If A Grain Of Wheat Dies

*On Wednesday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2021. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus spoke these words in John 12:24 most specifically about his own death and resurrection, but also about his followers who would find true life by losing their life to him. The entire notion of “life out of death” lies at the very heart of our faith. This is what our God does. This is who he is… a God of redemption… a God of resurrection.

On January 13th of 2021, I felt like a dying grain of wheat in the dirt. I had the closest thing I have ever experienced to a complete breakdown. Poor Brad walked in on me weeping uncontrollably in my office. He prayed for me and sent me home for rest. My poor wife took one look at my state and called the elders. They were at my house within hours, praying over me and washing my feet.

I think we, as Shades Valley, can collectively identify with what I was experiencing. In many ways, 2020 felt like it knocked us to the ground. Nearly every ministry we’d ever had ground to a halt. Often, we felt less alive and more like a community on life support. And yet, we continued to confess, to hope, to believe that God was at work. And Shades… he was. He is.

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” God was sovereign over my breakdown in January of 2021, and today I testify that he has sovereignly used it to build me up and, I pray, to bear much fruit. The elders and staff came around me in support, responsibilities were removed from my plate, I got into counseling, and I was surrounded by so many of you in love and prayer. When most other churches would have sought out a new pastor, you embraced me and repeatedly said you were proud to call me your pastor.

And Shades, after having some of the hardest pastoral experiences of my life the past few years, I can stand and say that by God’s grace flowing through you my mental health is in the best place it has ever been. I know who I am and what I’ve been called to do, and I am confident that he who began a good work in me will be faithful to continue it until it is brought to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. In 2021, God has done a redemptive work of resurrection in my life… and I believe he has done the same in Shades!

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” After falling to the ground in 2020, I believe God has been at work through Shades Valley Community Church all throughout 2021 to bear much fruit! Ministry that felt like it had ground to a halt has sprung to life! And our community that felt like it was on life support?… I believe I have seen it thrive! 

What am I talking about? I’m talking about things like the eruption of joy we experienced at our outdoor Easter service. I’m talking about the healing we felt in our hearts as we journeyed through the Psalms over the summer and sang songs birthed out of the Psalter and out of our community. I’m talking about the night Shades Valley took over the outfield at Regions Park. I’m talking about the Women’s weekend, Beau Armistead’s Trauma Seminar, and the Wolnski worship and prayer gatherings. I’m talking about Shades showing up the Birmingham AND Campaign launch and showing out for our 30th anniversary celebration. I’m talking about the birth of seven babies, the baptism of three believers, and the addition of twenty-two members. I’m talking about celebrating Leah’s fifteen years of service, hiring Sara Hersh to work with youth, Brooke Premo to work with children, and doing a total children’s ministry makeover. I’m talking about nearly 100 episodes of Shades Midweek, multiple families pursuing adoptions, and continued global mission support with a new effort in Thailand. I’m talking about Groceries for GreenSprings, picnics in the park, including the Christmas Cornhole Tournament, and concluding the year by insanely making and surpassing budget. And yes, I’m even talking about the parking lot revolution!

And Shades I could keep going, but I think what I’m saying is clear… I’ve seen life erupt over the past year. And yes, we faced many difficult days. Yes, things are still not exactly how we want them to be with us being in two services. But, amidst everything, even the hard, I can confidently say that yes, God’s resurrection power has been and is redemptively at work, and I’ve watched it bear much fruit through you! I’ve seen the lives you’ve impacted. I sit and talk with people who tell me story after story of how this community has met and ministered to them amidst their pain as well as met them and magnified their joy amidst celebrations!

And I know they’re telling the truth because their story is my story! I know God is at work bearing much fruit through you because I see that fruit in my own life. Want to know how?… Just reread the first half of this letter!

Shades, no doubt, we’ve seen difficult days, but even on the darkest ones that feel like death, remember our God is he who brings life out of death. That’s what he does. That’s who he is… a God of redemption… a God of Resurrection! So let us continue to confess, to hope, to believe that God is at work. Shades, he has been… he is… and he will be!

So, in 2022 let us go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the fainthearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. Let us love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… empowering us to bear much fruit.

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan