“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up…” (Ecclesiastes 3.1-3).
Many of you enjoy planting flowers. Likewise, every spring Heidi faithfully plants flowers like pansies or begonias in the flower boxes in front of the Western District Conference Office in North Newton. She replants these annuals every year to bring joy and beauty for a season to all the people who visit our office and the other businesses in the building.
I admit I do not have the patience to plant annuals. Why put in all that work for one season? I love perennials like irises and daffodils that bloom again and again, year after year. I’m happy to plant them. They seem worth the effort.
I was recently challenged to imagine perennial and annual flowers as metaphors for congregational ministries. Would we be willing to put in the effort to launch a new ministry that we knew would be short-lived? Our communities are in such a state of flux right now. Will we lean into sharing the good news of Jesus in short-term, impactful ways or will we focus on returning to and maintaining the ministries we’ve been doing for years?
In my home town of McPherson, KS, once every five years our oil refinery does a deep clean, maintenance, and testing cycle called “turn around.” This process brings in hundreds of contractors for about six months or so. What if followers of Jesus in this community would offer fellowship meals and a video-based men’s bible study for these lonely guys? It would be a short-lived ministry. Would it be worth it?
The pandemic may have given your congregation new awareness about needs in your community. Some of them may be crisis-driven or seasonal. How do we discern if such a ministry would be worth it or not? One of the tests of spiritual discernment is has God given someone in your congregation the gift to respond well to these needs? Is that person sensing the Spirit’s call to reach out?
There’s nothing wrong with perennial ministries like volunteering with Mennonite Disaster Service or feeding people through your local food bank or soup kitchen. In fact, some ministries like these might need more volunteers right now.
Other ministries that you’ve been doing for years might need to be pruned or even “plucked up,” as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us. As we return to our church buildings, we are carefully discerning next steps. Add your perennial ministries to the discernment conversation. Is God still calling us to offer the same community prayer breakfast or supper fundraiser that we do every year? What did we learn as this ministry lay dormant or was revised last year?
Will you be planting the seeds of a new annual ministry that might last for a season or not? Will you be enjoying your faithful perennial ministries again or laying some of them to rest? Or perhaps both? Listen for what the Holy Spirit might be saying and learn from the flowers.