I was over earlier this week in England for a Bible College/ theological institutions in the UK and Ireland shindig / get together / discussion / time of fellowship sort of thing in the lovely campus of All Nations Christian College. An excellent time.
At a meeting like this I’m reminded of the continual tension between what I’ll call SIDE A and SIDE B of Christian ministry.
SIDE A reflects an emphasis on ‘ministry’, ‘relationships’, ‘theological ideas’, ‘spiritual transformation’, ‘prayer’ and so on.
SIDE B, on the other hand, is associated with words like ‘management’, ‘buildings’, ‘funding’, ‘budgets’, ‘strategy’, ‘student-staff ratios’ and ‘efficiency’.
Here’s a proposal: most people in Christian ministry are there out of a passion and desire to do SIDE A sort of stuff: to love God and love others; to share and demonstrate the gospel, to care for those in need, to see lives turned around, to work for justice and so on. This is a kingdom of God sort of ministry vision that inspires people to follow Jesus wherever he leads.
This passion has led them to engage in theological training, often at significant cost in terms of time, career and money. Most of this training is focused on things like studying the Scriptures, learning theology in community, developing in the Christ-like character traits required for Christian service. In other words, more SIDE A sort of stuff.
But then, once actually ‘in’ Christian ministry, SIDE B suddenly intrudes, for, of course, they are two sides of the same coin and can’t be done in isolation.
The reality is that much church leadership involves stuff like organizing teams, minutes, meetings, employment law, fundraising, buildings, budgets, leases, office management, IT, setting vision etc.
And in theological education where I work, it is a huge luxury of a big specialized organization for lecturers to be ‘only teaching’, writing, speaking and engaging with students. SIDE B reality can’t be avoided if SIDE A is to happen at all. Therefore, in a smaller organization, a huge amount of time has to be given over to budgets, student numbers, viability, recruitment, staffing issues, buildings, fundraising, engaging with Govt policy, administration related to university validation, charity law, company law, Board management etc etc …
It’s a tension that I struggle with every day. How about you?
SIDE A stuff is what gets my heart and mind fired up – teaching people, discussing issues of deep personal significance, seeing students learn and grow and serve God in powerful ways, being in relationships within community.
Yet if SIDE B stuff isn’t done well all that primary stuff won’t happen. It’s essential.
Living in that tension is difficult.
Here are some observations and I’d love to hear what you think:
A lot of Christian organizations really struggle with the professional demands of SIDE B. The passion and training of the people running those organizations is mostly SIDE A. A few exceptionally gifted people are double-sided (I know I’m not – SIDE B stuff is hard work for me and I’d always rather be doing SIDE A stuff). Therefore Christian churches and organisations need to take SIDE B seriously and get SIDE B people into the right roles.
I suspect many Christian leaders find themselves spending a huge amount of time doing SIDE B sort of things for which they have had no real training. Do you agree with this?
Some respond by saying that training for Christian ministry should be radically re-orientated towards SIDE B stuff, arguing current models are hopelessly irrelevant and out of touch. Yes, to some degree, but I’m generally resistant to this. SIDE B stuff is secondary. To prioritise it is to subvert the very heart of Christian ministry. It leads to the professionalization of ministry and pastors as CEOs. It leads to the marginalization of relationships, love, spiritual transformation and discipleship and ‘mechanises’ ministry into utilitarian models of ‘success’ and ‘failure’. Or am I being a naïve idealist here?
Is attempting to mould Christian ministry into a SIDE B shape to lose touch with the way of Jesus? Is a business model of ministry incompatible with the upside-down, kingdom of God way of ministry? Or is this a false dichotomy?
A last observation: running a church or a Christian organization is a complicated task. Especially in tough economic times, the never-ending and often all-consuming demands of SIDE B can overwhelm the primary call of SIDE A.
Symptoms include: Pastors end up snatching a few minutes a week for prayer, visiting people or preparing to preach the Word of God. Lecturers in theological colleges become administrators meeting the bureaucratic demands of ‘educrats’, finding only a few spare moments to study, think, pray, write, and spend time with students. Process ends up before people.
I’d love to hear some ideas of how to keep SIDE B in its proper place of serving and enabling SIDE A.