God's Word for today

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Are we trying to do too much as a Church?

As a lay person I was involved in quite a few meetings. Church Council, Society Stewards, Circuit Quarterly Meetings, and a whole variety of ad-hoc meetings that were called from time to time.

Then there was the actual work. As Circuit Treasurer, it is my job to ensure that the assessments come in and the ministers’ stipends and allowances are paid (hell hath no fury like a minister whose ATM slip says “insufficient funds”). Each quarter I need to present a set of accounts to the Circuit Quarterly Meeting, while at the year-end there are the 4S and 4C Schedules that need to be submitted to District.

Then I candidated for the ministry, and one of the requirements is to become a Local Preacher. This involves preparation for services, conducting such services, providing (limited) pastoral assistance, and of course – another battery of meetings to attend.

But as those insipid ads on TV say, “that’s not all”. I was always aware of the myriad other activities that take place in the life of a local Church. Soup kitchens. Handing out food and clothing. Fellowship meetings. Bible studies. Seniors’ gathering. Sunday School. Youth. Craft clubs. Stuff that I knew was happening, but was never really involved in.

But nothing prepared me for the plethora of activities that take place in a local church when you are the minister. Suddenly you need to attend all the meetings. It’s pastoral visits. Funerals. Weddings. Services. Admin that goes with all of this.

Now I shouldn’t be complaining, you might say. Have I been called by God to ministry or not? What did I expect? Two hours on a Sunday, a cup of tea, and “see you next week, Ma’am”?

Of course not. And no – I am not complaining. This is what God has indeed called me to do, and I need to get used to the things that are happening, manage my time better, and just get on with the job.

But my concern is for the laity. We ministers tend to cook up all sorts of grandiose schemes, then turn them over to the laity and tell them to get on with it. We need to be the Church. Being Christ in our community, and all that good stuff. And then berate them if they dare “steal” a bit of “God’s time” to go and take their wife shopping, or watch their kid play cricket.

I read this interesting piece about “Church Burnout”, the link to which was posted on PamBG’s blog. The introduction is as follows:

There's a phenomenon that I've noticed in recent years and am wondering if others are experiencing it too, and if so what can be done about it?

Churches used to do a lot and provide a lot, mostly organised by armies of old ladies with lots of time on their hands. They have all got old and tired now and want to give up, so are looking to pass all the extra work on to younger church members. 360 jobs shared between 360 old ladies was easy. Now there are seemingly still 360 jobs but only 30 younger people to do them. Do we each take on 10 jobs each, or do the old ladies have to accept that the church activities will have to downsize? And, if so, which things have to go?

In addition, churches are grouping together more amongst Deaneries. Another source of potential overload is that groups such as the choir (in our case), perhaps other groups as well, are being asked not only to cover the church's own services but also cover the churches in the Deanery without their own choir (either 'got rid of' years ago, or lost to natural decline).

I'm therefore beginning to feel I could spend all Sunday at church and half the rest of the week on church-related activities. I might as well become a priest and get paid for it!

Anyone else wondering if there might actually be a life beyond church?

One can feel for (and identify with) the lay person who wrote this response:

I'm beginning to feel like if I'm going to spend 30 hours a week on church stuff and attend multiple services Sunday mornings because they want the choir at two churches, why am I not paid staff? I'm working more than the part time paid staff!

Meanwhile, choir director is burned out doing maintenance in addition to music because there's no maintenance person, and church secretary used paid time to learn crochet so she can be in the group making baby blankets for the women's shelter, and the nursing home visit team is desperate for more people to help.

