Growing up in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains, I came to love Autumn—the crisp air, the smell of wood burning, and the beautiful colors decorating the hillsides. Each year, since the day I left, I get homesick during the month of October as I long for the beauty of mountains painted red, orange, and yellow. I know I’m not alone in this, as it was not uncommon to run into people driving through the hillsides, randomly stopping to soak in the color.
As I was driving around the district last week, I began to reflect on the beauty of this season. At the height of Autumn, all the leaves on a tree might adopt some radiant color, yet this is not their greatest achievement. I have come to believe, that the moment of greatest beauty comes not in the vitality of their original green, or in the miraculous changing of color, but rather I find it in a tree’s willingness to let their leaves fall.
By letting go, the tree ensures its outward beauty will continue. The leaves that remain at the base of a tree decompose and release nutrients to the topsoil which benefit the forest ecosystem throughout the year. And then with the arrival of Spring, the tree that appeared to be dead begins to blossom anew as pristine leaves reveal themselves. If the tree instead refused to let go, there would be no new nutrients to sustain the diversity of life we find in every forest and we would be robbed of the beauty of Spring.
Much like those who drive through the hillsides of the Northeast, we, in the church, often believe that beauty is found in the vibrancy of color. Many imagine that the most beautiful and vibrant congregations are those with hundreds, if not thousands of members, large youth groups, extensive programs for children, numerous educational events, significant missional opportunities, financial sustainability, and a pastoral staff that can visit all members regularly and preach amazing sermons every week. This type of beauty is more about our outward appearance and what we can provide in the form of programs and staff to members.
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