Be surrounded by the things you love.

I’m immersed in a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Kondo is Japanese and has used the first parts of her last and first names to describe her methods of changing personal living spaces for the better. It is called the KonMari Method and it has become the catchphrase for the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. She has a three-month backlog of organization clients and has sold over two million copies of her book. Her basic premise is “a dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.” She has a high success rate with her services and she claims that the results show that tidying has changed the way her clients think and approach life. She says it has even changed their futures. In essence, she is asserting, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too.” This makes it easier to see what you need in life and what you don’t need. It makes it easier to see what makes you happy and what doesn’t bring you joy. It helps you see what you should and should not do with your money, resources, and time. By using her method, you are only surrounded by the things you love.

Changing the church is difficult, so we rebound to old habits. Churches sometimes need to make drastic changes.

I am enamored with this unique book because I think it contains practical and psychological crossovers for the institutional church. First, she says that most decluttering methods cause “rebound.” Think of it like a diet, if you don’t see results, are not totally in the game, or are not transformed, you will put back on the pounds. Kondo is convinced that “people cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.” Tidying a little bit each day is too difficult for many people to maintain because more stuff comes in than goes out. Thus, people rebound into a cluttered lifestyle. However, if an entire house, a system of thinking is changed, the dramatic shift can transform the way people act and then help them maintain that change. Small efforts often peter out and motivation wanes. This can happen in churches because congregations don’t often feel or see the results of their actions. Although change in churches is frequently slow, I contend the shifting landscape of our culture is calling churches to make some dramatic changes in the way they think and act. By drastically changing the way congregations think, churches might feel lighter, more passionate, and able to do the missions, projects, and services they so desperately desire to do.

Tidying the small things can distract us from the seismic shifts churches need to make.

Second, tidying can temporarily ease a troubled mind. But once that problem is over, the clutter returns. I resonate with Kondo’s image describing this phenomenon because I was guilty of it in seminary and if you see my office desk you would claim that I am still working on it. Kondo, before writing a midterm, would have a strong desire to tidy her desk and her room. However, by doing so, she put off the real issue, the midterm, and found something else to ease her anxiety. Once the midterm was completed the true problem had been faced and it was tidied away. It is my sense this applies to congregations as churches often do little tasks to ease their anxieties about their long-term futures or about the shifting culture around them rather than focus on the bigger goals of intentional and purposeful change. Kondo claims that tidying is a tool, not a destination. The divine-centered destinations of churches must be faced, and sometimes the clutter of little and distracting things keep churches from seeing the bigger picture of where God is pointing them.

Churches should discard things and free up their joy.

Third, Kondo isn’t a big fan of storage. She thinks, “Putting things away creates the illusion the clutter problem has been solved.” But sooner or later, all the storage units are full and our rooms and homes are overflowing again with things that don’t bring us joy. This is why decluttering begins with discarding. It is important for churches to discard the things in their ministries, buildings, and budgets that don’t lead to the overall vision and mission of the church. Maybe it means getting rid of ministries teams or committees that aren’t functioning; maybe it means using a different space in the church for worship; maybe it means only certain mission projects can receive funds; or maybe it means getting rid of that yellow pages ad. Ultimately, the goal of the KonMari Method is to put everything in its place and cross the finish line. Once Kondo fully tidied her home, she says that she was able to be happy and content. She was able to be in a space that “is graced only with those things that speak to [her] heart.”

What might we as churchgoers and church leaders learn from the KonMari Method of decluttering and tidiness? Can we be called to change our ways of thinking so we don’t rebound into old habits; look beyond the little things and really notice where our anxieties are; and not “store” activities, ministries, and objects that don’t bring us joy? By doing these things, our churches might indeed find the life-changing magic of “tidying up.”

Mike Gregg
Michael is the Associate Pastor of Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He recently completed a Doctor of Ministry degree at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. A Board Certified Coach through the Center for Credentialing and Education, Mike enjoys coaching and mentoring seminary students and new ministers as they seek to organize their time and lives around new ministry positions. He also founded and runs a coaching company, Michael Gregg Coaching, which seeks to help clients move forward with clarity and direction. Mike is a baseball fanatic and listens to every Atlanta Braves game on the radio. He is a coach for CHC.