Fall has arrived, at least unofficially. That means that life in the churches I serve shifts into another pattern. Our summer pattern is being pushed aside by the demands of the fall pattern. All churches that I know have different patterns depending on the time of the year. Most, for example, have a more relaxed and less structured summer schedule–with people going away for vacations and so on, summer definitely isn’t the time to be introducing new ideas, new programs and new deeply significant sermon series. Fall–well, generally people are ready for something new and different and even challenging. But it has to be something that will fit nicely into the time frame allowed before the Christmas season overtakes us. And of course, after Christmas, we are in the midst of the winter season where we can’t really predict which program or Sunday sermon will get wiped out by the coming blizzard.
I have always been a pastor of churches whose members are connected to farming and fishing. That means we generally have to consider the cycles of those activities in our church planning process–there is really no point in planning a men’s retreat at the beginning of fishing or farming season. It probably isn’t all that wise to plan the retreat for the first weekend of hunting or sport fishing season either, at least in the rural areas that I work in.
When I worked in Kenya, I had to learn to become familiar with the rainy season cycle and its associated activities–and since Kenya has two rainy seasons, that meant switching gears twice a year. I learned not to plan road trips to rural congregations during the rainy season because good rains means good crops and bad roads.
There are other cycles that are less frequent but which also need to be taken into consideration. Election cycles have some effect on our lives and therefore our churches. Child bearing and raising cycles affect what we do. The school year makes a difference as does the boom and bust cycle of some resource based jobs.
In our lives, we live through some significant cycles. Education, dating, starting families, changing jobs, aging and its related issues all are part of large human cycles and all affect what we do and when we do it.
Sometimes, when I look at all the cycles and patterns and so on, I actually wonder how I am going to get anything done at all. Fall is here–but my fall planning will be interrupted by Thanksgiving (here in Canada, Thanksgiving is in early October). Post Christmas planning is always iffy and many people don’t even want to think about doing anything beyond basic programs until March–because you never know when there will be a snow storm.
In the end, all of our lives are tied up in a variety of cycles. There are repetitive seasons and events and times and the best thing we can do is remember then and consider them and work with them. It tends to make things a bit more complicated by ignoring the cycles becomes even more complicated–the men’s retreat at the beginning of the spring planting cycle really isn’t going to be particularly well attended event–nor is preaching a critical sermon on a warm dry Sunday in the middle of haying season.
As a pastor, I need to keep track of all the seasons and cycles and repetitive things–but I also need to be able to look beyond all of them and have a sense of where this is all going. It become a bit like following a compass course in the woods. If you spend all your time looking at the trees close by, you quickly get off course. To get to where you are going, you need to look along the compass course and ignore the close trees to find a distant landmark that can be clearly seen and head towards it. Then, you can circle around tress and swamps and holes and rocks and whatever else it in the way because you can see where you are going.
As a pastor, I see and know the cycles of life in the church–and then try to look beyond them to see where God is leading us. That landmark helps all of us keep moving the right way.
May the peace of God be with you.