Hey Church: A Fallow Year Ain’t A Bad Idea

Why does the farmer take what seems to be a risk in not sowing that field: A gamble on reducing the harvest the following year?

You know what I mean by a fallow year, don’t you?  Just as a farmer leaves a field fallow – unsown – for one season, in order to give the ground time to rest and render it more productive for the coming seasons, perhaps our churches could do with a fallow year.

 

Does your church need a fallow year?

Sounds like apostasy in the ears of many church leaders, but the conversations I’ve been having with pastors, other paid leaders and lay people indicates that the idea of a fallow year might not be a bad thing for your church.

You know what I mean by a fallow year, don’t you?  Just as a farmer leaves a field fallow – unsown – for one season, in order to give the ground time to rest and render it more productive for the coming seasons, perhaps our churches could do with a fallow year.

Why does the farmer take what seems to be a risk in not sowing that field: A gamble on  reducing the harvest the following year?  Because she knows about the law of diminishing returns. Sure there will be a crop if she does sow it.  But not as healthy a crop as there could be next year if she leaves it fallow this year.   She leaves it fallow in the sure and certain hope that  a recovery year will increase the field’s health.

And since I’m a runner, let me throw in a running analogy.  It takes a while to learn it but all the best runners do it: take a rest day!  When you start running you never take a rest day, because it seems like a wasted chance to improve your running.

And then injury hits.  Or fatigue.  And soon you are operating under the law of diminishing returns.  But the best running coaches view rest as part of the training program.  Rest days ensure quality days ahead.  Fallow ground in running, means stronger returns in the next race.

I think this could be the same with church. A fallow year.  A sabbatical for church not fromchurch. Some white space in the calendar. A rest year.  Call it what you will.   Staff have sabbaticals, and we put “a day of rest” in place – whether we’re Sabbatarians or not – for our individual lives.  But not, it seems, for our communal life together as God’s people.

We call on people to take “rest days”, but that’s a micro-scale solution. Perhaps we need a solution on the macro scale.  Yet we rarely, if ever, countenance it.

Why not?  Because there’s one word that everyone uses to define themselves, and their ministries, or lives and that word is “busy”.  Now we may not be busy, we may indeed by busy, but that word has become a catch-all to self-justify our existence in already crammed culture.

If you want to fob someone off tell them you are busy.  If you want to excuse non-attendance at something tell them you are busy.  If a besetting sin is getting a grip into you, you can fall back onto the fact that it is a stress-reliever due to the increasingly busy life you lead.  Everyone believes “busy”.  Everyone respects “busy”.  Everyone gives a knowing smile when you say “busy”.  Busy can keep a lot of stuff at bay.

Including a fallow year.  Including a year when the church spends time – or more to the point – regains time, to give itself a spiritual health check and to listen to where people are at in this complex world.

In recent blog posts I’ve said that many ministry workers don’t have a clue as to the pressures that city workers in their congregations face.  Pressures to sign off on increasingly hard secular social agendas that run contrary to a Christian ethic.

When I wrote that I received dozens of replies from city workers who basically said “Amen!”  And I don’t think it’s simply because the church leaders don’t care, I think it’s because they’re too busy themselves.  No one has got time to hear each other.

But a fallow year also feels dangerous.  After all, the business model is that if you’re not moving ahead you’re falling behind.  And we know that Hebrews tells God’s people not to drift.  Surely if we keep busy we don’t drift, right?  Wrong.  And the number of very busy, very successful church leaders who have either walked away from the faith the past few years – or been found out as sham – should tell us that busy doesn’t stop sin, often it hides it.

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