This is the organizational interpretation of the Vineyard series I have been publishing in the devotional section of my site. I pray it gives some good insight!
At my home, I have a small vineyard that was planted by the previous owner. He was an Executive Chef and a skilled wine maker. The vineyard is only about 25′ x 45′. It’s a stepped, square layout, however, so it has 5 rows of vines. The yield from a full crop in this configuration can yield several gallons of wine and dozens of bushels of edible grapes in a single season.
I have yet to enjoy a full harvest yet, however.
We moved here 2 years ago, after a harvest had just taken place. The ensuing winter was particularly harsh and it looked as though several of the vines were frozen. Because of this, the next year, I wanted to allow the vineyard to produce on its own without pruning, so I could learn what I had and what the extent of the damage from the cold winter had been. I was correct that the roots of the entire middle row had been killed. But-to our delight- we still had a bountiful harvest! It produced at least 4 or 5 bushels of grapes.
This past winter, I made sure to rake in and mulch some leaves on the vine roots to protect them before the freezes came. I also read and studied how to prune the vines properly and set about the task when the vines were most dormant. Due to the length of the vines, this was labor intensive- but I found it simple as I got the hang of it.
This spring, the vines fruited beyond belief! It had to be twice what had come up last year! I was so excited that I began to promise wine and jam to all of our neighbors. I began to figure out how to budget for what we might need to purchase in order to handle all of the crop for our own, private little ‘Food and Wine’ festival we would enjoy this fall…
…but my great harvest did not come. Almost all of the grapes withered and died.
You see- last summer (a year ago)- we had a very wet season. I didn’t water at all and the harvest still came and it was good. But this year, we had a very dry summer. And after the spring rains stopped (even though they were abundant), I didn’t know I needed to keep watering the vines. I went about trying to save my harvest once I saw the shriveling and here is what I observed:
– Once a grape or cluster of grapes begins to wither, there is no amount of watering that can bring them back. They will shrivel into dust as the vine has already cut them off.
– However, if even one grape in the cluster remains healthy- if you water it, it will mature and be able to be harvested.
So, my daily chore this summer was trying to decide where to water and where not to do so. I had to figure out what section of what vine still needed irrigating based primarily on the amount of healthy fruit it was producing. This was arduous and took time and study of the little vineyard. Some large sections of the vine only had one remaining grape with a potential of harvest. Do I still water it?
In another section- one of the vines that was damaged by the first winter but not killed began to, surprisingly, grow prolifically! I watered this vine daily even though it bore no fruit this year because I know the future is bright for it’s eventual yield. I’m particularly excited about this one- because it’s different from the other vines and I look forward to the new variety this will bring to the vineyard.
So- this year’s harvest is a bit disappointing. However, I am immensely encouraged that having now been taught to protect my roots, prune my vines vigorously but properly, and water my vines the moment I see the spring rains have stopped, I know that I know that I know…next year’s harvest is going to be the greatest this little house has ever seen and all of our friends and neighbors will be blessed.
From all of this experience, I believe God has taught me much about declining churches and organizations that are in need of overhaul and change. Here are some principles I believe these churches need to li by in this season if they wish to flourish again:
- The ‘roots’ of the organization need to be protected. While being careful not to declare those things sacred that possess no real meaning to God, it is important for leadership to communicate the basic values of the church to the next generation. The body of Christ has many parts. You need to clearly define what part your church was created to fill. And, if you do not protect and preserve the essence and well spring of what God created you to be- you have no chance because everyone will either argue about these things or simply move on to another part of the body that has a more clear direction.
2. You can get a harvest without pruning, but if you want the greatest harvest God can give you- you have to prune. Pruning/ simplification/ reduction can be arduous, but you can be encouraged in that it is not ongoing. It has to happen- but when you focus on the harvest you know it will produce rather than the pain in the task at hand- the motivation to persevere can be easily found and you can soon move on.
- You must keep watering and investing in what is bearing fruit if you want it to continue. Merely pruning isn’t enough. No one can cut their way to success. Investment must continue/ begin anew at the proper time.
4. Discerning when, how much, and where to invest are likely to be the most challenging steps in the process. It requires great amounts of prayer, study, analysis, contemplation and conviction. It also requires passing by some potentially good things when you know you only have so much resource to invest. Making these decisions require dying daily and being willing to endure some painful and likely, vocal, expressions from those who have been cut off. This is why it is so important to keep the great harvest in mind while knowing it can’t be achieved unless you continue to develop your skills in this area.
- Sometimes, God will surprise you with new growth from unexpected places. New growth should be invested in and given a season to flourish and strengthen before it is expected to bear fruit. By doing so, future harvests are multiplied. However, when it does come, leadership needs to be prepared for the possibility this new “fruit” may not look like any that has come before. It’s important not to rely only on old metrics to measure the new growth. (i.e.- the raw “numbers” of young people coming to Christ in the youth ministry may not be as solely important to measure as it once was. Today, a better measurement of fruitfulness might be the number of spiritually formative steps participants have taken in a given time frame.)
- Finally- you have to be absolutely convinced of the reality of the harvest of salvation and maturation of broken people that God has promised you! If you don’t know that you know that you know that God will deliver on His promise and that your church has a needed mission to accomplish in the Kingdom, then you’d be better served to shut the doors and allow people- yourself included- to move on to what God has called them to do elsewhere. This isn’t a rehearsal, and you must be willing to embrace all sorts of change ahead of those you have been entrusted to lead rather than lagging behind while hoping and praying that things just go back to the way they used to be.