The tradition of “spring cleaning” springs up everywhere as daylight lengthens: closets, pantries, desks, garages, to-do lists. And right now, wherever we go, the advice of professional de-clutterer Marie Kondo is springing up, too: only keep items that “spark joy,” she tells us. What can we take from this moment to apply to the work of church boards?
Clearly, not every item on a board’s agenda needs to “spark joy.” As in life, church boards hold onto some items because of responsibility, obligation, or a larger obedience. But it is fairly easy to observe that churches hold onto many things – material items and agenda items – far too long and continue to accumulate a crowded list of “to-dos.” There are many reasons for this over-accumulation. Some church programs linger on the schedule even as vitality and participation wane because they have a few well-positioned or out-spoken patrons. The cost of ending something is weighed against the reaction such an action might entail. Often, boards don’t agree among themselves about what should stay or go – and keeping the status quo is safer than addressing those differences. And then there is the reality that some church boards never see “spring cleaning” as a priority. They don’t get to it, either because it holds no value for them, or they don’t know how to prune their ministries, or they don’t know what selection criteria to use in the first place.
A church of any size and location (and a board of any size) needs to do “spring cleaning” regularly for the health and vision of the ministry. One way forward could be to consider the two small parables in Matthew 13:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
- In your ministry right now, what is that treasure? What is that pearl? What is the part of your ministry that is of such great value that it is worth “selling” everything else?
- How do you know? How do you know when you have found that treasure or that pearl of great price? How do you recognize such value in your work together?
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In the short poem “Decisions,” Slovenian writer Boris Novak (1953–) offers some decluttering advice of his own:
by Boris Novak (tr. Dintinjana)
Between two words
choose the quieter one.
Between word and silence
Between two books
choose the dustier one.
Between the earth and the sky
choose a bird.
Between two animals
choose the one who needs you more.
Between two children
Between the lesser and the bigger evil
Between hope and despair
it will be harder to bear.
- What principles of selection are at work in this poem? Why choose the quieter word . . . the dustier book . . .the animal that needs you more . . . hope over despair?
- What principles of selection (should) govern the choices you make as a church board?
- Where are you actively making choices, and where might you be avoiding choices that need to be made?