An old prospector was asked, “Of all the equipment you have, if you could only carry two items with you as you cross the desert, what would you choose?”
Without hesitation the prospector answered, “My water and my hat.”
The old prospector understood exactly what was important and what was just baggage. That is probably why he had lived to such a ripe old age.
Churches today, while not crossing the desert, are facing the same kind of forced choices as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus in an increasingly hostile and complex environment. We have to look carefully at all that we carry and make sometimes difficult choices as to what we keep carrying and what we will have to leave behind.
In no case are these choices more difficult than in our smaller churches.So many of these have already lost so much of what they consider to be of value. They have delayed or neglected maintenance of physical property due to dwindling income and escalating costs. Their membership numbers are dwindling as potential new members move away, drift to other churches with more programs, or simply drop out from the church scene. As they struggle to match income with expenses they cut corners on leadership training and pastoral salaries. They are not choosing to cross a dangerous and hostile desert. They are already in the midst of it!
What are the small church equivalents of water and a hat? What are the absolute essentials for them to carry on this journey toward a complex and challenging future? Are there things, practices, memories that need to be left behind in order to better exercise faithful mission and ministry?
Property, staff, tradition – all become weighty burdens on this journey. What parts are absolutely essential, and what can be safely left behind?
Before setting about to reduce its burden the smaller church needs to carefully assess what is essential to its purpose. Everything and anything else is expendable!