I think there are multiple causes.
1) I think many churches are trying to do too much. I wish nearby churches would get together, cooperate, share efforts, instead of each thinking they have to offer everything internally as stand alone communities divorced from all other churches.
2) I think many people confuse social activities with mission activities. When the ladies who like to crochet get together to crochet baby blankets, yes that's a useful result but - hey gals, you can BUY baby blankets at Walmart for HALF or less of the cost of making them! So it's really a women's party. How about gathering community women and teaching basic sewing and clothing repair? But then the gathering wouldn't be about enjoying the company of people like them. (They told me the reason they won't open the couples supper club to singles is because the two retarded men might come.) Social events get labeled "service" to justify use of church funds and facilities.
3) I think churches are often amazingly wasteful of volunteer time. The one I'm in did a congregational survey five years ago, including gathering people into groups of 8 and discussing ideas - think of the manpower! - and they did nothing with the information. I suppose it was "too much" information to go through, so they didn't even try. Some of the waste comes from wanting to "get people involved" so they plop twelve on a committee that might function as well with six.
4) I've never been at high levels but lots of people are complaining about "politics" preventing things getting done.
5) I think some pastors and church staff don't have a good handle on the difference between paid work as an employee and voluntary participation as a church member. I've met secretaries who use paid time for social chat, I've met clergy who count all their personal prayer time as part of their 40 hours per week when reporting use of time at the yearly meeting. Yes I got annoyed at discovering we're supposed to work 40-60 hours elsewhere plus 20 hours at church and personal spiritual development, while pastors (SOME pastors) think they are working hard at a mere 40 hours per week including personal spiritual development. I have also met church staff paid for 40, working 60, and pressured to do more, I'm not saying ALL church staff confuse personal and work.

Solutions should include: 1) clearer job descriptions, 2) better sense of what are the priorities of THIS church not in an exclusive sense but in an awareness that no church (other that perhaps a megachurch) can do all the good things for members and community anyone can think of. 3) more willingness to tread on toes of members. This includes political toes and confusion of social with mission activities toes.

Whoops, there was more but my mind has wandered. But part of it I think is too much thinking of an idea and then trying to convince people to do it, including unwillingness to let a group stop existing, instead of finding out what people want to participate in. Find out what people WANT to do, and the church's work may look different but the work will be spread over more people.

Me, I'm going to make a list of all the things I'm doing and ask pastor which three he wants me to drop - he chooses or I do.

I think that one of the problems is our desire as local churches to be everything to everyone. We get into such a “silo mentality” that we don’t take into account what other churches are doing. So you end up with the Presbyterian, Anglican, Dutch Reformed, and five Pentecostal / Charismatic churches, all within a 5km radius of each other, all with soup kitchens. Now we Methodists can’t be the only ones left out, so what do we do? You guessed it – we start a soup kitchen!

One of my very close friends is a pastor of a newly-started (and thus still quite small) Pentecostal / Charismatic church out in Edenvale. Now we make the most disparaging comments about each other, all in jest, of course! He delights in telling me that as a Methodist I’ll be the first to get to heaven, because Scripture tells us that “the dead in Christ shall rise first”, while I retort by saying that if he misses the turning and ends up in hell, the first thing that he will do is install is an air-conditioner and open a bookshop!

But despite our doctrinal differences, there is a great deal we can learn from each other, and one thing that his church realised is that they are too small to effectively manage a feeding scheme for the poor. However, the local Methodist church (seriously … I’m not kidding) has a slick, well managed feeding project, complete with storage facilities, places to serve, etc. So what do the other little churches in Edenvale do? Whatever food the congregants bring gets shipped off to the Methodists. If they need food parcels for their own people, they either get them from the Methodists, or send the person in need down to their feeding facility.

Now just imagine if one of the other churches in the area had to (for example) develop a vibrant and strong HIV / AIDS ministry. Wouldn’t it make sense for the rest to join forces and support this church, rather than to try and go it alone?

One of the things that we are starting to find in our own Circuit is that there is just so much going on, that people are getting tired. As a result, you see the same faces at every meeting, gathering, and activity.

But cowboys don’t cry, especially in front their horses, so those who are involved (usually about 15 – 20%) stoically beaver away at thirteen dozen different activities, while the rest (about 80 – 85%) simply let them.

The result? 27 activities done in half-measures, rather than 4 done well.

And the meetings! Surely, as God is my witness, we can cut down on a lot of the meetings that we have? We spend so much time in strategy meetings, planning meetings, feedback meetings, governance meetings, staff meetings, stewards' meetings, and meetings to schedule other meetings, that we have no time to actually do the work.

As pastoral assistant, if I have to look at my time allocation at the moment, I probably spend about 55% of my total waking hours with church work, 40% with my secular work (which I am gradually whittling down in preparation for my entry to full-time ministry next year), and 5% for everything else (including spending precious little time with my long-suffering family).

Breaking down the church time, I can split between approximately 15% preaching, 30% pastoral work, and a whopping 55% spent in some or other meeting!

This surely cannot be what God has called us to do?

1 comment:

Fat Prophet said...

Extremely interesting post Steve - only just found your blog thanks to your comments over on mine - Will be checking you out regularly now. Keep up the good work!