The Eleventh


Every church board of whatever size will face a moment when the stunning complexity and reality of the needs they feel called to meet will make their efforts—even their very solid, organized, well-resourced, well-led efforts—seem inadequate.  What to do then?   The temptation is to try to “scale up,” only to find that the need continues to outpace the response.  Or they may deal with a creeping sense of failure and begin to contemplate abandoning their efforts.

 In his very short story “The Eleventh,” French writer Henri Barbusse (1873-1935) focuses directly on the challenge of offering limited resources in a world of unlimited need.

 Barbusse’s narrator, a young assistant in a luxurious home for wealthy invalids, is at first excited to participate in the institution’s ‘noble’ tradition of allowing ten poor people free entry every month. But closing the door on the eleventh person affects the assistant in unexpected ways. You can read the full story here.

  • How would you describe what happens to the assistant in this story—as a loss of faith, a growth in wisdom, or something else?


  • What advice would you give the assistant? Is this advice that your board also needs to consider for its own work in some regard?


  • Who are ‘the elevenths’ for your congregation? 


  • Who are your ‘gatekeepers?’ How do you attend to their spiritual needs?


  • What scripture passages would you use for guidance alongside this story?  What teaching of Jesus comes to mind, both for Barbusse’s assistant and for your board?
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