Last November, my neighbors and I were horrified to come home to butchered shrubbery. Shrubs of all sizes had been decapitated, the top half of them taken off. As part of our homeowner’s fees, we pay landscapers to keep up our yards. I had a large shrub that had grown to be up close to my shoulders. It often grew out into the driveway and walkway. I’d asked many times for something to be done about it but was always told it was fine by the landscaping company standards. I’d eventually taken to buying an electric hedge trimmer to keep it out of the driveway and walkway and to keep me from growing over my head.
One day I walked out and my overgrown shrub was now at knee height. The top just taken off, in November….with months before anything would grow back. The now scraggly branches all exposed. The shrub now living and green on its bottom half and completely dead and broken on top. The ivy that was growing underneath it that was now completely exposed to the sun. That ivy will grow because ivy always grows.
Learning their lesson, the HOA company made sure to let us know when their would be arborists coming into the neighborhood to trim back the trees. They were fascinating to watch! The arborists would climb up into the trees with some kind of pulley system and would carefully cut away branches. They cut branches that were too low, some of the oldest branches. They cut branches from areas where the tree was unhealthy. They cut new branches from areas of the tree where new growth was overwhelming the tree.
I once had a conversation with an arborist years ago who worked for the power company. He spent his time removing trees from power lines but he said that what he loved about his work was keeping the integrity of the tree in tact. He considered it a success if he could cut back the tree in such a way that it was free from the power line and the power line was free from the tree without it being obvious the tree had been cut back. From my observation, to a true arborist the work is an art form.
It is no surprise that church leaders find themselves in the need of making tough decisions. Even our larger, thriving churches should be aware that as they add new ministries, others have to be cut back. Smaller churches already know that they no longer have the budget, the staff, the people to do what they once did. Leaders can approach these decisions two different ways.
If they go the route the landscaping company did, they wouldn’t do the needed maintenance along the way. They could keep claiming everything is fine and wait until things are out of control to make the cuts. That’s what we often do, we blame hard decisions on the budget or lack of volunteers, making reactive decisions rather than planning ahead, making the tough decisions along the way. It can be easier to be reactive with our decisions but just like my shrub outside, it’s an eyesore. And remember the ivy? Unhealthy removal of one thing can lead to an unhealthy take over by something/someone else.
Leading like an arborist is an art form. It isn’t about waiting until things are out of control to make decisions. It includes cutting the oldest branches even when they seem healthy because it takes the resources away from the growth of others. It is cutting back in areas that are too crowded, even if they seem to be growing now because you know it cannot be sustained and growth cannot occur elsewhere. It is recognizing what is unhealthy and removing it. It is about climbing the tree and doing the hard work in the middle of it. It is done with a care that keeps the integrity of the shape of the tree. This method takes much more time but is done so the overall health and growth of the tree continues in the right directions.
Will you have the courage to be an arborist?