Parish Minister or Parish Manager?

I recently flicked through the Church of Scotland’s in-house magazine ‘Life and Work.’ It was the September 2020 issue and as usual it asked a ‘Big Question’ of a group of parish ministers.

The specific question related to how the respondents had maintained spiritual health during lockdown. And although a breadth of theology was represented, interestingly, similar responses came from the participants.

Most mentioned being able to take more exercise which they combined with reflection or prayer. And most commented that they had been more contemplative some specifically relating this to engaging with Scripture.

I have found a similar result of the restrictions of Covid and it has challenged me about what exactly I was doing before.

I have a friend that moved on from parish ministry to a new form of Christian outreach. When I asked if he would return to the parish, he replied ‘why would I want to go back to managing a charity?’ Charity management is probably not what most people think ministers do. But it’s exactly what most ministers do. And in these days of pressure to improve the performance of our churches, it is to improved management that many ministers turn.

I’ve heard complaints from church workers that most ministers are not good managers. And in many cases that’s probably true. When I trained for ministry, management was barely touched on. If a minister is an experienced, competent, manager it is probably through a previous career.

However early in parish ministry it becomes apparent that a major part of your job will be the management of staff, facilities, resources, volunteers, and organisational structures. To some this may come as a relief from the more ethereal and unquantifiable role of preaching the Gospel. Others will find themselves overwhelmed by a role for which they are neither prepared or skilled. Of course, many churches have skilled participants to share this task. But, in the process of elders being redefined as ‘trustees’ the spiritual leadership of a church has been further, subtly, reshaped.

Yet amidst the Covid misery might we find a glimpse of hope? Parish ministers are re-discovering their core vocation to enjoy the presence of God, in person, in Scripture and in Creation?

If there is renewal for the church it will not come solely or even primarily through better, leaner and more efficient administration. It will surely come through a renewed passion and a rediscovery of the power and beauty of the Scriptures and their Lord.

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