Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Church - business or pleasure?

There's some interesting (and sometimes frustrating) discussions going on at the moment in our Team. We are a group of thirteen parishes which some months back lost our 'Team Rector' due to his having to resign through illness. So we are in the process of seeking to make an appointment to what is, officially, the senior position in the Team. As the longest serving member of this Team (I've been here eight years) a number of folk have asked me if I wanted to apply for the position, but I have no inclination to do so, nor do I feel called to. Our Team functions very much as a team of equals, but the Rector has responsibilities and concerns on a wider scale - and I feel very much as though I must focus on my service to these six parishes which I have pastoral responsibility for rather than the wider picture. Besides, I know that I am not the person this team needs at the moment, that we are in a situation which requires different gifts to mine. That's not to put myself down, I know that should the need arise I could do the job, but I am sure that its not for me at this time. At this time my involvement in lay training in the diocese, in developing the worship and outreach throughout the area, my pastoral calling to the particular parishes I am in at present and my theological reflection and writing are the parts of my vocation which I am called to work on.

It is interesting that since writing about re-vision-ing (pretty sure that's a made up word, or at least the way I've used it is unusual) that the process of considering our calling and mission has come up again and again in meetings with colleagues, parishioners, church members and friends. It seems that our parishes are at the point of considering again the why's, what's, who's, when's and whyfore's of 'being church'. It does seem like God is bringing a number of issues, ideas, hopes and concerns together for many of the fellowships in this Team, and in the wider church, as we consider again our calling to live and proclaim the Gospel where we are, in a way appropriate both to ourselves and the world around us.

But, on to the reason for the title of this post. As part of the process of appointing a Team Rector we have to go through a certain process, job descriptions, parish profiles, advertising, shortlisting, interviewing etc etc. This is no great shock to anyone who has ever applied for a job or needed to fill a vacancy - though many people are surprised that this is what happens in the Church, as if the giant shining hand of God should appear out of the sky and point saying 'It's you' to a preferred candidate (oh, sorry, that's the advertising campaign for the national Lottery, or 'the Lotto' as it is now known).

But it does raise the question of how 'business-like' the Church should be. It is easy to ape the commercial/industrial way of doing things and settle for 'managementspeak' rather than considering the spirituality of vocation and calling. It is also easy to fall into a kind of woolly 'God will sort it out' frame of mind, and never actually sharpen up our sense of focus, our goals and aims and the practical considerations of running a church. It does seem that we have to learn a balance between pragmatism and faith, between professionalism and pastoralia.

It's an issue for those of us in ministry. I have to admit to being turned off by the idea of 'professionalising ministry' - but I believe strongly in the need to have structures which mediate accountability and affirmation within ministry. We who serve the church as bishops, priests and deacons need to recognise that we have been trained, called and appointed to fulfil roles of responsiblity within the church, we must continue to be trained, supported, encouraged, and called to account for our roles within the Church.

Likewise, issues of best practice, of understanding and implementing policy, of using the structures of the church to encourage the participation and support of all church members and safeguarding congregations, and especially vulnerable members of the church fellowship, from abuses of the authority and power which exists within the church are important.

Yet alongside this we need to keep in mind our shared calling to mission, to care, to prayer, to being open to the touch of the Holy Spirit and seeking the will of God. We should recognise that despite its failings 'the church' is a gift from God, that at its best it is the body of Christ, and exists for the building up of its members, and to show the love of Christ to the world. We need to remember that alongside any understanding of the church as an institution we are God's people, loved, called, blessed and cherished by God, and that we must love and cherish one another - admonishing, edifying and sharing the life which is offered 'in the power of the spirit and in union with Christ' from a loving father God who cares for each one of us as his children. We are a family, not a club.

So we must balance 'business and pleasure' in the church, using the structures and strictures of the institution in order to facilitate the building up of the kingdom of God.

I hope that in the coming weeks as our own appointment process continues we will bear this in mind and seek God's wisdom and God's will even as we consider the practical and pragmatic arrangements of the process.


quilly said...

Time. God needs time to work on our hearts and minds. Doing the business of the church takes time. Saying prayers about that business, meditating corporately on that business, helps God bring hearts and mind to consensus. That is the joy and the pleasure -- looking back and knowing God helped us get it right.

Dr.John said...

All of this sounds so familiar aa we are in the process of calling a new Pastor to St. Mark's. There are now six candidates. How does one know which one God intends to be our next leader ? we have done all the paperwork. We have examined ourselves. The candidates have thirty five pages of us in front of them.
But one still wonders. Does any of this make sense?

Nick said...

Hi alastair... thanks for the comment :-)

Couple of things struck me reading this.

1) It's great to see you demonstrating humility,it's an awesome quality to have and one that is sadly lacking in the modern age of "sell! sell! sell!"

2) Thought it very interesting that this post followed the week when the CofE studies the brief but powerful ministry of Stephen... given how he was appointed, what he was appointed to do... and what his ministry expanded to.

3) Nothing wrong with inventing new words by combining old ones. We wouldn't have the word "atonement" if William Tyndale hadn't done something similar... and that is a beautiful word is it not?

4) If worst comes to worst, the apostles drew lots when it came down to appointing Matthias (I know some theologians argue that Paul was probably God's choice and they should have waited... but I think that's being a little harsh on Matthias!)

5) Last two points weren't entirely serious...but in all seriousness, it sounds like you have your finger on the pulse seeking God's wisdom that's a good position to be in.

God bless