Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Ministering or Administrating?

Public health warning: Rant and soapbox ahead - may appear nuts!

Yesterday I had the misfortune to find myself at the hands of the facile observer, the sort of person who looks at someone with their arms crossed and proclaims them to be defensive because they once read something somewhere (back of a cereal packet perhaps?) that said that and the making of this 'knowledge' theirs has made them an expert! 

I am sure you know the type - the sort of person who issues the trite statement as if they were bringing forth tablets of stone written from on high (my least favourite is the person who utters the awful, 'Assume makes an Ass of you and me!' epigram). I'm sure those who read this will know someone who matches the photofit I am creating.

But, for me at least, the thing that disturbs me most is the retreat of those who should be winning souls and proclaiming Jesus, the Christ, into spreadsheets, flowcharts, organograms (AKA organisation charts) and the like seem to be turning ministers in to administrators. 

I engage with people who were pastoral and up close and personal with people who have become distant and working in personnel (Human Resource Management [HRM] rather than Human Resource Development [HRD]) and this is wrong. HRM manages people - HRD develops them (or so I was taught when doing that sort of thing). One checks attendance and sickness and disciplinary stuff whilst the other seeks to equip and enable people to do the job well. The problem is that all around me I see little passion for people or development but loads for administration and meetings; parameters, guidelines and reviews being the order of the day! (aaaaargh!!!)

I find people who should be ensuring that the church they are in and the Church around them is singing from the same song sheet but instead they are carried away by spreadsheets instead. Rather than call upon God they call yet another interminably boring meeting and try to arrange the deckchairs on a ship which is destined to sink when what is really needed is the services of a pilot who will help us plot a course through, or away form, the icebergs and potential perils before us!

I am an evangelist, pastor and a (lightweight) theologian by calling, nature and passion. I love people, the excite me and stimulate me to say, do and be things I might never have imagined. The Gospel is the fire in my belly and the desire to see people live life at the fullest and be the best they can be is something that fires me up and keeps me mad (was going to say 'sane' but realise how many there are who might just disagree with that).

I am an Anglican priest because I believe in the Church of England I have found an expression of Church, a denomination,  with so very much going for it. Our liturgy is biblical, our worship* is at times sublime and our consideration of the whole of the Bible (thanks to the lectionary) all-encompassing and enabling and our traditions and practices generally spot on (or at least somewhere near).

So as I go to break bread and pour out wine I will issue this plea from a lowly, probably inadequate in most departments, cleric to all who minister (lay or ordained):

+ Put aside the management speak, the spreadsheets, flowcharts, organograms and the like.

+ Stop planning for grow and instead preach the Gospel, build authentic Church and enjoy growth** instead.

+ Regain the gift of being a minster of the Gospel (and we all are called to be ministers by virtue of being baptised so this is something that applies to us all) and pick up your Bible and read; fall to your knees and pray - asking, thanking and praising; sing God's praise and make a joyful (even if not tuneful perhaps) noise.

Let's bring the Church back to the place it should be as the different, counter-cultural, voice in the wildness of today's frenzied society.

Or you carnage another business meeting to ponder over the BOPs and the Share and other really important stuff - but as you do yet another SWOT*** analysis ask yourself whether you are the 'S' column or the 'W' insofar as Church and discipleship and 'doing the stuff' is concerned.

We need to be good managers - don't think I'm not saying that - but most of all we need to be passionate, informed and focussed Christians who are managing their spiritual households.

Are we?

*Worship: Not just the music! Anglican worship is the words and the music, the liturgy guides our work and the music gives a chance to sing spiritual songs, the prayers are more than 'gimme' moments for this too is worship. Worship is a multi-faceted, multidimensional and exciting thing: all encompassing and life-enabling in itself.

** Growth: When asked by a senior clergy person about growth recently my response was, 'I'm hoping you mean growth in the spiritual sense.' Sadly they meant it in the sense  of BOPS (Bums on Pews) and so, sadly, it continues :-(

*** SWOT: Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat. You make a list of the four categories and see where to applaud, where to be worried and where you need to work to survive and to grow. A really useful, although just a little hackneyed, way of getting people to think. But it works when used lightly and intelligently.


Anonymous said...

I am currently a curate and my training incumbent is obsessed by meetings.

