by Paula D. Forte
Arborists, people who work with trees and plants, understand that pruning is not something just done for the look of a tree but it is necessary for the health of the tree. Pruning is done with the end-result in mind: making the tree healthier and a better fit for the environment that it is growing in. This principle can be applied in many of the churches we serve. Pruning is done to keep our congregations, and the individuals that make up the entire group, growing in a healthy trajectory.
When it comes to people, pruning is not always easy. The people we serve matter, and pruning seasons are not always easy. While the tree branch does not have a voice, emotions, traditions, and opinions, the people we are called to serve do. Pruning is a necessary part of ministry work but it is the heart of the spiritual arborist who determines the difference between effective pruning or a botched job!
More often than not, our issue is not lack of desire for growth, but the willingness to do the pruning to achieve it. I seldom look forward to making decisions related to ministry growth that involves cutting. Several questions come to mind during a pruning season:
- What needs to be minimized in order to experience maximized growth?
- What am I willing to let go of so something else can grow in its place?
- Would the people in the ministry be healthier if this change is implemented?
- Will this change bring us closer to the ultimate amount of fruit that the ministry and the laborers were created to produce?
In 2014, I started a program at the church where I serve as director of children, youth, and young adults. The program was an initial great success! At the seventh month, several things occurred that resulted in an attendance and quality decline. I had to choose: Cut the program or find another way to fulfill the program’s objectives. We revamped the programming day and the original function was revitalized. We have seen great results this year simply by pruning the day. Healthy ministry growth requires pruning. This does not always result in eliminating a particular ministry but ensures that ministry is productive
When the pruning season begins, as leaders, I believe we should keep this one principle in mind: Be loving in everything we do, (1 Corinthians 16:14, NIrV). The love used in First Corinthians 16:14 is the same love described more thoroughly in First Corinthians 13. Agape. L-O-V-E! Agape Pruning gives people time to mourn when there is loss and a ministry that they have been serving in for years is no longer part of the church’s direction. Agape Pruning will not eliminate a ministry, position, or person just because they have the power to, or because the person made them angry, or just because . . . whatever reason fits our sometimes selfish motives. Agape Pruning looks for ways to keep others whole during the pruning process! Agape Pruning is purposeful and undergirded by love. Agape Pruning moves beyond the initial change to ministering to the person most affected by the cut.
Agape Pruning considers
Placement – ensuring that people are working in their area of giftedness and passion
Reinvigoration – thinking outside the box in order to take dated methods and give them relevant meaning
Urgency – prioritizing what is the most immediate need, not pruning everything at once
Nudging – having several conversations that cast vision and possibilities before making any changes; planting the seed and
Excitement – emphasizing the possibilities that the change will create; consistently verbalizing the gains and redirect hesitant conversations in this direction
An agape pruner loves first. When we cut without loving, the possibility for damage becomes inevitable. Agape Pruning is motivated by love and a desire to see God’s people grow through healthy ministry.
Paula D. Forte is the director of children, youth, and youth adults at First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona.