I grew up in a farming community, so everyone was very aware of the seasons and what those seasons meant for life. Certain things happened during certain times of the year. You planted, watered, prepped the dirt and harvested plants at certain times. If you did it at the wrong time (too early or too late), you could harm the crops and miss what could be.
Life, leadership and church are the same. There are times when things are high (harvesting the crops) and times when you are prepping the dirt (getting ready) or pulling out weeds, and it feels like nothing is happening.
Then, like a farm, you start over.
When you start a church (or a new chapter in life), you are clearing the field, getting the seed ready, tilling the ground. Things like building a team, building in that team, getting the word out, working through logistics and schedules to get a church off the ground. This is hard work. There is no shortcut through this, although I meet plenty of church planters who want to skip this. It’s easy to see why; it is hard. Long hours, you see very little fruit because you are planting, you are weeding, you are watering. Some younger leaders can relate to this season as they work under a pastor, waiting for the time to plant a church. Many guys see this as “biding their time” but need to see it as the time of pruning, the Spirit of God working in and on them for what lies ahead. This season is mostly behind the scenes. The work that is being done is often being done in hearts, lives and in meetings as people work to shore up systems and how things are done.
In our lives this is trying to get a career off the ground, trying to finish school, pay your dues at a company, working to get your marriage off the ground, trying to figure out kids, how that all works as you parent. This is the beginning of things. This is hard work. In this season most dreams, most goals stop because of the difficulties.
Don’t miss this: this is not a wasted season. If you don’t do this hard work, preparing, studying, reading, getting ready, you can’t actually plant a crop. You can’t start a business, you are unprepared to start a family. We too often rush into things we are not ready for.
Then you water, you clear the weeds away, making sure the crop gets sunlight, plenty of fertilizer and water.
This is the time that you start to see life. The first person to become a follower of Jesus, the first baptism, first marriage saved, you launch something in your church. This is exciting, this is what you hoped for. For many guys, though, this can be depressing because it is slow. You will see plants come up that just die. You will see weeds that overtake plants. Or plants that don’t grow to what they should be. Leaders you poured into who walk away, marriages you counseled only to have them quit. Moments of betrayal and feeling stabbed in the back, feelings of God abandoning you. At this point you will probably hear of how God is working in the church down the street. Don’t despair; they are in a different season.
You are in your season, they are in their season.
Your marriage starts having small wins, you begin to see eye to eye, you’re connecting again. You get pregnant after a long, difficult season of infertility. Your work is beginning to get noticed, you get some accolades, a promotion, get accepted for that master’s program.
Like a church, you can start to get jealous at this point. Someone else seems to have an easier time. Their child isn’t as difficult, their marriage (while yours is great) is better.
The next season is the harvest. Plants are growing, you are reaping rewards from your hard work. In this season you have unprecedented momentum. You can do little wrong. Every idea you try seems to work. Your sermons click, community groups multiply, money is great, staff is getting along. There is a buzz about what God is doing in your church. You might even be getting noticed in your city, people are talking. This is the season you hear about on twitter, blogs and at conferences.
This is where you can look back with some accomplishment on a project that has taken awhile. Maybe you had a lot of work you had to do in your marriage, you sell a business, a business is finally humming and hitting on all cylinders, you graduate, and all the work you put into your schooling is done. It is a season of accomplishment.
This is the season everyone wants to live in.
The reality, though, is that this season comes to an end, and then you start over. What often keeps pushing you through this cycle is the reality that the harvest season does come.
So how long do these seasons last? It depends. Some leaders, churches, careers and marriages get stuck in an early season and never reap any benefits. Some after going through the great feelings of the harvest and seeing things start over simply throw up their hands and quit. Most people seem to stay stuck in an early season and wonder why life is so hard.
The important thing for a leader is to know what season they are in personally and where their church is so they can lead effectively and know how their church is doing. People need to be reminded that hard seasons do not last forever, but they also need to be reminded to enjoy the seasons of growth and momentum.