Thursday, September 17, 2009

Visionary or Daydreamer?

I can see a lot of possibility for my congregation. I could draw up a list pages and pages long of everything we could be doing, but are not currently. When I was hired I was explicitly told that they wanted some re-invigorating. They wanted someone with ideas. Well I have that.

The question is, are the visions I see future possibilities for this congregation or are they just wishful thinking? Are they goals I should set, or is it just me daydreaming about the kind of church I wish I was in?

I am aware of this danger - too many pastors see themselves as mini-saviors come to fix some problem with their congregation. The truth is I don't think my church is in need of saving. It is doing fine, but it is just not in my personality to be stationary. If we are doing well in one area then I want to be excelling in seven others. If we are meeting some needs then I am looking for other needs we've missed. It's who I am.

Furthermore, there is an opposite danger - complacency. It may not be my job to fix the congregation, but it sure as hell is my job to stir them up a bit. As I said, I was hired with the explicit request that I inject new ideas and energy into the congregation. So where is the line between doing my job, and foisting my own agenda on a wonderful group of Presbyterians? Especially when "my agenda" seems to line up suspiciously well with "my job description"... or maybe that's just what I want to think.


jairus' daughter said...

Aric I appreciate this post! especially as it was not in my job description (as intern) but in the top three things people say about what i actually *have* done here is "invigorated" or "energized" or some such thing. and then... when i leave... i bet they won't carry on 100% with the wonderful programs we've done while I'm here. I might be a great program-directing visionary, but they're enjoying the programs and like my loud singing.

WHY do we (as churches) want energy and ideas? Because we want to more enthusiastically serve Christ, or because it's fun? That's the danger for the churches -- that they look for the energy and invigorating that they cannot themselves provide -- and then sit back and enjoy the pastor show.

Doug Hagler said...

I think that the challenge for you is one of limits. From my POV as someone who lives most of my life in some kind of world of ideas, it seems that ideas a cheap. What's tough to drum up is work, and everybody works at about the same pace. People like you and me (daydreamers; whether visionary remains to be seen :) might be able to come up with ideas pretty quickly and readily, but when the time comes to actually make them come to fruition, things really slow down. So you can provide lots of ideas and enthusiasm, but the church won't be able to do much more work than they already do. It usually isn't an issue of ideas so much as an issue of prioritizing where your limited time and effort goes.

I've found a good (and telling) test to be asking "If this is important for you, then what are you willing to give up in order to make it happen?"

Aric Clark said...


Yeah, ideas are cheap. I accept that. I don't like it, but I accept it.

I also agree that work is harder to drum up and is ultimately finite. I'm not sure I agree that everybody works at the same pace. This implies, at least to me, a certain resignation that all change will be cosmetic - a matter of shifting energy rather than redoubling effort.

Even if it is true that everyone works at the same pace over the course of an entire lifetime, there is still a lot here that is plastic:

#1 We don't work at a constant pace. We have more productive periods and less productive periods. Institutions may have similar trends. Thus it might be possible as a pastor to arouse a congregation out of a less productive period into a more productive one.

#2 Not all of our work goes into the church. Most lay people put very little time into the church. Thus even if in order to commence something new something must give, it may be that a pastor can persuade people to reprioritize from other aspects of their lives to put more energy in the church. It isn't necessarily the case that for a church to do something new it must quit something old.

#3 Efficiency matters as much as quantity of work. Not all work is equal. Some work gets more done. Even without increasing the number of hours people put into the church it might be possible for a pastor to make a church get more done.

I think your test is definitely worth thinking about - estimating the costs of any new endeavor in terms of time, energy, resources etc... but a lot of times we exaggerate costs in my opinion. For example I still do a lot of random unnecessary crap in my day that serves little or no purpose - web-surfing etc... There are better and more restful ways to spend my leisure time. There are better and more productive ways to spend my work time. So it isn't much of a "cost" to give up some pointless stumbling around the internet for getting something meaningful accomplished. Those kinds of trades are only difficult because of inertia, not because we're actually losing anything of value.