Nearly fifty years ago, Studs Terkel published his landmark oral history Working, in which he observed: “Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.”
Jobs are not big enough for people.
This fundamental truth has always been there, but the pandemic cleared space for people to grasp it for themselves—which may be why we are having the Great Resignation now.
At the same time, if you asked your church board colleagues whether their board role is big enough for them, you would probably hear a majority of voices saying that people expect too much of them. There is a pervasive sense, in congregations, that members have out-sized expectations of what their lay leaders (and their church staff) can actually do.
Jobs that are not big enough for people … over against out-sized expectations and disappointing results. That is not a continuum, necessarily. But it does describe the situation in which many church boards find themselves.
When is a job or responsibility ‘the right size’ for our spirit? How can church boards – along with their pastors – right-size and balance responsibilities and expectations?
Most people think that their church board work begins with a list of core responsibilities and key tasks. More likely, their church board work begins with a hope and a fear. The hope is that this work will be right-sized to their spirit (otherwise, why add this work to your already too-busy life?) The fear is that the work won’t get done, that they will not be up to the multiple tasks in front on them or, to be honest, that they will disappoint their friends in the congregation by the actions they contribute to as part of the board. Layered on this, of course, is the general fear that churches are an endangered species in our culture these days—and what can we do about that? These are large questions, but they do not match the size of our spirit. In fact, they tend to dull the spirits of those in most leadership circles.
Maya Angelou once offered this wisdom: “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same place. Invite one to stay.” Finding a way to discern God’s work in the world and nurture the collective hope of a church board will, paradoxically, meet the size of your spirit’s need and make the work of responsibility and “to-do’s” have some wind at your back. Finding right-sized spirit work is essential to leadership teams. Deciding to invite hope to stay (and fear to depart) is crucial, especially in these times.
In his poem Two Tramps in Mud-Time, Robert Frost sets up a scene in which the poet, joyfully chopping wood on an April day, is approached by two ‘tramps’ who want to do his wood-chopping for him in exchange for pay. The delicate day is poised between winter and spring, and the poet longs to hang on to his task, poised equally between work and play. He hungers to unite his work and play, need and love, in one action, “as two eyes make one sight.”
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future’s sakes.
What do you make of Frost’s claim that “only where need and love are one” is “the deed ever done/for heaven and the future’s sakes?”
When have you had a church job or responsibility that felt right-sized to your spirit?
For your church board members, what feels too big or too small about their work on behalf of the congregation?
What might you do, together, to right-size that work?