The advice given to aspiring writers is that you have to “kill your darlings.” The phrase was first coined by William Faulkner who said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” Stephen King followed up by saying, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” in his book On Writing.
The phrase refers to those parts of a manuscript that we have simply fallen in love with but are no longer needed for the story and can perhaps even be distracting to the reader. It can be a character, a phrase, an image, a joke, etc. The challenge is that writers tend to feel maternal towards these “darlings”, but once a manuscript has grown these items might need to be pruned.
The same advice needs to be heeded by pastors and ministry leaders. We can become so enamored with favorite ministries, phrases, illustrations, names, etc., that we are reluctant to make changes when those ministries, phrases, illustrations, names, etc., are no longer effective.
Our church, First Central Baptist Church of Chicopee, MA, is going through the process of changing our name. We recognized that the label “Baptist” is no longer a positive label in our area. It took our congregation two years just to acknowledge that we needed to make a change. Now, we are considering what our new name should be. Of the 72 names submitted for consideration, 16 of them tried to keep “First Central” as part of the name. In contrast, one member recommended letting go of the past and adopting a completely new name.
Last month, our Christian Education Board decided to rename our summer VBS (Vacation Bible School) program. We recognized that the term “VBS” is a Christian code word. We also acknowledged that a summer program with “School” in the title might be a deterrent to children. “Who wants to go to school in the summer?” Since our Children’s Ministry is known as KidConnect, we adopted a new name, Camp KidConnect, for our summer ministry. One person responded, “Well, I’m still going to call it VBS.”
Names can certainly fall into the “darlings” category. So can ministries. When I was in grad school, one of my professors quipped, “When the horse is dead, it’s time to dismount.” Admitting a program is no longer effective and needs to be discontinued is one of the most difficult discussions churches face. We fall in love with programs. We fondly remember how they impacted our lives in previous years. Our rose-colored-glasses make it difficult for us to honestly evaluate the present effectiveness of the ministry. They cause us to be reluctant to “pull the plug” and kill our darlings, and to stop a ministry or activity that is no longer reaching its intended goal.
For God to begin a new work in our lives, churches, and ministries, we have to let go of the past.
Isaiah 43:18–19 (NIV84) – “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.