Something goes wrong they call a meeting.
They get a letter from the bishop about something and they call a meeting.
We have committees and sub-committees and stressing groups and focus groups and a declining membership.

I produced Bible studies to deal with an issue whilst they called a parish meeting and took us away for a parish weekend where we sat in training sessions and engaged in 'break out' groups we we did a SWOT on our area of church.

Your words are a challenge - I hope mine are not a disappointment.

Im grateful for the place to vent my frustrations

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I am so sorry to discover your situation. It appears to me that many who are failing elsewhere will retreat into structures and formulaic approaches to delivering church in the hope that good order will bring about growth. As things get worse the flowcharts and management speak increase and soon we have policies and protocols and all that stuff which stops people being the focus.

Praying for you - keep your chin up, only a short time ahead of you before you can get ship of your own to try and manage. The key is to learn from your TI and make sure you don't repeat their errors (and trey no to become warped and bitter as so many others seem to :-)).

Keep it up and keep writing bible stuff - it's all we have (well that and Jesus and the Spirit and the Cross and the enabling and the fellowship and ... you know what I mean ;-))

May God bless you and your ministry richly,


Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Now, I came here to say that I've had a post elsewhere from a church member who would love to do admin' in their church.

How many others are there like that out there I wonder?

How many with the gifts and desire (desire would do for me) to be administrators?

and 'Thank You' to those who are administrators in their churches and fellowships.


underground pewster said...

I was recently at a meeting and a guest speaker broke down what is wrong with most meetings. To begin with she asked, "Can anyone tell me about a meeting that went well and explain why?" I raised my hand and said, "No, but I can tell you about all the ones that went badly and why."

Some meetings are important, but most are a waste of time. Next time your super asks for a meeting, make sure it is held on the street corner where you might at the same time touch a few of the folks you are supposed to be about.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I like that. If only we could dispense with all the tiresome regrouping of a bunch of people who merely need to be pointed towards the cross and live out their own baptismal callings!

Might just try the street corner approach next time around.



Anonymous said...

Vic, this is another excellent commentary and spur. thank You.

If I might be cheeky and ask whether you have noticed that as the people above panic they oscillate between celebration and reorganisation. This is what is happening where I am.

Also, are you getting told that help is available for those who cannot pay the quota? I fear this might look like a couple of men in black hats carrying violin cases!

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Taking the last first: I thought it might look more like a Dalek than the mafia, but you never know (watch out for horse's heads in the bedroom).

It does seem that some rush from wall to wall in their ivory castles screaming, All is well,' followed by a rush to the another wall where they cry, 'Quick, we need to reorganise and relaunch that great inititative again!' only to follow it again with words of comfort/panic/bewilderment or something else.

Not confidence inspiring stuff, is it?


UKViewer said...

I have to agree with you. I have the gift of Administration, in fact, I spent 43 years of my Army life administering, ending up as an SPS RAO.

But now, in my life I don't want admin - I want the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be my guide and mentor. And having just completed the first year of LLM training and looking forward to the second year, I have been given opportunities to highlight the Gospel through preaching and teaching and it's a huge privilege to be given.

As a parish, with enlightened leadership and a strong PCC, were doing quite well, but there is room for improvement (not going for growth) on how we serve our community and we have this as our priority. Sure, we also have an ageing, building with the consequent issues that come with it, but our reliance on prayer and providence have so far, thanks be to God, provided the answers.

And I don't do a lot of Admin, I do use some of the gifts and training that the Army gave me, where and when appropriate, but admin is shared out and the PCC do different aspects of it in collaborative ways. I don't doubt that the Vicar does have to tie things together, but with support, her life is hopefully made easier. Our parish administrator is dedicated and loyal and keeps the ship afloat, knows who to refer things too for answers and that makes a huge difference when trust and collaborative ministry by all is done well.

You might see that I am content, happy, in the right place and loving it. God works in strange and unique ways among us. I have lambasted the church in the past for it's failing, but here at least, it is succeeding.

dg said...

Meetings are often poor use of time, not least because the chair (often the minister)has neither a clue nor a modicum of skill.

But how many ministers call for small groups and prayer to be more evident? And then screw up opportunities for such activity in how they disrespect the meetings - admin or pure worship - that they run (and the others who attend them)? Take the opportunities to build a sense of holy community, improving the tone of debate to be more prayerful.

And, for all participants: lead, follow or get out of the way (via media or not).