I’m paid to lead a church. One of the many striking features about leading is a church is that if you take even the briefest of moments to reflect on what’s going, you’ll learn much about yourself and others. Leading a church is a crucible in which things you’d rather keep secret get exposed and examined. If you engage with this, then you find yourself being graciously worked on by God. In this new series of posts (as ever with my series, it will be arbitrary and occasional) I’ll reflect on something my leadership journey is teaching me in the hope it’s of some use to you no matter what you are paid or not paid to do.
Someone once said – and I can’t locate the source, so don’t ask – that leading a local church is one of the hardest jobs there is. This was meant not so much in terms of hours and levels of pay, but in the diversity of skills the leader can find he or she needs to employ. I’m sure just about every occupation can make similar claims based on different unique aspects of what they entail. I don’t want to engage in some kind of ‘my job’s harder than yours’ competition; that’s distasteful, and we all have our crosses to bear. However I resonated with something deep in that original statement on the basis of the things I find that come across my desk/computer/conversational interactions/scrawled notes pressed into my hand.
By way of illustration, here’s an arbitrary but by no means exhaustive list of the different things I’ve found myself expected to be good at or have something to contribute on: budgets, drains, walls, washing the exterior walls of an ancient building, working with the elderly, children’s work, finances, writing, public speaking, counselling, prayer, cleaning, cooking, washing-up, the Bible, other religions, atheism, agnosticism, contemporary culture, local and national and international history, youth work, coffee, tea, juice, biscuits, cakes, parties, funerals, weddings, christenings, employment law, managing staff, managing volunteers, rotas, grief, media handling, trauma, shock, first aid, animals, alien life-forms, the weather …
I could go on. You get my drift. It’s a wide range of tasks and skills that church leadership asks you to grow in and employ. I’ve had formal training in about 10 per cent of that list. It should be immediately obvious to anyone that such a list is unattainable for anyone. Stated as baldly as I have here it is obvious that one person can’t be good at all that. Which is of precisely no comfort whatsoever to anyone when you’re having a conversation with someone who’s worried about their elderly relative/wedding reception on Saturday when there’s rain forecast/predestination and they want you to have something useful both to pray and say. If I’m not able to help then that person will understandably feel failed and shaken. The pastor is meant to be someone who is able to help, right? So if s/he can’t, then the relational matrix is shaken and anxiety results.
What to do? Here’s what I’m imperfectly picking up …
1) Embrace my limits. An American politician once got himself in a hilarious mess muttering something about ‘unknown knowns’ and the like. I know what he meant, though. At least I think so. The first step in these situations is know what you don’t know, what you can’t do. There’s heaps of freedom in learning that I have limits and that’s OK because we all have them. That’s why there are other people.
2) Find some stuff out. Once I’ve established that I don’t have to know or do it all, I may need to fill in some gaps. It might actually help me to learn a bit about local weather patterns … these things affect us all and make a difference to day-to-day life. So if I can learn a bit more to fill in some gaps, that might be a good thing.
3) Find some people. In a small-medium church like ours, it’s more likely that you’ll need to come up not so much with an answer as a person, if the person’s not you. So at the church I’m currently part of we’ve established committees. Normally this sort of thing is the death-knell to interest and stimulation of interest but what we’re finding is that more’s getting done and the church’s full-time staff (me, me and me) are much less stressed. There’s a building/maintenance committee which I have nothing to do with; same with finance and kids work. People I trust feed back to me and the church council and then get on with it. I contribute to what I can contribute to – worship, pastoral work, mission. That sort of thing. Result: more people, doing more of what they like and are good at. We are not a small church, but we’re not a big one. Our membership is about 120 or so. We have about 30-40 people getting on with stuff in different ways. As a result I’m much happier than I was previously.
4) Remember I’m called, not driven. It’s easy to be driven but it’s exhausting. If you’re driven you’ll never be satisfied and you’ll always be tired. If you know what you’re called to then you’ll have a much clearer sense that at the end of any given day it’s forgivable to do things imperfectly or to say ‘sorry, that’s not me’. There’s always something we need to do that’s not a strength or a joy to us – we are called to servanthood and preferring the needs of others, make no mistake. Sometimes we’ll need to just roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. However as the days roll by and turn into weeks, months and years I need to know what I’m called towards, what my gravitational pull is. There’ll always be other stuff to do, some of which I should say yes to, some of which I should reply with a loving ‘no’ to. There’s an art, best learned in community, to discerning when to say which.
I hope I haven’t made this sound easy. There’s painful mistakes to be made along the way of learning these, and I’m still learning, getting it more wrong than right. When all is said and done, though, I’ve learned from my wife that God can cope with the mess of having me around and that He called me because of my limitations and imperfections not in spite of them. It’s knowing that I am weak and imperfect that lead me to Him in the first place, and it’s the same knowledge that will keep me daily dependent on Him.
It’s OK, then. You don’t have to do it all. Lay some stuff down, won’t you?