I’ve lived in Phoenix for 4 years now, so I should know better…but I still see “August” on the calendar and start thinking fall. I start thinking new backpacks and good t.v. and new clothes and cooler weather. All those things we associate with fall, even if fall is still a long way off. In the valley, fall (such as it is) is even farther off than it might be in other parts of the world. What you’d think I would have learned by now is that August sometimes signals the worst of the summer heat wave. August means the rest of the world digs out the jeans, and we can just keep dreaming. Worst of all, August means I might be expecting something to change, but it’s just really not going to for awhile.
By way of church growth and transformation, we have come a long way in the past year. There are markers of new life all around us. We now have 3 womens ministry groups instead of 1, and in the fall (really the fall) we’ll have a Disciples Mens’ group as well. We also have an active young adult ministry, which not many churches of our size can say. I almost hate to say it out loud, but we have money in the bank. We have new folks in leadership positions. Worship attendance is at it’s highest in years, and our music program continues to grow.
But how many of those things happened exactly when we wanted them to? I think we will agree–none of them. Each sign of transformation came about through years of our prayer and discernment, alternating patience and frustration, equal parts hard work and just sitting and waiting. What I’ve learned about church growth is this: you can plan seeds all over the place, you can work to nurture them daily, but nothing is going to bear fruit until God says so. I call this Spirit timing– for all our own hopes, needs, and expectations, real life does not happen until the Spirit moves it to, and then we always wind up saying, “Well of course. That happened just as it should have.” For all the anxiety we face in the meantime, we find that the timing of the Spirit is always perfect. And always in perfect rhythm with God’s plan for us.
I say that to remind you–and to remind myself–that we are waiting on “Spirit time” to work for us in a number of other areas. For one thing, if we want to continue to grow Foothills in these significant ways, we’ve got to put some real prayer and work into growing our youth and children’s ministries this year. As fall approaches, we face the same “chicken and egg” situation that we always face when planning programs. We wonder how we can build these groups without the families that are committed to showing up for them–knowing that we can’t draw those families without the activities. We grow impatient and frustrated, thinking of all the families we’ve lost for lack of programming. We think, “if only they’d all show up in one time and place!”
What Spirit timing teaches us is that, sooner or later, they will. If we are patient and prayerful and discerning, making connections and nurturing relationships through community, it will all come together eventually. The other thing we are learning is that, even now, God is sending us the gifts that we need in leaders, sponsors and educators. When the time is right, we will have everything that we need.
We’d also hoped to have a new worship accompanist in place by now, as Jimmy leaves for seminary. Apparently, the Spirit is not onboard with that yet. But, anxious though we may be, God has sent us the gifts to fill in those “in the meantime” places while we wait. These are the times that make us nervous. And these are the places where we grow in faith, so we will be ready when, ultimately, the Spirit shows up.
I’ll leave you with a case in point about how Spirit timing works, and why we should not be worried about these, or any of the other things we wait on. For years, we have worked for, worried about, and struggled with our worship attendance. We have tried, every way that we knew how, to get over the critical plateau that frustrates growth. For all our worthy efforts, it never seemed to improve, except for those brief windows around high holy days. And now?…Well, in case you haven’t noticed, we are over the hump. Our regular Sunday attendance lately has been what, a year ago, we would have seen only on Easter. And the timing? JULY! I mean, did we dream to have 120+ people in the sanctuary on a regular Sunday in July?
No, we didn’t. And that is the beauty of the Spirit’s timing. When it finally comes round, it’s usually more than we ever dared hope for. Here’s to living our faith in the meantime, and daring to hope for anything–even cooler weather that will come in it’s time.