Cleaning Out Stuff vs. Preserving the Core

It feels like my house is being overrun with “stuff”.  Our youngest is between apartment leases and had to move his worldly belongings home for a few weeks. At the same time my mom is downsizing into a smaller senior housing living arrangement. As she divests herself of a lifetime of stuff, some of the more sentimental and hard to part with items are finding their way into my home.  All of this is good and difficult and appropriate for this season of life. However, we have been faced this summer with the hard chore of cleaning out, of deciding what is core and what must go.clutter7-medium-new

These past weeks I have become rather masterful at creating piles, sorted according to: things we frequently use and need to keep; stuff that serves no useful purpose and is easy to part with; stuff we have loved but it is no longer functional and at the end of the day must go; and stuff that we really don’t use but for sentimental reasons it needs to stay.

As I do this work I am reminded of the principles of adaptive leadership that I frequently cite to pastors.  Heifetz teaches that successful adaptive change builds upon the past rather than jettisoning it.  This requires:

  • Preserving the historical DNA of the congregation
  • Removing or modifying that which is no longer necessary or useful
  • Creating or innovating new arrangements that enable the congregation to thrive

Distinguishing that which is core from that which is no longer necessary or useful is no easy task.  It’s not as simple as sorting things into the four piles I’ve used this summer in our household purge.  Why is it so complicated?   In our congregations many of the things that we are sentimentally attached to and use frequently are the very things we need to purge or modify in order to thrive. It’s not simply about getting rid of those things we no longer use or care about. What do we do with the Sunday morning meet and greet hour that our members love, but visitors find isolating and impossible to navigate?  What about the children’s sermon that our old-timers find endearing, but newcomers find sappy at best and exploitative of our children at their worst?

How do we determine which of our enduring practices are core and which are just stuff?  At the end of the day, it’s not a decision, it is a discernment. Discernment requires sensitivity to inner wisdom, a way of paying attention to God’s way of guiding. It requires an integral relationship with prayer as we sense an authentic way of being, a way that brings life into focus through a Divine lens.

In this critical season of adaptive work, of distinguishing that which is just stuff from that which is core, we need to strengthen our discernment muscles and skills.  We need to rediscover some of the ancient prayerful practices that are sitting under cover of dust in our attics and crawl spaces.

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