Every church goes through different seasons and cycles.
Knowing and appreciating the differences between them is essential to leading a church to greater health and effectiveness.
While seasons and cycles are both ways to describe the rhythms of rising and falling, ebb and flow, give and take, each of them requires a different mindset, different methods and different expectations.
Here’s the essential difference between seasons and cycles:
We can’t control the seasons of life, but we can do something about the cycles.
Living Within Seasons
To everything there is a season.
No, those words weren’t written by a pop group in the 1960s. It’s a scriptural acknowledgment of an established reality – that all of life comes to us in ups and downs, ins and outs, joys and sorrows.
Some seasons happen in the natural world. They can be measured and anticipated by the movements of the earth around the sun, or the moon around the earth.
Others are ordered by planting and harvest, birth and death, weekdays and weekends, and more.
Seasons happen to us.
- Prepare for them
- Adapt to them
- Get used to them
- Dress properly for them
- Remember them
- Build a future on them
But there are two things we can’t do, when it comes to seasons.
First, we can’t stop them from happening. The earth will keep turning, births and deaths will keep happening.
Second, because we can’t stop seasons from happening, we have to stop kicking against them.
Remembering and appreciating past seasons is nostalgic. Wanting to live in them is irrational. Not liking your current season – like the cold of winter, for instance – is normal. Denying it and dressing as though it’s still summer is delusion and dangerous.
Instead, we need to appreciate the seasons that have passed, anticipate the ones yet to come, and build on the lessons we learn every time they rotate by us.
Start A New Cycle
Cycles are similar to seasons in that they also have a sense of change and rhythm to them. But they’re very different from seasons in that we can affect the cycles of our lives and the churches we lead.
For instance, in journalism they talk about a news cycle. It’s the anticipated time that a particular story is likely to be active. But that cycle can be adjusted by a variety of factors, from the frequency of events, to the agenda of the news organization, to the attention span of the public.
It’s the same in our lives and the congregations we lead. When it comes to cycles, we can
- Stop an unhealthy one
- Start a healthy one
- Change a downward one to an upward one
- Lead others out of bad ones and into good ones
Cycles change in our personal lives all the time. Every time we get new job, move to another town, start a diet, establish a different behavior pattern, or reframe the way we think about something, we start a new cycle in our life.
Church Seasons And Cycles
As church leaders, we need to know the difference between our church’s seasons and cycles.
In addition to the ecclesiastical calendar, every church goes through seasons that we have no control over. Seasons of gain and loss, birth and death, planting and harvest.
A wise leader takes note of the seasons and helps the church adapt, adjust, and walk through them together. We don’t try to change them and we refuse to whine about them – at least in public.
Instead, we need to ask ourselves what can be changed. What attitudes, behaviors and habits have we been repeating so often that they’ve put us in a bad place of our own making?
Those are the cycles.
Even while experiencing a difficult season of losses that are beyond our control, with God’s help and a cooperative church spirit we can start a cycle of fellowship, joy and hopefulness.
Look around your church and take a blunt, honest assessment of what can be changed and what can’t.
If it helps, you can use Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer as a guide. (The parentheses are mine).
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;(seasons)
courage to change the things I can; (cycles)
and wisdom to know the difference. (leadership)
Copyright © 2017 by the author or Christianity Today.
Click here to read our guidelines concerning reprint permissions.