Church Skills: Letting Go

In the post about mission, I talked a little bit about congregations developing a sense of identity and purpose by focusing on their strengths and passions. Knowing what we do well is vital because it can help us with another essential church skill: letting go.

Our congregational leaders seem to have a lot of trouble with letting go. We write strategic plans that set 99 goals to accomplish in 3 years.  We collect “best practices” and exciting ideas and want to implement them all and often at the same time.  We get overwhelmed and burned out trying to do and be everything that we think we should be.  We often loose our penchant for perfectionism on the church, forgetting that a church is made up of people. And that means there are limits on what we can accomplish. We may have to be excellent in a few areas and only adequate (gasp!) in others.

(There needs to be a whole ‘nother post/series of posts/long conversation/book on how the lack of a theology of forgiveness and redemption keeps us stuck in perfectionism.)

Healthy congregations have to learn how to let some things go in order to stay focused on their mission.  That mission is most effective when it is aligned with the strengths and passions of the people who are the congregation.  Each congregation has something like a personality and it would be a waste of energy to try to become something else. I’ve known outgoing, introverted, active, celebratory, serious, studious, friendly, and shy congregations. Each has its place. An introverted or even shy congregation may draw people who need a more contemplative type of worship and small group connections. A celebratory congregation may meet the needs of artists, musicians, and other artists.  A studious congregation may appeal to those who find deep meaning in the life of the mind: scholars and scientists.

There is plenty of room for a pluralism of congregations in any one area if each does the work of understanding and articulating its unique style, strengths, and mission.  And then lets go of being all things to all people.  That’s the hard part. In order to focus on some things, we have to NOT focus on others. We have to let go of things (at least for now) that don’t capture the interest of the congregation. We have to let go of things that don’t feel meaningful. We have to learn to prioritize our dreams and work on them one at a time. We have to learn to say, “Not right now” to some good ideas.

One helpful way to think of letting go is to understand the necessity of sustainability.  Just like in an ecosystem, you can’t put more and more stress and increasing demands on a system without endangering it.  We have to make sure our programs, goals, and priorities are sustainable given the resources, staffing, and energy we have.  We can’t afford to burn out our key leaders or risk them feeling unappreciated because they can never do enough.  We need to honor reasonable limits so our leaders can balance what they give to the congregation with what they gain.

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3 thoughts on “Church Skills: Letting Go

  1. Thanks for this nice summary of a huge issue facing all of us in congregations. A couple of years ago, I heard a useful term from the nonprofit world that describes what happens when an organization won’t let go: “mission creep” — a useful term, but actually I think I like your ecological metaphor better.

  2. loved this Rev. Sean!
    Self acceptance is a huge part of our gospel. It can be dismissed or trivialized, but as you have written, it is powerful if taken seriously.
    I would like to add some pieces along the lines of perfectionism, and keeping the religious and spiritual in everything we do. In our district, we have a slogan “Faith Development is all we do. UUism is all we teach. The congregation is the curriculum. If we are “driven” and place achievement above salvation, then we have re-created the materialistic culture. I want us to nurture a culture where inherent worth and dignity are affirmed. Your blog does this.
    Peace out

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