Everyone wants momentum. It implies a moving forward, a sense of accomplishment or at least the hope of future accomplishment, the sense that you’re on the right track. For all these reasons momentum is a good thing.
But momentum can be a trap, especially in this day and age where nothing ever seems to stop. How do we reconcile our desire for momentum - perpetual forward motion in our lives - with God’s mandate for rest, His plan and desire for the world He created to move in and out of seasons? Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of us think about it. I know I haven’t, at least not often enough or until it has been too late.
I heard early on in my ministry career that if your ministry isn’t growing it’s dying. Dying. Death is bad. Death is anti-life, anti-growth, anti-ministry. It seems we spend the vast majority of our lives avoiding death, working hard to prolong life, and to attain the greatest of all goals: constant growth. As long as we keep the line moving up and to the right, we’ll be in good shape. This is how we know we’re healthy, how we know we’re alive. This is also how we know our lives matter, that we’re being effective and contributing to society.
But is “up-and-to-the-right” the best measure of success? Is constant, unchecked growth and attaining the momentum we all crave the best litmus test for efficacy in our lives? I believe that God wants our ministries to grow. I believe God wants us to become better followers of Jesus every day, to become the people He created us to be. But Jesus was very clear that the first step in that process is death - dying to ourselves, our own desires, our own agendas, and taking up a more important mission. We are called to die to ourselves so we can be more like Him.
I don’t know if the goal for Jesus’ followers was a state of perpetual momentum. You see, for all the good that momentum implies, there is also a lot that we can get hung up on. We’re human, and for many of us catching that momentum wave might imply that we’ve stumbled on to some formula, that we’ve found the magical combination that unlocks the secret to our “best life.” We begin to believe that God is blessing us and loves us more because of what we’ve accomplished. He looked at the graph, saw the line moving up and to the right, and said, “There you go, kid. You’ve really honed in on it. I will now bless you for your hard work and dedication to finding that momentum.”
And when we start to take credit for the success of our own lives, one thing needs to happen or another thing will happen. We either need to kill it or God will. I’m not saying that you need to board up the windows of your house and move to France to become a monk. What I am saying is that we need to take our lives before God and sacrifice them to Him and let Him take control. We need to give Him credit for the momentum. But we also need to be willing to let go of what we’re doing when He decides to kill the momentum.
There may be things in your life that need to be scaled back. Another trick that momentum plays on us is the idea that “more is better”, or even that “more is necessary”. So many times I looked at ministries that I was a part of and though to myself, “We’ve created a monster. But we have to keep feeding it because we don’t want to lose the momentum.” I also see it from the outside, especially with younger churches. It’s rare to hear a voice on the staff of a young and/or growing church say, “Maybe we need to scale back.” Maybe your sports ministry could self-govern for a while. Maybe there’s a church down the block that could carry MOPS for a year. Perhaps you give your music team the month off find some simpler expressions of worship for your congregation.
I know - even as I write those suggestions, there’s a part of me that cringes a little bit. Our human nature and our current culture seems to teach us that scaling back means taking a step backward. Taking a step backward means a dip on the line graph. And when that line moves down, we’re that much closer to death. And, in a way, that’s true. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, taught us that there is a time for such things to happen. There are supposed to be seasons of life. There are also supposed to be seasons of death. Seasons to plant and seasons to harvest what has grown out of your planting. Seasons for things to be sought out and seasons for things to be lost.
There are appropriate times for us to build up and build on momentum. But there will also be times when you may need to take a step back and tear down some of the structures you’ve built, especially if you begin to believe that you had anything to do with it’s success. In my experience, following Jesus demands the recognition of and submission to these seasonal momentum killers. Because, as I mentioned before, we can either make the choice to die or God can kill it. It sounds bleak, but the hope in all of it is that God is in the business of bringing life out of death.