It seems counterintuitive, but the abundance we see in all aspects of our lives has as much to do with strategic deletion as it does with adding things to our efforts.
I was a farmer in my first life—growing almonds in the Central Valley of California. My life revolved around trees. In November and December of each year (the dormant season for the trees) we would hire teams of people to work through our hundreds of acres of almond orchards, critically and carefully pruning branches and limbs to allow for a huge crop in the next growing season. I do not know when the art was perfected, but I know that around the time I was farming 20 years ago new methods for pruning were introduced that catapulted almond production into record-breaking numbers. An almond orchard pruned correctly will double and often triple a typical crop. Those are huge increases, all coming from key, strategic cuts.
So what did those cuts do? They maximized light into the canopy (more light means more energy for growth and almond production), they built strength into the branches (so more crop could be supported), they increased air circulation (so the trees were less susceptible to disease), they allowed the tree to focus energy and resources in key branches to support the next season’s fruit, and they excised parts of the trees that tended toward disease (leaving the tree healthier and stronger all around).
The metaphoric comparisons to our own growth, and the development of our congregations, are there for the picking. But as ministry leaders, we have a hard time with this sort of pruning conversation, perhaps because the idea of removing people from the organization, ministry, or task force can feel profoundly un-Christian.
Yet we have all experienced ministries and teams that have been hurt by controlling or dysfunctional personalities. And we have all experienced organizations that are committed to everything and therefore committed to nothing.
As I coach and consult across the church, invariably the vitality conversation has less to do with what needs to be added, and more to do with what needs to be deleted. God continues to knead into our congregations and organizations the “yeast” of the kingdom—preparing us for God’s in-breaking shalom. As leaders in these communities, we’ve been entrusted with the holy work of strategic deletion, helping ourselves and our constituencies get out of the way of what’s necessary so that light, air, and health might invigorate our efforts toward true vitality.
Questions for Reflection:
- What behaviors and attitudes in you as a leader need to be revisited, or deleted, so that you can better empower the organization that you have been called to lead?
- What personalities under your leadership need healthy redirection or replanting so that the organization’s efforts might be energized?
- In general, what does your organization need to do less to release energy and resources toward things that matter?
Rev. Dr. Nathan Swenson-Reinhold is a former lead pastor of a multi-site congregation. He’s been a ministry leadership coach for nearly two decades and is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC). He’s the owner of Summit Coaching and Behavioral Consulting LLC. He enjoys pen-turning, car detailing, reading science fiction, and playing acoustic guitar.