Ministry Downsizing (It Won’t All Fit)

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By Pastor Tim Nelson

Making room for what matters most.

For two days I pressed our possessions into every nook and cranny of the 28-foot Ryder moving van, starting with the items we used the least. My eyes scanned the space left on the truck (3 feet), then the pile in our garage (more than 3 feet). That pile contained the items we needed every day to live.

They wouldn’t all fit.

No Margin and too busy

I learned a hard and valuable lesson that day: Leave ample room for the most important things.

In our move through life, the important things are always the relationships—relationships with the Lord, with those we love, with the lost, the least and the left-behind, and with the learner in the yoke with Jesus (disciple in Greek simply means “learner”).

Standing at the back of the truck on that agonizing December day, I got crazy. My first thought was, I’ll repack the truck. I will make it all fit.  But I didn’t have an organization problem. A mouse caught in that loaded truck would have felt claustrophobic.

My second thought was, Maybe I could tie some things on the truck.

Faced with no place to put the vital relationships we need every day to live, saints and communities of saints get crazy too: “We can repack or repackage and make it fit!” Or, worse: “Let’s get some rope.” Next thing you know, the church is trying to tie on small groups or a high-octane fellowship time between services.

It’s the Beverly Hillbillies all over again.

With rare exception, saints and communities of saints in local churches simply can’t make quality relationships fit. Look at our loads. Our trucks are packed out with too much work, too much stuff and too much frenetic activity. We don’t need to repack or repackage. It’s not an organization or efficiency problem. In fact, if it were not for multi-tasking, we’d have stuff falling off all over.

Personal Overload and Ministry Overload

We’re overloaded.

Scripture shouts we’re overloaded. Paul tells us that most of the world’s cargo we hauled around before becoming Christ-followers are encumbrances to be off-loaded in order to make room for what we need to really live (Hebrews 12:1,2). James and John are more blunt still, informing us that instead of simply taking up space, these good things we once hauled around tend to gang up on the God-things (relationships), heave-ho’ing them off our trucks (James 4:4,5; 1 John 2:15,16).

Jesus calls our old cargo thorns, slowly and insidiously choking out the space and energy required for life-giving intimacy (Matthew 13:22).

We can’t simply add on life-giving relationships. Guided by the Spirit of God, we must first off-load.

For the past few months, one of my marching orders has been to inventory our church truck and suggest how to reload.  The inventory part has been simple.  Our schedule is packed, our facility maxed, and our staff taxed.  The reloading part has been challenging.   What should be put into the ‘Nice, but not necessary’ pile, and what are the items we need as a family of families so that we can bring all to maturity, all to ministry, and many to leadership?

I’m beginning to nag the Calvary staff and congregation with three “less is more” initiatives this fall. The first is capping the work hours of our staff at a room-on-the-truck level. The second is asking the question, “Is this nice, or necessary?” over every event and project that jockeys for a position on our church truck. The third is challenging the families in our church to “tithe” time for community by paring back their personal schedules 10 percent over the next year, and modeling this as church leaders by paring 10 percent of the events off the church calendar.

Pressing needs call for courageous actions. As a church and as individuals we need time and energy for the relationships that are the heart of our mission.  Let’s off-load our trucks, and watch community and maturity deepen.

Portions of this article used with permission, EFCA Today, Fall 2010

2 thoughts on “Ministry Downsizing (It Won’t All Fit)”

  1. The first two highlighted sentences really said it all. This is not meant to be critical, but in order to practice what you preach (or write) you could have made your downsizing point by using 1/4 of the words you used. It would have saved you and your readers time and energy.

  2. Dorothy A. Lund Nelson

    Pastor Tim has challenged shared the challenge to all of the CEFC staff. There are so many requests and needs of their time and energy. Our prayers for all of them, is that soon a temporary or permanent additional pastor is selected.
    We all of this problem of too much to do each day and how to sort out what is most important and necessary. Let’s all take some of the weight from the pastors’ things.
    CEFC staff give so passionately in so many ways to others; that’s what makes their load so complete and heavy…….let us pray that never ends!

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