Yoder-Short: A decluttered church

Aug 14, 2017 by

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A freeing feeling results when we donate unneeded clutter to the local rummage sale. Old books go, making room for new ones. Useless kitchen gadgets leave, creating room for useful basics. Uncomfortable shoes disappear, enabling us to discover the beauty of less.

Jane Yoder-Short


In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle noted Mark Dyer’s insight “that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.” Institutionalized Christianity becomes an “intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur.”

Jesus understood the need for decluttering. Outside purity protocols go, making space for inward cleansing. The don’t-talk-to-Samaritan-women rule is out, opening a door for new social norms. Retaliation scores are tossed aside, creating room for a love-your-enemy package. Out with the old stiff wineskins; enter fresh wineskins for new wine.

The early church had its own rummage sale. Circumcision is set aside, making space for a Gentile welcome mat. God’s temple residence is replaced with a vision of presence among people. The Chosen ethnic group is discarded, making space for God’s global family.

The Anabaptists had their rummage sale. They cast off large state-connected institutions, making room for a priesthood of all believers. They discarded selling indulgences, enabling forgiveness to be freely given. They rejected infant baptism, making room for choosing faith.

Some of us are ready for a new rummage sale. We’re tired of an over-organized church that focuses on ourselves more than a mission of being Jesus in the world. We’re tired of inflexibility in worship, high expectations for paid staff and low expectation of lay members.

We need order and structure, but when does order stifle the Holy Spirit? When does order push gifts aside? When does order smother fresh ministries?

Let’s do a little dreaming. What bureaucratic futility are we ready to discard?

What if we let go of the need to be perfect? We could replace it with eager humility. When we are willing to fail, we are more open to trying new ideas. Would it ruin our church if we tried some crazy idea for just six months?

What if we let go of committees? Some are vital; others are stuck. What if more of us started to have task groups, as some churches are doing? How would it reshape church if task groups were open to anyone? How would it reshape church if task groups were short-lived? We might have to reinstate some committees, but not without making sure they are needed.

What if we let go of solo preaching? This isn’t a call to get rid of paid staff but an invitation to be intentional about hearing multiple voices. Stuart Murray in The Power of All makes a case for empowering more people to be heard. Are we using the gifts of all of our members?

What if we replaced the annual business meeting with a dream session to imagine new ministries? Nothing would be off the table. No saying, “But we never did it that way. But we don’t have money. But it won’t work.” What if we started a New Wine Fund to provide short-term funding for fresh ideas?

In our society, where institutions are suspect, we need to find less bureaucratic ways to do church. We need to do church in ways that involve everyone.

Does the future of the Mennonite church include a rummage sale? What decluttering could free us to create new ministries, new spaces of hope, new expressions of love? How are our congregations making space for New Wine?

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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