Day 36 … 20:80

It’s been a little while since I have given a placement update … which is poor of me as SHP is the main format through which my time at St Stephens will be reflected upon in the weeks after Easter.

A lot has happened … nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but a lot. I mentioned in my last update that a reflection I had was that parish ministry is quite crammed and there needs to be a lot of discipline exerted if you wish to achieve the stuff you set out to do and not be deflected by a lot of good but other stuff. For me this is meeting with those outside the church regularly, and I have been able to develop a loose timetable around parish stuff that still allows that to happen. That does mean I am catching up on other stuff in the early hours of the morning, but that is sustainable for a few weeks.

I have to be careful how I share this next reflection, but I am not criticising anyone at all here, but I am noticing that St Stephens is like many other churches I have attended as far as distribution of workload goes. I reckon about 20% of the congregation do something like 80% of the work. I see the same people at events and various planning, PCC and other meetings. We have planned a creative Palm Sunday evening service … and again the people involved in the planning and running of that are the same people I have seen at other things.

It seems that getting a lot of people involved is a challenge because of busy lifestyles and other commitments; I have no right to criticise or challenge that. As I said, I am not making a judgement but merely reflecting on an observation. I do  think it’s a model of church that we need to be careful of. There are many ‘post church’ people around who have been burnt out by the inherited church 20:80 model and so quietly left the building!. There are a few people like that that have passed through the gathering, stayed a while and then moved on to another church.

One of the values of the gathering is one of inclusivity and on our about us/vision page you may find the following line: We believe church is about participation and engagement of the majority, rather than being consumerist and led by a few specialists. We find the reality of that to be a real challenge, and in many ways we still aspire to that value, but I think we are moving in the right direction; even if quite slowly. One thing we are learning is that it is easier to produce something or take on a task when we know what is fully expected.

I’d be interested …. is this other peoples observation of parish life, I mean the 20:80 thing? Have others noticed that? What do you think the reasons are? Is it a matter of people being too busy, or is it more a case of needing to make it easier for people to become involved? Are there any answers or is this a simple case of ‘that’s just how it is’?

4 thoughts on “Day 36 … 20:80

  1. I certainly recognise the 20:80 thing in churches I have attended. Indeed, I think often people confuse being committed to church with a push to being included in the 20. I think perhaps church leadership often confuses it too.

    Not being willing to participate in dozens of committees and planning groups and ministries should not equate to a lack of commitment to God or church. In my opinion, this false and unrealistic attitude (even if communicated implicitly) is a fundamental undervaluing and misunderstanding of what God’s really cares about. I think God cares far less about creating wonderful services and meetings than he does about engaging with people and reality. Church is often too focused on the bubble and very under focused on what is outside. I think church should be a place that affirms people’s lives and in the process celebrates the jobs and roles they perform outside of the church machine. Too often church mission is regarded as being what the church does under that heading of ‘Church’. But what about all the things people do in the week at work and with friends? Is that not church mission too?

    When church focuses too much on services and groups it risks asking people to add to their schedules rather than find God in their current schedules. I am a teacher – does it really help me fulfil the call to serve GoIFAD work if I have to also attend church meeting after church meeting; planning and preparing extra stuff on top of my already heavy workload?

    Shouldn’t church just be a place where the burden is lifted through encouragement and positive support, rather than a place where more pressures are added?

    To make church sustainable, I think the model had to alter. Being centred around one central meeting is not the answer. If church is the people not the building, then surely it is not the Sunday ‘show’ either. We should value those places where we do really connect with each other and God. In that respect, THIS very blog is a forum for church.

  2. yes Matt I agree entirely with a lot of what you say … I was merely reflecting on the parish model – which is one I struggle with which, in turn, I guess I have a label of ‘pioneer’. I didn’t define my term of ‘church’ very well between the two models and just assumed people would get what I was saying. Church in my placement set up is the church model you rightly challenge in your comment. Church in the gathering set up is the model you seem to be advocating … recognising our mission where we are and moving way from the focus being one central meeting.

    In fact I firmly believe that unless a church is focussed around God and mission then something is very rong. sadly, I think most churches I have come across are focussed on teaching or worship style and aspire to be missional but don’t seem to get there because no energy is left!

    But … I do disagree on one point you make on the purpose of church:
    ‘Shouldn’t church just be a place where the burden is lifted through encouragement and positive support, rather than a place where more pressures are added?’
    No – I don’t believe church should just be such a place. Church should be a place where people encounter the living God in a transformational experience. Church should change lives and sometimes that will include adding more pressure on how we respond or need to change to be more Christlike. As ++Rowan says …. ‘it’s what happens when people are touched by Jesus …. a happening before its an institution.’

    • Yes, I think you are right actually. On reflection, I think the ‘just’ was misplaced in my question: “Shouldn’t church just be a place where the burden is lifted through encouragement and positive support?”. Good call I think.

      However, I do think that a place where burden is lifted through encouragement and positive support might actually be one and the same as the place you describe church as potentially being: a place where, “people encounter the living God in a transformational experience” and where lives are changed. In my mind, ‘positive support’ could and should include adding (appropriate) pressure when needed. Encouraging people to be more Christlike is surely one and the same as having burden lifted (the burden of failure, shame, regret, fear etc). I have a real sense that becoming more Christ-like is as much about shedding unwanted baggage as it is picking up anything new. We are redeemed, not just patched up and covered over. We are made new, not just refurbished.

      As ever, your blog continues to be a very thought provoking and challenging place. Good stuff. Maybe at some point we could have a coffee together sometime?

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