The Seasons of an Organic Church

* The Summer. This is the season of spiritual building (inreach). It’s the sunshine of church life. The church is firing on all cylinders. The Lord’s love is being experienced by the believers in a profound way. The members are maturing in their love for Christ and for one another. (Those two are always connected.)

* The Fall. This is the season of prayer. While each individual Christian ought to maintain a regular, steady prayer life, the church will pass through seasons of prayer where she will prepare herself for the winter season. This means that everyone in the church will meet together regularly for prayer over a specific matter.

I’ve been a part of numerous traditional churches that had a regular prayer meeting. Without exception, I found all of them to be perfunctory and woodenly pious.

A thorough reading of the book of Acts will show that the prayer ministry of the church is seasonal. The church has instincts. She can sense the change in the spiritual atmosphere. She can discern when she’s entering into a new season of corporate prayer and when that season has ended.

* The Winter. The winter is the season of sorrow. During the spiritual winter, the spirit of the church starves for color. A church can’t always be up in the heavens. It must also experience the cold chill of winter sadness. The Body of Christ is not only the treasure, it’s also the earthen vessel. The winter is the season of weeping, broken-heartedness, and discouragement.

In my early years as a Christian, I was part of a movement which taught that there was no such thing as a winter in a Christian’s life. Discouragement and sadness were things that Christians should resist. And so the people in this movement always tried to keep smiling, never showing any negative emotion. (Some of them cracked under the pressure.)

However, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians helped me tremendously to see that the winter season is in fact of God. He wrote, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Corinthians 1:8.

Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ “despaired of life.” What a relief that was for me. For I will admit that I sometimes get discouraged. And I’ve even caught myself complaining.

Indeed, we Christians possess the treasure of heavenly joy. But we are living in a fantasy world to deny that this treasure is contained in a clay vessel which experiences the full gamut of human emotion.

Winters are difficult, but they exist for the maturity of the church. The winter finally does pass, and the sun comes into view again. Thank God.

We Christians are not Stoics. We don’t grit our teeth, pull ourselves up from the boot-straps and grin and bear it. Job and King David were very open and forthright with their negative feelings. They express their discouragement, befuddlement, and perplexity to the Lord as well as to their friends—openly and honestly.

Christians need a safe place where they can express their pain. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is that very place. When a believer is carrying pain in an area, and he is sharing that pain with another, he should not be callously told: “What are you doing under your circumstances; you have been raised with Christ to heavenly places.”

It’s bad enough to go through a painful experience. It’s infinitely worse to be blamed or scolded for hurting over it. Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15. This is the church’s DNA at work. There is a season for rejoicing, and there is a season for weeping. And the church lives through both.

* The Dry Spell. This is the spiritual drought. The church’s throat is parched and her eyes are filled with sand. The meetings are dull and lifeless. Everyone feels as though they are going through the motions. There’s a dearth of joy, excitement, and fervor. Songs that once moved you to tears no longer touch your heart. You’ve entered into the dry spell.

To borrow the language of the spiritual writers of the past, the dry spell is “the dry well”—”the dark night”—”the cloud of unknowing.” Death appears everywhere. God has gone on vacation.

Interestingly, there will always be one or two people who feel that the church is always in a dry spell. This is simply a reflection of their temperament. Such people are perfectionists with unrealistic expectations. They always overshoot the goal.

By contrast, when a church is passing through a dry spell, everyone is aware of it (except for the super oblivious . . . and most churches have at least one or two of those creatures running around).

One of the greatest lessons I learned in my spiritual walk is that God is the author of dry spells. He plans them. He creates them. He brings them. And He eventually removes them.

Our Lord authors dry spells as much as He authors wet spells. They are both engineered by Him. Those who are of a Pentecostal/charismatic background may be tempted to call the dry season a work of the devil. But it’s not.

(It’s funny to me how some Christians call an event “God’s blessing” when things go their way and they call it “the devil’s attack” when things don’t go their way. In fact, the funnier I think about it the longer it gets.)

It’s during the dry spells that most church splits occur. When the well runs dry, the bottom begins to show. When the water recedes, the algae begins to appear. Moths are attracted to light. But when the light bulb goes out, they flee in a royal hurry.

