Jenny Odell’s new book, How to Do Nothing has a fruitful suggestion for churches, though she’s not writing to or about churches. She’s actually writing about a public rose garden. Still, her praise of maintenance is ripe for exploration by church leaders.

Why have I never thought of this? Why have I never attended a workshop on maintenance as leadership? Why do denominations not produce maintenance-themed curricula for congregations?

Instead we have a binary: growth or decline. Church growth literature and “expertise” is everywhere, while anxiety about decline infects many pastoral and church board decisions. But there is something beyond growth or decline available to us.

Odell writes, “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.” She describes the volunteers who care for the rose garden as an image of this kind of care and maintenance, people who give themselves to something bigger than themselves out of love, both for the things and for the public the thing serves.

Of course, the churches I have served are filled with such people. They arrange and clean up communion, hold babies in the nursery, answer the office phone, change the letters on the marquee, and perform a whole host of routine tasks that you won’t find in a church growth manual. But they are integral to the maintenance of holy work.

Odell’s proposal is “that we protect our spaces and our time [emphasis hers] for non-instrumental, noncommercial activity and thought, for maintenance, for care, for conviviality.”

What institution could be better positioned for that than a church?

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