Wednesday, 16 April 2008
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?
- If someone needs you in a crisis (e.g. a death in the family), be there. Listen to them. Cry with them. Hold their hands. Keep the coffee coming. And if you really have to, say something to them.
- When taking a service on Sunday, honour the congregation by preparing properly. Believe me, if you stand up in the pulpit and sprout a whole lot of gobbledygook because you were too busy / tired / lazy to prepare a proper message, the congregation knows.
- Walk your talk. Remember, as a minister, you are telling people how they should live. Such messages should start with you in fromt of the mirror. Jesus never instructed His disciples to do one single thing that He had not first done Himself, and nor should we. It starts with the little things, like keeping appointments and being on time for meetings.
- Remember that the congregation lives in the same economy that you do, and if you are feeling the pinch, believe me - so are they. So go easy on things like telephones, electricity, stationery, etc. You normally don't have to pay for these things - your congregants do. It's a privilege for you to be accommodated and paid a stipend through the generosity of people who themselves are battling to make ends meet. Never abuse this privilege.
- Finally, keep your ears open and your gob shut. Members of congregations will entrust you with all sorts of private stuff, which is on a "need to know" basis. In 99.99% of cases, no-one else needs to know.
Now I don't know about any other minister out there, but believe me, I would want to know how I am doing in each of these areas. And with the greatest respect to whoever my future Superintendent is likely to be, he/she is one of the last people who is likely to find out, unless the Society Stewards report me. The District Bishop is even less likely to find out what kind of minister I am, unless I blow it so badly that charges are laid against me!
However, the congregants will know. And the Society Stewards, especially so!
So I want to do something that may seem radical to some. I've never seen this happen in a church context before. And some may believe I am potentially setting myself up for a fall.
What I want to do is to devise a performance review document for a minister, which I intend to hand to Society Stewards for the purposes of evaluating me. Because this is still an idea at this stage, my thinking is that it will be in the form of a questionnaire, with either "yes / no" answers or ratings on a scale of 1 - 5. Each question will have space underneath to provide comments.
Some examples of such questions could be as follows:
- When Rev Jones conducts a worship service, do you believe that the content of his message brings the congregation closer to God? (Y / N, elaborate)
- How do you rate Rev Jones' relationship with (a) the church leadership, (b) the congregation, (c) visitors, (d) outsiders? (scale of 1 - 5, elaborate)
- Do you believe that Rev Jones exercises prudence when it comes to the use of church resources (Y / N, elaborate)
The intention is to group the questions into appropriate categories - these can include the ones listed above (my views on what congregations expect from their minister), and/or other frameworks (e.g. the Four Mission Imperatives).
I am therefore calling on experienced ministers to provide me with feedback as to appropriate criteria on which a minister can be evaluated. Comments can be posted on this blog.
Thursday, 10 April 2008
An important part of the life of the school is the regular chapel services that they have. While attendance is voluntary given the diverse faiths present, I have always encouraged my son to take part. Not that he needs too much encouragement - he has, after all, grown up in the church, and with me going into full-time ministry, he is going to see a lot more of it! He has known Jesus as his Lord and Saviour for as long as he can remember, and takes great delight in serving God.
About once a month the chapel service includes Communion, and once again my son takes part in the full knowledge and understanding of the significance of this sacrament. But I was somewhat taken aback when he came home from school one day, and said: "Dad! We had Communion today, and guess what - there was WINE in the cup!"
My first reaction was one of concern. After all, I am accuatomed to the Methodist practice of abstaining from alcohol. Our Laws and Disciplines prohibit bringing alcoholic beverages onto church premises, while Communion is celebrated using grape juice - not wine. This stems from early Methodism, where as a result of the problems with alcohol abuse that was so present among the working-class people to whom the Wesleys were ministering, total abstension from alcohol became a way of life and a matter of discipline for the fledgeling Methodist movement.
The Anglicans, on the other hand, have no such qualms concerning partaking of alcoholic beverages, provided that this is done responsibly and in moderation. It is probably for this reason that I am often pressed into service as barman whenever our school has a function. Maybe it has something to do with being a candidate for the Methodist ministry (I won't drink the stock), coupled with my background as an accountant (I'll be able to accurately count what's left)?
I also had a problem getting my mind around my 9 year-old son drinking wine. But then I realised that I was being silly, for the quantity of wine that a typical Communion cup holds contains far less alcohol than a teaspoon of cough medicine. However, I still had this nagging feeling inside me...
So the other week at our Parents / Staff Association committee meeting, I discussed the matter with the school principal. He responded by saying that the church services were under the control of the Bishop of the Diocese, and the matter would need to be taken up with him. However, the principal indicated that I should not have any expectations of the procedure being changed on theological grounds, citing Jesus' turning the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana as one example.
Now I don't actually want to get into a theological debate on this matter - largely because I don't believe I have any theological grounds on which to base such a debate. After all, the Bible does not prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages - in fact, the moderate consumption of wine is even sanctioned in certain parts of Scripture. This has been supported by modern medicine, which indicates that the occasional glass of red wine is actually beneficial to one's health.
The Bible does however warn against overindulgence, and I can't for one minute see the Bishop sanctioning such overindulgence either. Besides, the minute quantity of wine in a Communion cup could never be seen as "overindulgence", even for the smallest child.
So am I just being silly? While I may have made a personal choice not to partake in alcoholic beverages, I am not so anti-alcohol as to disassociate myself from those who do partake. In fact, during my time as a member of The Welsh Male Voice Choir of South Africa, I enjoyed many a "sing-song" in the pub after a concert, Coke in hand, singing with gusto. Besides, having a beer or a glass of wine at a party is in a completely different context to drinking of the cup at Communion.
I have heard from some friends that some Anglican churches have implemented the "two-queue" system for Communion services, where one line is for grape juice while the other is for wine. However, this practice is by no means universal.
When it comes down to brass tacks, does it really matter what beverage is in the Communion cup? Contrary to the stiff, formal image portrayed in the painting of the Last Supper, I believe that the atmosphere among Jesus and His disciples was far more relaxed. The Gospels speak of Jesus taking "the cup", which may or may not have contained wine. Certainly the references to His blood indicate that it is highly likely that it was wine. I'm not sure that it really matters.
At the risk of souding totally irreverent, suppose that the Last Supper had been around a braai, and the fellowship meal consisted of a boerewors roll and a Coke. Would it have made any difference? I don;t think so. What's of vital importance, however, is that when we gather around the table in Jesus' name, we remember His sacrifice on the cross - the breaking of His body, and the shedding of His blood.
Perhaps I'm just being an over-protective parent, then? What do you think? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or am I within my rights to be concerned, even though logic tells me that the whole wine issue is perhaps rather silly? What do you think?