Time for Pruning   Leave a comment

Pruning shears.

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Let me start by saying that I am definitely not a gardener.  I have the ability to plant seeds or bulbs and then I left nature take its course.  If something survives then I credit it to the Creator and nothing that I have done.  But as I have read and observed some, there appears to be value in pruning trees, rose bushes, and shrubs.  From what I have read, through the process of pruning you can actually make the plant healthier.  Again, since I am not a gardener, I will take other’s word for it.

I began thinking about all of this because of a conversation that I had earlier this week about the state of the church.  I am referring not to a specific congregation but instead to the church universal, or at least in the United States.  There appears to be much angst about the declining membership in churches.  Along with declining membership (and actually probably the largest cause of angst) is the decline in contributions that many congregations are experiencing.  Easily we can see a link in the two situations but I do not think that reduced contributions is solely due to a reduction in worship attendance but that is a different blog post.  It is becoming difficult for congregations to afford supporting salaries for staff and the upkeep on buildings.  Many of the long-standing congregations have buildings that were built in the early part of the 20th century or earlier and those buildings are far from efficient.

This was the starting point of the conversation that I had earlier in the week.  As the conversation progressed, we engaged in discussion about the changing nature of Christianity and the Christian Church in the United States.  I shared viewpoints that I had read in Phyllis Tickle‘s book, The Great Emergence.  (A book that I highly recommend if you want insight on what is happening in our culture and the church.)  The reality is that we are in a period of transition and that whenever you are in transition, it is very difficult to grasp what the end result is going to be.  This period brings both fear and excitement.  Fear, because all of our norms are being shaken and what we thought we knew is now being brought into question.  Excitement, because we are agents in this period of change who are helping to shape the new course and the new reality of what we are becoming.

One aspect of this transition period I believe is the pruning of the church.  As congregations face budget issues and redesigns of the church are being explored, I believe we are being led to do some pruning in the church.  We are forced to examine how we live out our faith in community.  We are questioning all aspects of our structure, our programs and approaches, our priorities, our areas of emphasis.  As we do this examination, I believe that we will find the need to remove some aspects of the various elements of the church.  We may even find that the number of congregations and the number of buildings needs to be reduced.  We may find that where we commit our resources and our energies need to be redirected.

The concept of pruning in the church is scary and painful.  None of us want to see aspects that we enjoy or in which we have passion experience a reduction or elimination.  What happens if we cut away too much?  It hurts when the cuttings take place (I often wonder how the plant feels when that occurs; assuming the plant has feelings.).  Where there is pain there usually is fighting and resistance. 

Yet, if we believe what gardeners tell us about plants – that pruning actually makes the plant healthy and encourages growth, then maybe we need to apply that to the church.  Maybe if we go through that scary and painful process of pruning, what we will come out with in the end is a much healthier church that grows instead of one that is unhealthy and dying. 

An interesting concept – pruning the church.  How would you go about it?  Is it even necessary?


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