A new minister comes to a church, and he wants a harvest. He’s been there six months, and they’ve had hardly any conversions. He’s getting discouraged. Maybe I made a mistake, he thinks. Maybe I shouldn’t have come to this church. They’re not responding to my ministry. Maybe I’m just not a good fit for these folks, … because there’s no harvest.
As Richard Blackaby shared the typical scenario for so many pastors, he posed the question: “What if he’s in the season of planting? Should you expect a harvest when you’re in a season of planting?”
“The problem for some of us is we don’t know what season we’re in,” Blackaby recently told nearly 40 church leaders who attended a Spiritual Leadership Coaching workshop at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. “I think that’s the source of a lot of frustration for people. They don’t even recognize the season they’re in, so they’re expecting the wrong thing.”
But “to everything there is a season,” he said, referencing Eccl. 3:1.
Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International, is author of The Seasons of God: How the Shifting Patterns of Your Life Reveal His Purposes for You and has also co-authored many books with his father, Henry, including: Experiencing God: Revised Edition and Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda; among others.
He asked the crowd, “Have you noticed parenting preschoolers is different than parenting teenagers or being an empty nester? There are seasons to everything that we do.”
He pointed to something Ron Dunn once said, “With God, timing is more important than time.”
“We’re always in a hurry. I’ve only got so much time,” Blackaby noted, “but with God, time is not critical to Him. What’s important is timing. He knows how to do things at the exact moment to get the maximum impact.”
He added, “The most successful people I’ve seen are the people who have an incredible sense of divine timing.”
That timing, he said, may relate to the growth of spiritual fruit in one’s current ministry, the removal of things no longer working in the ministry, or the challenge to move on to a new place of ministry—even when things are going well.
Comparing ministry seasons to the cyclical seasons of nature, Blackaby said spring represents “a new beginning.”
“It’s about anticipation. It’s about what’s coming up. You can see the buds on the ground… You can plant a billion seeds on one spring day. What are you going to eat at the end of that day? Nothing, right, because it’s not ready yet. It’s just the planting season.”
He described summer as “growth,” “heat.”
“There’s labor. There’s toil. The sun’s beating down, and you’re looking out at those crops and they’re not ready yet,” he said. “It’s like you can work hard and toil hard and sweat hard, but at the end of the day, there’s still no harvest. I’ll tell you, a lot of guys grow weary in summertime. But do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up,” he urged from Galatians 5:9.
“Harvest time, fall season, is when you reap what you’ve sown. For some people, it’s a joyous time. For others, it’s a convicting time… For some people, it’s very humbling to realize the barrenness of their harvest and [how] it reflects the way they were sowing.”
And then comes winter.
“Death, dormancy. Stuff comes to an end. Leaves fall off. It’s barren, stark. It’s formidable sometimes,” he described. “Not that long before, you had harvest time. You’re bringing in all kinds of rewards, and it’s exciting. You’re at the top of your game. It’s celebration! Then, soon afterward, winter sets in. It’s quite a contrast.”
He noted, “We resist winter, but if you never had a winter, stuff gets really cluttered. Winter clears out the clutter. Winter says it’s time for some things to die.”
Pointing to ministry itself, he said, “We’re so loyal to previous success. That’s why you’ve got churches in 2017 still clinging to stuff that was successful in the 1950’s, because it worked back then. It was great in the 1950’s, but it’s long since past its season and it needs to be put to rest.”
But there are new spring times, whether it’s through reinvention of one’s self in a current ministry position or the move to a more challenging ministry environment where new skills and opportunities arise.
He asked the leaders, “Have you ever just had that sense that things were about to change? You just had a sense that ‘I don’t know that I’m going to be here much longer,’ but no one said anything. No one has given you any warning. It’s a restlessness in your spirit that says I sense something’s going to change.”
Blackaby admitted he thought when God called him to be a pastor, he would stay in that position until he died.
“[But] the moment you stop growing is the moment you start dying. I know so many, over the years, who had been experiencing this slow death. There’s nothing new. They’re in the same ministry they’ve been in for years. No new challenges, just roll over the calendar, and have the same events.”
Fortunately, for Blackaby, God continued growing him through new ministry positions.
“I run a nonprofit now, I ran a seminary before, I ran a church before that, but everything just builds on what had gone on before. If you’re faithful in a little, God just gives you more, and it’s a new springtime,” he explained.
“A lot of us are afraid of spring times. We just keep wanting to hold on to what we know,” he cautioned. “Don’t expect it’s going to be just like you’ve always done. It will be different. God loves to change it up.”
When you’re in harvest, “get both hands moving and harvest all you can, because winter’s coming and that season’s going to come to an end, that stage is going to come to an end,” he said.
“Just embrace winter when it comes. Let God clear some things out, bring some things to an end, because in His perfect time, there will be another springtime,” Blackaby concluded. “One thing you can count on, no matter how cold and long and dark and hard the winter, God always has another springtime.”
What season are you in?
BCM/D’s Church Strengthening team members stand ready to coach you through your next season. If you find you are at a season of laying to rest some matters (winter) but not yet sure about what to plant (spring), perhaps the next AWAKEN cohort would be just right for the revitalization journey. To learn more, contact Randy Millwood at email@example.com or at (800) 466-5290, ext. 217.