Why did the churchwarden cross the road?
It seems like a good idea to start this with a joke. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to think of a good punchline for that1, so I’m going say something which often seems to come across as slightly ridiculous, and hope that’ll do.
I’m genuinely excited about effective structures. Please don’t stop reading. Let me explain.
Being excited about effective structures does not mean I love formal meetings. I do not wake up with a spring in my step when I have PCC, and Synods do not fill me with joyful anticipation. There is a different reason, and the best way I’ve found so far to explain this is to say that structures are a bit like flowerpots.
No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast
No one I know has ever confessed to being a flowerpot enthusiast. Flowerpots, normally, are not bought because people like flowerpots, but because they like plants. The pot gives the plant somewhere to live, but it’s the plant that’s important.
Church structures are like flowerpots because they exist to hold the life of the church, to allow the church to breathe and grow. Putting a plant in a flowerpot which is too small cramps its growth, and the same is true of structures – if a church has bad structures, its life will be held back. On the other hand, structures which work well allow a church to flourish.
We’re called, commanded even, to love God with everything we’ve got and love our neighbours as ourselves. That’s worth getting excited about! I care about effective structures because of the potential to free people up from administration and release them to love God, to serve their communities, to do what they’re called to do2.
Two days ago I was at Shottery, with the rest of the Serving Christ mentors, to introduce ourselves at an Archdeacon’s Visitation. I said something about being excited about finding ways to lighten the burden of administration and got a definite response – a wordless rumble of enthusiasm, mixed with a dash of cynicism. “Crumbs”, I thought, “we really do need to do this”.
The administration churches need to do isn’t going to simply go away. Data protection, safeguarding, faculties, APCMs, all phrases to send shivers down the spine of many a PCC, will not disappear. The challenge is doing them as well as they need to be done – often they are important, even vital – without holding back the mission and ministry of clergy and everyone else.
As a certain Archdeacon has said more than once, there are no quick fixes. But there are ways this can be done. Some others are emerging. And I’m sure there are more to discover.
Do your church structures help you grow what you care about?
I’m going to finish with some questions. Are your church’s structures doing their job well? Do they help you grow in what you care about? Do they need tweaking? Or are they a misfit which is holding you back?
Answering those questions is easier if you, and particularly if your PCC, are clear about your church’s purpose, or vision. What is God calling your church to do or to be? Jesus commanded us to love God and to love your neighbour – how are you seeking to do that?
With that in mind, you can think about the flowerpot, without losing sight of the life.
Learning Mentor – Effective Structures