It’s no secret that the Church in the U.S. is struggling and declining; it’s been well-documented in many places. And it’s no secret that this places enormous pressures on pastors and their families and their congregations.
What if much of what is happening in the church is a season of pruning?
And it’s a season of pruning for many of us as leaders and individuals within the community?
And what if…
- God is cutting back branch after branch that bears no fruit in order to drive us—me—back to the Vine for provision and protection?
- This pruning season is a season of character building for so many of us and for the Church as a whole?
- This pruning kicks prop after prop out from under us so that we only have one Source to rely on?
- We can discard so many things that have consumed energy and attention so that we can bear much fruit?
- Concentrations of believers gathering in our church buildings are complemented by vibrant communities of believers who represent the Gospel outside our sanctuaries?
- A season of pruning leads toward greater fruitfulness and wider influence and not less?
Furthermore, what if God is stirring in the hearts of both an old and a new generation of people? Stirring us to trust Him and listen to Him… To follow Him and participate in His work of carrying the Gospel to a deeply disoriented culture needing to experience the compassion of Christ through us…
Pruning is a hard season!
I understand it to be a gift…if I can see it that way!
Pruning builds character of faith. It brings humility and deals with pride. It leads to perseverance. It brings clarity and focus. It drives us to our knees. It makes us fit for God’s purpose.
Finally, pruning brings realism. We clearly realize that the vision God places in our hearts is impossible to accomplish on our own. We can’t do it.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
A wonderful, godly leader couple with their own small vineyard brought some enlightenment to my Midwest farm boy roots of corn and soybeans. There’s no pruning on the farm, but there is on a vineyard.
Pruning was never part of my vision frame in leading a congregation! I always wanted to see the graphs pointing up and to the right! Growth… more… better… new… And if we weren’t? Something was wrong and we needed to fix it.
It never occurred to me that we needed a season for pruning and that what needed to be fixed was in me and not in a program or ministry area.
I’m not sure I’d know how to lead a church or organization through a season of pruning other than starting with, “Maybe we should look more closely at John 15.” And, “What if this is a season of pruning so that God can more deeply draw us into the vine for greater fruitfulness?”
And, my best shot at leading would be to embrace the season of pruning for myself.
More and more I see that whatever I lead, it all starts with me, and me living and embracing it.
…even when I’d rather just preach a sermon about it instead!
I don’t quickly recognize my own seasons of pruning. My natural reflex is to work harder, longer, call for greater commitment from the crowd, wrestle with my own sense of failing and even pull away from the Vine. It seems counter intuitive that we would be preparing for a season of fruitfulness by embracing a season of clipping and cutting back! However…
…apart from me you can do nothing…