It’s the time of year that most local churches are getting into a new groove after the summer lull. At our local parish we’re finding new teachers, getting activities on the calendar and trying to count any missing or hurting sheep.
It reminds me of something important — The church is a living, growing thing. Structure is necessary for all this life to grow on. I like to think of that growth as the Spirit in our midst. Having a plan, a structure, even goals are all important. But ultimately they are not growth. They are not fruit of the Spirit’s work; they accommodate it. They are like a trellis for growth.
There’s the human factor too. This is true for businesses and other charities as well. We do the structuring and organizing, but the growth also depends on others. Without others, we’re simply sunk. So we do our best to create and recreate structures and pathways for them to become involved.
It reminds me of a grape vine I had in my yard in France. Our neighborhood was built on an old farm and this vine was growing against an old stone wall. Not seeing it in some overgrown grass and weeds, I ran over it with my lawn mower. What happened the next several months of summer and early fall was amazing. It grew back entirely.
I later learned that this is what grape vines do. You can cut them all the way back to the main trunk and they will grow back each year.
If you give them a trellis or some other structure, you can even encourage their growth and fruitfulness.
So this is what I see in the church. We can keep what we learned from last year’s activities and growth, but each year we have to go back to the trunk and start over. Growth will happen—It’s a part of every new week that passes. But, if we don’t plan and give it structure, some of that growth and fruitfulness will be lost.
Conversely, if we hang on to old structures, we will see that those shoots and branches are dead now and no longer producing. Something like them may emerge again, but we get to start over and experience the new and the miraculous this year.
Finally, we shouldn’t take our structures too seriously. New themes, advertising, coffee cups, and even well planned conversations with visitors are no substitute for the organic, air-breathing, RELATIONSHIPS that we need to make room for.
Like the vine, it will sometimes grow in directions unexpected. If we are open and anticipate this, we can stand amazed at how powerful the Spirit really is in our midst.