I write these words in the midst of a most unusual week. The first part of the week was spent in the home of my deceased parents. Their house is for sale, most of the furniture has now been divided up among family members, but there is still “stuff” to go through. In the stark quiet of an empty house there are papers and files to review for keeping or tossing, books to give away to the library, clothes to go to Salvation Army, trash to be taken to the recycling center. My body aches from carrying too many boxes down from my dad’s third floor study. The biggest challenge, however, was not physical. The hardest part was knowing what to save and what to discard. Everything I touched had been important to my parents, but that does not mean it will find a home in my house or my sister’s house. Discarding something that was once important to people you love is hard to do, but it is necessary to move forward.
I left the work at my parents’ house and traveled to my daughter’s home, where I am now babysitting my two-year-old grandson. What a contrast in experiences all during the course of a few days! Everything is new for Liam – each day brings new friends at daycare and church, new words to learn, new books to read, new experiences to cherish. The sheer silence of an empty house is replaced by Pop joining Liam at Cherub Choir on Wednesday night. No longer are there old clothes to throw away, but new clothes from grandparents to try on in an attempt to fit his ever-growing body. Signs, sights, and sounds of life are everywhere.
Endings and beginnings. Both are important for healthy churches. The same experiences that I am going through this week in my personal life are the rhythm of healthy churches. Think for a moment about appropriate endings. Events, programs, ministries, buildings, missions endeavors, (and the list could go on to include things like prejudices, attitudes, fears), which were important to people we loved sometimes need to be ended. They do not need to have a home in the church of the future. These are often hard decisions to make. What needs to stay around? What needs to be discarded? Perhaps some questions will help you wrestle with finding the answer:
1. Does this ministry help us accomplish our mission and vision for the future? If not, why are we keeping it?
2. Will this facility be a barrier to our ministry vitality and growth? If so, is it time for an ending?
3. Is this attitude or mindset within the congregation reflective of the mind of Christ? If not, then it is time for it to be taken out to recycling.
Healthy churches are able to experience appropriate endings. Through effective leadership, clarity of mission and vision, vibrant congregational conversations, and collaborative processes churches can move to have appropriate endings for things that were once very important to members of the congregation. That is how families move forward. Everything from the past does not find a home in the house of the next generation. Healthy churches know how to recycle!
Healthy churches also know about how to begin something new. If there is a need for appropriate endings, there is also a desire for energizing beginnings. What new thing are you allowing God to do in your church? What “new song” is the tune of your ministry? Are you loving the world God loves with the wide-open arms of a bright-eyed two-year-old? Perhaps some questions will help you think through energizing beginnings:
1. Where do we see God already working in our corner of the world which we can join in and be a part of this mission – even if we have never done it this way before?
2. What are the strengths and gifts of people within our congregation that have not yet been invested in ministry? How can we equip and empower these folks to speak the new words and sing the new songs of sharing God’s love?
3. What is the human need around you that cries out for an expression of hope?
Isaiah 43:18-19 says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (NRSV) Healthy churches know about appropriate endings – “do not remember the former things . . .” They also know about energizing beginnings – “I am about to do a new thing . . .”
I look around the room at the home of my daughter’s family. In front of me is a chest that was in my sister’s bedroom as a child. Not all of the old has come to an end. Some of the old remains and is handed down from generation to generation. On top of the chest is a new little pair of boots to be worn by one who experiences new things every day. That is how families move forward from generation to generation. The same is true for healthy churches.
David Hull is the Center for Healthy Churches Coordinator-Southeast. A native of Louisiana, David has been an active leader in community and denominational life for 35 years. David is an accomplished author and teacher, and has a special love for the local church. Over the years, he has developed a passion to see all churches become healthy and thriving. He has a special interest in helping congregations navigate leadership transitions in a healthy and Spirit-led manner.