As we journey deeper into this fall season, it is easily apparent that change is in the atmosphere. The is a chill in the morning air, leaves changing colors and starting to fall to the ground, and retailers begin promoting fall flavors, smells, and images. Many love the sights, sounds, smells, and activities of fall, and it is a welcome change from after a remarkably hot summer in some places. That said, the journey from one season to the next is not always pleasant or enjoyable, at least not for everyone. Beneath the beauty that comes with a changing season lies the reality of nature, and that of our own human experience: seasons and cycles. Learning how to navigate the cycles and seasons of life will allow us to be more effective in our impact.
According to the National Weather Service seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis, and there are four recognizable seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Each season carries its own unique characteristics and seasons are somewhat predictable, although fluctuations are becoming more common.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary offers two definitions for the word cycle that are helpful for context. A cycle is (1) an interval of time during which a sequence of a recurring succession of events or phenomena is completed and (2) a course or series of events or operations that recur regularly and usually lead back to the starting point.
One commonality that we have in life is that we all are subject to reality of seasons and cycle. Even if we do not like a particular season, we still must face them. In fact, Genesis 8:22 (ESV), God promises that “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” If God promised it, then we should believe it. Seasons and cycles are here to stay. So those leading ministries and projects through seasons and cycles might find it helpful to mine the seasons for lessons.
For the astute observer, change is everywhere. From the demographic makeup of the nation, the neighborhoods that we live in to the size of the products purchased at the supermarket, everything is undergoing constant change. The world seems to be in a constant state of turmoil and change. Extreme weather is changing the natural landscape, military campaigns changing the geo-political landscape, and charlatans and propagandists changing the intellectual landscape around us. Even our churches and ministries are under pressure to change and innovate. I suppose that ancient wisdom is true once again: the only constant in life is change.
Change is hard! I know. That said, it does not mean we can avoid it. If we learn how to navigate the seasons and cycles, however, we might be able to move purposefully and effectively from one season to the next. Just as farmers learned to plant and harvest crops by seasons, we can learn to prepare our lives to better navigate the cycles. And how does this pertain to ministry or innovation? Seasons and cycles can be instructive for our lives, our work, our ministries, and our businesses.
If you are a manager, leader, ministry innovator, parent, or any other number of roles, you are almost certainly familiar with seasons and pattens. As a manager, it is part of your job to be aware of seasonal trends and statistics to better manage your business. As ministry leaders, we adhere to the liturgical calendar for events and programs. As innovators, there’s an awareness of the industry trends. As parents, you the decorations around the house change seasonally and the arts and crafts that children bring home from school are seasonally themed.
Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 renders some aid here “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” By recognizing the seasonal patterns in our lives, ministries, and projects, we can begin to make better, more informed decisions. For example, if the pattern of your congregation is that many families go away for vacation during the summer months, it may not be a good decision to plan a large event that requires the attendance and participation of the congregation when they are away. Similarly, an event promoter wouldn’t plan outdoor events during the winter months in the northeast or in the plains area of the United States. Finally, there’s a reason that retailers introduce new flavors and scents in certain seasons: pumpkin spiced latte, anyone?
A life cycle is a series of changes that an organism will go through throughout its life, marked by significant stages starting with fertilization (creation) and ending with death. Life cycles include these common phases: conception, birth, life, growth, and death. While the timing associated with these phases differ for various reasons and is often debated, the characteristics that accompany each phase provides useful insights. I’d propose that we extend this definition to include businesses, relationships, personal interests, etc.
Identifying the rhythms, or cycles in life and ministry can go a long way in helping to become more successful reaching goals. Establishing a planning calendars that note seasonal variances allow product/project launches that are aligned with the season of their launch, identify times when the most support available to do major initiatives, and learn when its time to sunset programs or projects that no longer serve your audience or congregation. Planning for seasonal participants or planning around seasonal events (ex: an annual community day) offers you the opportunity to segment your audiences for more effective marketing and communication.
Whether leading a ministry effort, a family unit, or an innovation project that you’ve been pursuing, understanding how cycles and seasonal change affect other areas in life is extremely important. We live in an intersectional world and what happens in one arena can affect other arenas. By learning the cycle and seasons that most acutely impact you, you can position yourself to be a more effective change agent. As we go deeper into this fall season, and continue our journey on to winter, then to spring, and back to summer again, let us not forget about of all the other change that is on the horizon. Life comes to us in cycles and seasons, and those who learn to navigate them will be successful like the farmers who knows the time to plant and the time to pluck up that which was planted.