Breaking It Down

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Church boards know this.  In your faith community…

Not everyone speaks with the same history.

Not everyone speaks at the same volume.

Not everyone speaks with the same frequency.

Certainly, not everyone speaks with the same agenda(!).

And, if we are honest, not everyone speaks with the same commitment, spiritual depth, or sensitivity.

So, how does your church board listen carefully to all the voices, and all the sub-groups, in order to discern a way forward for your church?

In “A Word on Statistics,” the remarkable Polish poet Wisława Szymborska (1923-2012) breaks down humanity into another set of sub-groups—and she even gives percentages.

A Word on Statistics


Out of every hundred people 

those who always know better:


Unsure of every step:

almost all the rest.

 Ready to help,

if it doesn’t take long:


Always good,

because they cannot be otherwise:

four—well, maybe five.

Able to admire without envy:


Led to error

by youth (which passes):

sixty, plus or minus.

Those not to be messed with:

forty and four.

Living in constant fear

of someone or something:


Capable of happiness:

twenty-some-odd at most.

Harmless alone,

turning savage in crowds:

more than half, for sure. 


when forced by circumstances:

it’s better not to know,

not even approximately.

Wise in hindsight:

not many more

than wise in foresight.

Getting nothing out of life except things:


(though I would like to be wrong). 

Doubled over in pain

and without a flashlight in the dark:

eighty-three, sooner or later.

Those who are just:

quite a few at thirty-five.

But if it takes effort to understand:


Worthy of empathy:



one hundred out of one hundred—

a figure that has never varied yet.


Thankfully, God attends to all of us, in all these dimensions of our being, with all our voices, views, agendas, and yearnings.

Psalm 139 is a poetic and deeply introspective psalm that explores the quality of God’s attention, as shaped by God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and intimate relationship with humanity.  The psalm speaks to the idea that God knows us even better than we know ourselves, that God’s presence is with us always, and that God’s thoughts towards us are precious and numerous.

Psalm 139:1-14

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and night wraps itself around me,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.

In this psalm, notice how God initiates the searching, and the knowing.  (That might be a good statement to read aloud together at the beginning of every board meeting:  God initiates the searching, and the knowing.)

Notice, too, how a far-flung community – either in location or in viewpoints – is not an obstacle to God’s care and love.

Finally, notice how the psalm affirms that God made us and is therefore deeply familiar with our ways, our fears, our pride, our limitations, our inner “knitting.”

Consider all the voices you are hearing on your church board – voices of boasting, uncertainty, grace, generosity, envy, immaturity, maturity, bluster, fear, happiness, cruelty, unhappiness, wisdom, waywardness, pain, lostness, empathy, and mortality.  The role of your board is not to try to harmonize, or sanitize, or cover up these voices.  Your role is to listen, to pray, and to hear God’s voice through and with each of the voices, understanding that each person in your community is indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.”



Which statistics in Szymborska’s poem strike you as especially accurate? Which statistics strike you as especially funny or poignant?


What picture does Szymborska paint of humanity?


What picture does Psalm 139 paint of humanity?


Working with Szymborska’s picture, how might your church board approach its work differently?


Working with Psalm 139’s picture, how might your church board approach its work differently?



Like most church boards, Digging a Deeper Well is going to take a summer break.  We will be back with you in a few weeks.

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