Well, about this time every year, i commence whining. About the miserable desert heat, about the astronomical utility bill, about the utter lack of lightning bugs to bring an element of joy to sweltering summer nights… and maybe, most of all, about the fruitless (ha ha) search for a good tomato in the desert.
Growing up in Kentucky, i was spoiled. Every May-August or so, I could go to the farmer’s market, i could count on gifts from friends’ gardens, i could even find beautiful local tomatoes at the regular grocery store… Out here, not so much. Definitions of “sustainable,” “local,” and “agriculture” are all relative in the desert, and the only kind of tomatoes available at our grocery stores–at ANY time of year–are the kind you might throw at a bad performer. Or a rotten preacher. The tomato in my 2-year-old’s play kitchen would taste just as good. And the plastic one, at least, is red.
In the life of my church this month, we’re thinking about sustainability–not just in terms of water and power usage in the desert summer, but also in regards to finances, self-care, and growing lasting ministries that will endure the dramatically changing context in which we serve. Everywhere you look, churches are surviving by means of completely transforming what it means to be “church.”
Just as i have learned to savor and celebrate a perfectly ripe and natural tomato when a gracious church member shares a few from a home garden (I’ve gotta say–if i had a stash, i might not be so generous with it!) i’m finding that the church needs to savor and celebrate seasons of ministry… When a group, project, stewardship plan or worship life happens to be flourishing in the church, enjoy! Celebrate! Savor! But don’t cling too tightly, and say “this is the way to the future!” In 6 months, we will be saying “but this is how we’ve always done it!” as meanwhile, the world moves on…[insert dorky Dark Tower reference here. Or other prophetic science fiction of your choosing]
As a Kentuckian, i took seasons for granted. I looked to 4 distinct changes in the climate each year to model my own rhythms of work, play, resting, nesting, starting over, etc. In the desert, there is no such thing as a season. Just hot, hotter, and “you have landed on the sun…” The built in rhythms of the year no longer apply. This “desert” perspective also applies to the life cycle of ministry. The old and familiar rhythms of church life no longer apply. We can’t plan on having a fruitful generation of ministry, just because things are going well for the moment–nor can we assume that, because we’ve got a bum crop this summer, we are going to go hungry for years to come. No more hoarding our brilliant leaders for some future purpose! No more sitting on program funding for if/when the a/c dies again! (Because, oh, it will… it always does…)
The Spirit rhythms of growth, life and death are not as predictable as east-coast seasons. The Spirit moves on desert time… savor and celebrate while you can. Enjoy that BLT like it is the only one you’ll get all summer (it might be) and then see what else might be drawn from the earth in it’s season. Something good is coming; something new and life-giving blows in on this Pentecost breeze from the mountains. It might not be the way we’ve always done it… it might not fit on 2 slices of white bread… but it is coming. Can we make ourselves ready for the unexpected gift, the out-of-season blessing, the wilderness call bearing down on our lives?
Sustainability is to enjoy that great tomato while it lasts– and then stop expecting that an endless supply will come from the same source. Shift your focus, say it a different way. You say tomato; i say, transforming church for the future, and letting the Spirit shape us for the season.