Last fall we bought and planted a tree in the backyard of our house. We planted it with a vision of what it might look like several years from now. You see, it’s not very big. At least not yet. But we know that in time it will become a source of shade. It will also provide a sort of privacy screen between our house and our neighbor’s.
For that to happen, though, it will need to grow. So, I have been watching it carefully as new buds began forming and growing beginning in March. Ronda teases me about going out and talking to the tree, coaxing it to grow. Knowing that, you might find what I did a couple of weeks ago counter-productive. I cut off some branches. In fact, most of the tallest branches are now missing. It was taller in February than it is now. But it will be taller in October because of what I did than it would be if I had left it alone.
Anyone who has ever pruned a tree knows what I did and why I did it. It might look like I was inhibiting growth, like I was making it shorter, but I was actually fostering growth. I spent several hours cutting off all “dead” branches, branches that had experienced severe frost damage during the winter, branches that had not produced any new buds this spring. I cut them off in order to help the tree grow.
I confess that I made a few mistakes, though. I cut off some branches that probably should have been kept.
As I was cutting those branches, I found myself wondering about the church. I wondered if there are any dead branches that need to be cut out in our church so that growth can take place. I wondered if there were things we are doing simply because we’ve always done them before, without considering how they help us achieve our purposes, how they help us reach our goals, how they help meet the needs of the people in our neighborhood and in our church family. I also wondered if there were things we were cutting out that should be maintained. I didn’t have anything in particular that came to mind, but I decided if it becomes hard to recruit people for a task, I will be asking if the task is one of those things that needs to be pruned.
We can keep doing those things and it won’t hurt us. But if we want to experience growth, we may need to do a little pruning. We need to make room for new branches to grow.
I also know that in the life of the church, it’s sometimes hard to tell what is essential and what needs to be pruned. Sometimes we cut out the wrong things. When that happens, there is good news. You see, unlike the tree branch, we can always start something back up again if we decide it needs to be included rather than concluded!