By Bob Mayo
Management is big business in the Church of England. The Green Report (2014) has committed the Church to an additional £2m expenditure by the end of 2016 and an additional £785,000 pa thereafter. It is an attempt to work out in concrete terms how having a vocation aligns with “being a professional” and to offer training to that end.
The Report wants to identify and train a talent pool (up to a maximum membership of 150) of individuals who will take on key strategic leadership roles in the future and to see young women and people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities come into church leadership.
Management is core business for the parish priest. Without retired clergy, self-supporting ministers (SSM), clergy partners and an army of volunteers, parishes would grind to a halt. There are always bills to be paid, houses to be visited and standing orders to be sorted. It is not possible for a church minister to exclude himself from the daily grind of a parish organisation. Regular and systematic financial giving is integral to a person’s discipleship, a well-managed email box is a politeness towards others not a tyranny against oneself and practical pastoral care needs an organised parish database.
God’s approach to management has notable successes. God turns crisis into opportunity. He raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24). God makes maximum use of limited resources. Five people will chase a hundred, and a hundred will chase ten thousand (Lev 26:8). The creation was order out of chaos and the Resurrection was life out of death. God provides vision and long-term planning. He says to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore (Gen 22:17).
Jesus’ approach to management during the three-year period from his baptism to his death on the cross was deep and narrow and, in human terms, not obviously successful. He spent a lot of time with a small group of people, one of whom denied him, another of whom betrayed him and some of who still doubted him when it came to the Ascension (Matt 28:17).
Jesus’ itinerant group of disciples was an example of what Handy (1988) calls a people culture. A people culture depends on trust and empathy for its effectiveness and personal conversation for communication. It is a good structure for people who know each other already. In a parish it can be divisive because it leaves some as knowledge holders and others not knowing what is expected of them.
Richard Higginson talks of servant (Luke 22:27), steward (Luke 12:42) and shepherd (John 10:11) as different three Gospel models of management. The different roles coalesce on a Sunday morning as the Minister welcomes the congregation.
As a steward the minister made sure that people are gathering in a building where the bills have been paid, the lights are on and the heating is working. The steward is a resource manager and so will have ensured that the Sunday school leaders are properly police-checked; there is a rota for teas and coffee and people know what is expected of them.
As a servant she will know the stories of those in the congregation who are struggling. She will have visited them in the week and, as did Paul with the Philippians, she will have poured herself out like a drink offering (Phil 2:17).
As a shepherd she will teach from the pulpit and lead people in worship.
The ultimate purpose of parish management is evangelism, enabling people to come face to face with the living God. There is a Trinitarian formula to how this might be done. In a parish there will be a vision for what needs to be done. There will be volunteers willing to do it. There is a church fellowship, out of whom the volunteers will have been drawn and from among whom the vision will have been nurtured.
The vision comes from the story of God the Father’s love – what plans do we need to make to put God’s love into practice in the context in which we find ourselves (1 Jn 4:7-8)? The volunteers are God the Son’s love embodying the vision – how do we follow Jesus’ example in putting this vision into practice (Jn 13:14)? The church fellowship is God the Holy Spirit’s love – how do we keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-6)?
Vision, volunteers and a shared endeavour are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit formula that will keep me busy in 2016.
The Rev Dr Bob Mayo is vicar of St Stephen and St Thomas Shepherds Bush with St Michael and St George White City (firstname.lastname@example.org)