Do you know what God is doing during a dry spell? He’s searching you out. He’s asking the acute question, “Do you want me only during the good times, or do you want me in the dry times also?”

The church will grow numerically in a wet spell; but it will lose people during a dry spell. On the other hand, the greatest spiritual growth takes place during the dry spell. Yet it’s imperceptible. The dry spell is the season where the deeper lessons of the Christian life are learned.

The church needs dry spells. They are part of the Christian life.

Everyone’s devotion to the Lord and the church is tried during the dry spell. Those who are in the church for what they are getting out of it usually head for the door. The dry spell is God’s way of shaking out the fence sitters. It’s the Lord’s winnowing tool. It weeds out those who are worshiping the Creator of the universe from those who are worshiping a Cosmic Sugar Daddy. They separate those who are loyal to the God of blessing from those who are loyal to the blessings of God.

In a word, dry spells are designed to purify our love.

Interestingly, a dry spell can usually be broken. But that’s another discussion altogether. But sometimes it can’t. And at such times, the church has but one option: Baton down the hatches, hunker down, and walk through it. Blessed is the church that rides out the dry spell.

* The Natural Disaster. A crisis is the natural disaster of church life. It’s the spiritual hurricane, tornado, earthquake, avalanche, or wildfire.

What’s an example of a crisis? Read the New Testament and look at every letter that Paul penned (except Ephesians). In all of them, Paul is addressing a church crisis. Something is threatening the life of the church. Peter’s first two letters were also written to churches in crises as well as James’ letter.

Perhaps Paul had in mind the natural disaster of church life when he talked about “the evil day” of satanic assault, against which the church is to take her stand. Ephesians 6:13.

Here’s my definition of a crisis: A difficult and challenging opportunity to discover the Lord Jesus Christ in a new way. To view a crisis through any other lens is to see it from the wrong mountain. Crises will come. It’s how we react to them that will determine if the Lord is going to gain more territory in us, or if the church will sign its own death warrant. There are those two things to do in a crisis: Cling to Jesus Christ, stand against God’s enemy, and die to yourself.

* The Wet Spell. This is the season when Body life is running at high tide. There’s a lot of excitement, joy, and life. The Lord is revealing Himself in new ways, and everyone feels like they’ve just met Him all over again.

Let’s go back in time for a moment. Do you remember the first time you became a Christian? Do you remember how simple it was? How pure it was? How your heart overflowed with joy?

But then something happened, didn’t it? Things started to get complicated. You started “going to church,” hearing sermons, and doing Bible studies. And suddenly, the simplicity, the purity, the excitement, and the joy of knowing Jesus melted away.

Well, imagine an entire church “just meeting the Lord” all over again and living out of the joy of their salvation together. Visitors come in and their breath is stolen by the sight of Christ in the church. The love is undeniable, the reality is unmistakable, the joy is contagious, the excitement is real, and God’s presence is detected. This is the wet spell of church life. The church grows numerically the most in this season, and without much effort. It’s during the wet spell that Jesus Christ wins the hearts of many.

Sometimes a church may experience a super wet spell, or in modern parlance, a “revival.” This is when the water of God’s life is running 30 feet high. It’s a Divine visitation. A riptide of God’s Spirit. A gully-washer of spiritual refreshing. The saints gather together for meetings, and no one wants to leave. Winning souls is never easier than during the torrential downpours of a super wet spell. You can just about say the name “Jesus” and people will get converted.

The Day of Pentecost was such a time.

Fortunately, God will not allow a church to stay in the season of revival for very long. The reason: It will tax your physical body to the point of sickness. If a super wet spell continues unabated, God’s people will burn out like a cinder. For that reason, revivals come in spurts. The greatest revivals in history had a life-span of approximately four years. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Even so, the church of the living God ought to live above seasons. She doesn’t wait for revival. But she pursues her Lord even when there is no wind in the Mulberry bush. She plows forward with or without revival. She makes strides during the winters, amid the dry spells, and through the disasters. She is a woman for all seasons.

Written by Frank Viola Author

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