Like any good Anglican Priest, I’ve served more than my fair share of time on Vestries, Boards, Committees, and Commissions. That’s the fine-print of becoming ordained it seems – we accept the call to become pastors and shepherds, and then find ourselves over-occupied as managers and bureaucrats.
And so here I am, sitting on Academic Boards, and Curriculum Committees, and Ministry Education Bodies, Trust Boards, and Funding Commissions – on a local, regional, national, and occasionally international level – and all in the name of providing stewardship, leadership, planning and order to the life of the Church that I love. For the most part, these structures serve us reasonably well. But I can’t help but think that there’s something wrong with what we are doing.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the idea of planning and order in the Church – The Apostle Paul thoroughly recommends it in fact (c. 1 Cor 14:40).
Other scriptural images spring to my mind as well – The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God has “plans to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future” (Jer 29:11); The book of Proverbs warns us that “without a vision, the people perish” (Pr 29:18); Habakkuk encourages us to “write the vision down” so that it can be conveyed clearly (Hab 2:2).
You might assume then that God quite likes planning, and vision, and the writing down and the communication of such things.
And yet, I still feel like we’re missing the mark somehow.
I first began feeling this way sometime after we, as a Church, had bought wholesale into the trend of strategic planning. This was sometime in the late 90s to early 2000s. Our Church needed renewal, and the whole strategic planning movement seemed to offer a way to do it.
It was a compelling idea. Heck, I even bought right into it in the beginning.
So there we were, holding strategic planning meetings, enraptured by the idea that S.W.O.T. analysis, blueprints, road-maps, key performance indicators and milestones, were going to transform our Church and grow our mission and ministry.
Long story short – it didn’t. And in it’s current form, I don’t think it ever will. Let me summarise why:
- We’ve made the mistake of trying to use secular corporate models to achieve transformational spiritual outcomes. It’s a little bit like planting lemon seeds and hoping our tree will grow to produce oranges. Moreover, we marinate our conversation with a secular corporate vocabulary and forget to use the vocabulary (and therefore the heart-concepts and spiritual thinking) of our faith. I notice now that many of our report and proposal writers within the Church are at least quoting scripture passages at the head of their documents, but the content remains otherwise saturated with secular bureau-speak. Why is this important? Simple, we reap what we sow (Gal 6:7-9)
- We’ve placed too much emphasis on Strategic Planning and Leadership, and not enough on Servanthood Leadership and Discipling. The inherent problem with strategic planning is that it is often carried out in a vacuum. A small group of “leaders” get together, wish-list their ideas and visions, discuss, vote, or somehow prioritise these ideas, and then try to implement this new plan as a fait accompli. The result of this is that the strategic plan, despite best intentions, ends up only as a mechanism for compliance and control. There’s no buy-in from the broader Church membership, and worse still it can end up being completely irrelevant to real grass-roots needs. Strategic Leadership as a concept suffers from the same foibles. The contrast here is that where our concepts of strategic planning and leadership can, and mostly do lead to compliance and control, the Gospel is calling us instead to a ministry of service and sacrifice for the sake of others (see Phil 2:1-4; Jn 13:12-17; and Mt 20:27-28).
- We spend too much time running the Church as a Bureaucracy and a Corporatocracy, and not enough as an incarnation of Christ in the World. In our case, it was bound to happen – the Anglican Church in Aotearoa-New Zealand and Polynesia is a huge institution with huge obligations and responsibilities. We need some kind of structure and order. But with layers of bureaucracy comes layers of disconnect and distance from our grass-roots mission and ministry. This is not to say that our bureaucracy isn’t filled with God-fearing, Christ-believing, good-hearted people. But when you take good people and lock them into a poor structure, you get poor results. That’s why we as a Church can possess such an incredible wealth of finance and resource, and yet have declining and dying congregations. The bureaucratic structure is resourced to live, and the mission and ministry of the congregation is not.
- We spend too much time in secular process and not enough time in prayer. When’s the last time your leaders gathered to do nothing else but pray together? And I mean really pray together, not just the token opening and closing prayers. When we meet to discuss funding, and planning, and reporting, we can end up sitting at a table that is inherently adversarial and combative. That’s no way to lead the Church. Gathering together in prayer shifts the emphasis from our own (misled) sense of planning to seeking instead after God’s plan and direction. It evokes something else too – those who are prepared to gather and pray demonstrate a certain Christian integrity: a willingness to serve instead of being served; to be led instead of seeking only to lead; and a willingness to put Christ first. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of leadership I’d like.
The solution to me is quite simple: Let’s stop worshipping at the Altar of Strategy. Let’s get back to the simple Gospel that made the Church such a force for good in our communities – Hope, Charity, Service, and Unconditional Love. And if we need a structure, let’s found it on the bedrock of mission and ministry. Let’s not spend hundreds of thousands on Synods and Hermeneutics Huis and Conferences anymore. Let’s pour our resources into caring for the poor and needy.
And if you need a strategic plan, let’s run with the one that Christ gave us all those years ago:
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)
Walking the faith ain't easy, even if you are an Anglican priest. So I keep my family first, stay grateful, and try to live a little.
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