I’m blessed to live in an agricultural community. We’re surrounded by farmers, just about everyone I know has a small vegetable garden, we could, if we chose, live off of what is grown within a few miles. As such, I’m blessed to live among folks who know and appreciate growing cycles. We eat – in abundance – what is in harvest at that time: asparagus is early spring but not in the fall, carrots in late summer but not earlier, zucchini anytime there’s not snow. We’re also fairly creative at using what’s in overabundance, finding ways to preserve or share somehow use so nothing goes to waste.
Knowing these cycles also means we know what it means to be fallow. It’s an agriculturally-based term, which has started seeping into other areas of society. Fallow, according to Miriam-Webster dictionary, is “cultivated land that is allowed to lie idle during the growing season.” Intentionally prepared, then given a time of rest to restore its fertility. The term goes back to before the 12th century, and highlights the need for rest and restoration not as a lazy period, but as a time for renewal. It ensures that the land will not become depleted. It’s a time to get ready for the future, to ensure that the earth will be better equipped to support the coming growth.
Admittedly, living in Canada, the onslaught of winter snows demands that at least some period of fallow happens each year. Yet there are often fields in the summer months lying fallow, during the growing season, so that they can benefit from the demands of growth. Many farmers and gardeners use crop rotations to optimize the potential of the soil, and include a fallow time.
It’s a tried and true methodology. It benefits the soil for long term use and support, it benefits the future growth. It’s a good thing. We could learn from it.
Yet in the church, as in our personal lives much of the time, we do not engage the principle of laying fallow. We are constantly in a “must do, must grow” mentality that can be exhausting. It exhausts the individuals, the congregation, the community. And once exhausted, it takes a lot more to bring something back to life and energy than had it been nurtured along the way.
We do a LOT in our churches. There are countless ministries happening all the time, much of it happening ‘behind the scenes.’ These ministries are ensuring ongoing health of a congregation, but they may be depleting the resources of the community. Volunteer’s energies may be decreasing, burn out may be creeping in, maybe what was exciting 5 years ago is no longer fulfilling, perhaps the demographics of the parish have changed so the ministries are no longer as valid/appreciated/used as they once were.
I wonder if the church might benefit from examining it’s ministries from time to time. Not in periods of change (like seeking new leadership) where there is already stress and distinct need, but in the times of calm, of normalcy. Perhaps some of the efforts to growth are not as successful as they once were, and the reasons have never been examined. Perhaps some of the efforts are seeing significant increase in participation, depth, etc., and those successes should be considered as well. Maybe these ministries need a fallow time if they are to be fruitful in the future; an intentional period to rest and restore.
Maybe this will mean that the people exercising this ministry take individual fallow time and someone else takes over; maybe the entire ministry takes fallow time and all are able to examine it. Maybe a time of intentional rest wherein a community can focus on their ministries as a whole, and then discern what is giving life and what is depleting. Some ministries may be embraced with gusto, some may be ready to be ended. Whatever we do, we should be doing it because we feel called to it as a way of giving God glory within our communities.
Perhaps the cold winter months are a good time to consider laying fallow. The weather drives us inside physically, we can also go inside ourselves spiritually into a time of discernment and reflection, of intentional rest and restoration, of laying fallow. For the benefit of the present and the future, so we don’t exhaust ourselves with high expectations and so we are better prepared to receive and support what will come in the future. God willing the church can recognize that it does not need to be constantly growing, that we all need a rest, and enjoy a fallow time knowing that it is in fact preparing for a sustained future.