I know how it is. People come to you and say, “You can use this for the youth room/your office/the church, right?” And the “this” is usually a thing that the person no longer has a use for/is replacing/is worn out/doesn’t want to have to take to the dump.
You probably haven’t had a chance to see the item in question and aren’t sure if it will be useful, but with a limited budget and not wanting to offend, you say sure. And sometimes the stuff really is useful. But as one instructor in seminary memorably said to our class, “The youth room is where old sofas go to die.”
Well, that sofa is probably dead and needs to be given a decent burial, along with a number of other items that have been collecting in corners and cluttering up the joint. It is time to engage in (and I’m not going to spare you this time; let’s call it what it is) the ministry of throwing shit out.
The Ministry of Throwing Shit Out is not something you do alone, except of course in your own personal office or space. But in the public spaces of the church, the Ministry of Throwing Shit Out is an incredibly important thing to do. Here’s how it works.
Gather together key people from the ministries that use that space. Explain that the word of the day is ruthless. Go through the room, pointing at objects. If no one can come up with a reason to keep that object in 30 seconds, it gets placed in the “to go” pile. Sort the stuff into things to sell/things to give away/things to discard. Then follow through.
Make sure that stuff is out of your hair by the end of the week. If anything that you want to sell doesn’t sell, then give it away. If anything that you want to give away gets no takers, discard it. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you are going to be taking "perfectly good" things to the dump.
Be ruthless. Did I mention that? RUTHLESS!
I realize that is very hard for us. But we need to remember a few things:
- This is just stuff. It does not have moral agency.
- It is meant to help us do our ministries.
- If it does not help us do our ministries, then it is not useful to us, no matter what the circumstances under which it came to us.
- We need to set boundaries with stuff just as we do with people. Not every piece of stuff needs to be in our space.
- If we allow every piece of stuff to be in our space, we send the message that we will put up with old, poorly maintained cast-offs, and people will give us old, poorly maintained cast-offs.
Please understand me. I know that budgets are tight. I know that you do not have the financial resources to simply purchase everything you need or want to do ministry. But I also think we need to be clear about stating our needs and not simply wait for someone to offer something that might or might not be useful to us.
Do we need a sofa? By all means, let’s go about getting a sofa. But if what we actually need are comfortable chairs we can set up in a circle, let’s be clear about that. It’s OK to turn down a donation if it’s not going to be useful. It may be a “perfectly good” item, but if it’s not going to help us, just going to end up being shit we don’t want.
There’s a term for this in international aid circles: SWEDOW. It’s an acronym for “Stuff We Don’t Want” – the stuff that generous people (or people who want to feel generous) give to “the needy” when they don’t want it. We talk about SWEDOW in our session on how we help others, giving examples of a well-meaning adult giving The Youth outdated books and clothing and food, and asking them how it makes them feel. How does it make you feel? Have you ever allowed yourself to think about it?
So throw that shit out. Really. You’re not being wasteful. You’re not being ungrateful. You’re a professional, looking to do work in a professional manner with the proper tools in a professional environment. There’s nothing wrong with that.