Friday, 26 March 2010

Keeping the Lights on.

Interesting time with Oxford clergy on the project this week. As with all the 'gigs' we've done there seems to be a certain amount of cynicism and disdain amongst leaders. For example it is amazing that once you start talking about wedding fees the whole idea of 'mission opportunity' can go out of the window. The language tends towards being about 'them' and ensuring 'they' do not take us for a ride, rather than about seeking to be generous and graceful. After all if 'they' are going to spend thousands of pounds on cars, photographs, video, hotel and honeymoon why shouldn't 'we' get 'them' to pay as much as possible. The wedding becomes more or less a transactional arrangement and not always an open transaction.
I am not saying there are not fees to be paid or that services provided should be carefully explained and options given. What I sensed was a little cynicism about the potential opportunities for welcome, hospitality and belonging. A number of clergy even expressed the view that if weddings were 'promoted' it would only mean more work that they simply did not need or want.

I know I have expressed a certain frustration with 'church as we know it' (??!!) and believe that we are entering 'Post Christendom' big time, but I also think that Weddings and similar life occasions are one of the few 'Christendom' opportunities that we have left to us.  Research shows that people do want to get married in church if their wedding can be made personal and there is a sense of it really being 'their wedding'.

It is well documented that there is a relationship between tiredness, burn out and the loss of vision and enthusiasm. The lights go out and a keeping the show on the road mentality with accompanying cynicism seeps in and replaces a mission enthusiasm. How we keep leaders' lights on without telling them simply to do more is, I think, the major challenge for the church, if it is to keep its missionary agenda at the forefront. Cynicism will kill mission endeavour and imaginative risk taking if we don't make this a priority.

Some may feel I am talking from personal experience - uh well yes and thrice yes! But also from the conversations and observations over the past weeks in a variety of diocesan contexts around the country.

Are there some quick wins to help us. My starter for ten:

Make sure leaders get proper time out each week from pastoral and organisational work. I would suggest two days a week. In our network, e mail culture this is getting harder as those in positions of leadership will acknowledge. Keep leaders fresh. The arguement that 'because I work all hours and am dog tired and have no quality time for family, hobbies, shopping, keeping other bits of life together and to pray therefore the leader shouldn't have' is  daft. She/he is there to lead, to have a prophetic edge, to inspire, to counsel etc etc  Keep their tank full and they will be more able to keep yours full as well.

Ensure leaders are getting professional development. Dioceses provide this but there is a lot out there of high quality. Regular reviews and appraisals can identify strengths to be nurtured and weaknesses to be informed. Again some dioceses are doing this but it is still a bit 'ad hoc' and requires the leader to 'co-operate', and there is nothing like something on a local level as well. But let's make it of high quality, well resourced and fun. (The Weddings Project has been rightly praised for all three).

Make sure leaders have time to explore and develop their passions. If they are passionate about leadership, spirituality, preaching, sports evangelism etc then give them time to work on this. Maybe that is what they bring to the table. There is enough of stuff that has to be done but church communities need to be aware of what is it that they do and are (as opposed to their predecessor) that is, maybe, God's gift to the body of Christ at this time.
I could twitter on about paid retreats, membership of fitness clubs, proper holidays, mentoring etc etc

The big thing for me when I was working in Bristol with newly ordained curates was to support them relationally rather than simply seek to educate them. Though we did a lot of development work it supplemented the group times we shared. A key aspect of what is called 'ministerial formation' must be that of keeping the 'warm glow' of calling alive and at the heart of fruitful ministry. This is what I am talking about. Other organisations pay bonuses and offer various perks. We can't do this but we can give time and relationship. It must be worth it for the sake of mission.

'I call you friends'. Phew....Thank you Lord.

Keeping the lights on - let's have your responses and ideas.


  1. I think that the measures you suggest for church leaders makes total sense. It's what commercial world employers have to provide for their staff so why should it be different just because you work for God?

    I am blessed because I am part of a close knit team, but we did put the effort in when we formed 2 years ago. But having that relationship means we can support each other through challenges at work and at home.

    Maybe having a formal appraisal process would help? as it will encourage regular meetings and reviews of workloads, training needs and also if leave is being taken. I've never had so much investment in me as a worker on all levels as I have currently and it really makes a difference.

    God bless

  2. Thanks Rachel

    Pleased that it works in practice for you and others. The problem with Christian leaders is that we can preach sabbath and don;t really understand what it means. There is a great book written by a Rabbi on Sabbath which speaks of God resting and it is his resting that is the high point of creation. Makes you think about the way welive our lives nowadays.
    Take Care

  3. I like this, good sound advice.