frustration about church growth. He told me about all of the postive changes that his church had made and how excited he was about ministry, when all of a sudden he blurted out, “It’s just really frustrating sometimes. When are we going to be back in a growth season?”

Without missing a beat, I told him, “You are in a growth season.” I went on to explain a picture of a table full of sand on top. When a certain amount of sand piled on the table, anything else you put on would simply fall over the side. Even if there was some way to contain the new sand, eventually it would grow to be too heavy and the table would collapse. The only way to sustainably add new sand would be to add more table.

I’ve heard this image somewhere, maybe a few somewheres, about church leadership. The thought is that if we add more leaders then we can add more followers. If one stops growing leaders, then his church will stop growing. While on one level I agree with the logic, I think that the quality of leaders is more important than sheer numbers.

Keeping with the table image, there are all sorts of ways that adding size simply isn’t enough. Adding leaders who are unseasoned, would be like adding saplings to the table. While a sapling adds to the size of the table, it certainly can’t hold as much weight.

Adding leaders with unresolved inner turmoil and pain would be like adding dry rot to the table. While the wood might look healthy, soon its weaknesses are revealed and the cracks show. What’s worse, their unhealth can spread to surrounding boards.

Adding leaders without an abiding relationship in Jesus Christ would be like adding hollow boards to the table. While they might appear strong and are able to do the job for a while, after storms and spills, with enough pressure, they will implode.

Adding leaders who aren’t really invested in the mission and vison of the church would be like simply setting boards on top of the table. Though they are strong boards and capable of holding weight, if they’re not deeply connected to the rest of the table, they will simply fall over the side along with the sand.

Adding (or keeping) burnt out, exhausted leaders would be like adding boards that are already bowing under the weight of their load. Though the boards were once strong, it now becomes dangerous to add more weight, lest you risk shattering them into pieces.

Okay, I’ve taken the table metaphor to its limits (and probably beyond), but you get my point. Simply adding numbers isn’t enough. When we add the wrong people to the mix, it not only compromises the table, but it also increases the load for the other boards. It isn’t to say that people who are unseasoned, hurting, burnt out, unrooted, or unengaged are bad people. In fact, I believe that God uses such people to do great things, once they are healed, whole, and in the right place. God takes his time to get us back up to speed. In the mean time, (to quote Joshua Harris from a different context), “The right person at the wrong time is the wrong person.”

My frustrated friend is in a growth season. I can see all the signs. His table has lost some boards. He personally has been sanded down, restained, and left to thoroughly dry. This growth season is the most frustrating kind, since everything looks frozen on the outside. It’s as if time is moving in slow motion, if not stopped entirely. Sometimes, as God does his work, we move backwards. We’re stripped down to nothing and left feeling vulnerable and alone.

But while the outward growth is stunted, we become stronger, healthier, and more rooted. In the future, we will be stronger and better prepared to carry the weight of the Gospel message. Our vision is clearer. We have the courage to go where God has called us like people with nothing left to lose. Our lives feel like an exhilaratingly scary combination of falling and flying.

What if it’s just flying? It only feels like falling because we haven’t let go of what is supposed to happen and keep trying to figure out exactly what is happening. Maybe when we let go, we will simply enjoy the ride.

These past months, I haven’t really enjoyed the feeling much. I can identify with my friend’s frustration. I’ve personally used the metaphor of wandering in the desert to describe my experience most of the time. While I was praying over the matter, God said, “Remember that wandering can be a place of unimaginable beauty and blessings if you’re not trying to get back to Egypt or find your own Promised Land.”

Maybe the wilderness is my Promised Land right now.

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