Three years ago I moved from being the minister of one
church, that the BUGB count as a smaller church, to Poynton (which is described
as a larger church). Initially it was a steep learning curve, but here are some
reflections on what I learnt.
of speech. In a smaller church the same small group of people listen to you
repeatedly, they get used to your ways and pick out the nuances of what you say.
In a larger church you are dealing with groups of people. Your key messages
need to be simple and straightforward. By all means explain and give detail but
don’t count on people remembering it.
of thought. In order to speak clearly you need to think clearly. You need
people to understand the overall plan and yet have freedom to serve in their
particular area of church life. This means being clear about what’s important,
what the big questions are and how you respond to them.
of action. If you are clear about the important points you need to focus your
time and energy on them. What matters is not that you do things but that things
get done. You can’t do it all anyway, so use your energy wisely.
skills. Not only do you need to manage yourself but you also need to manage
other people, both directly and indirectly. This involves good staffing
decisions; recruiting gifted volunteers; valuing, encouraging and motivating
people to serve in the church.
joke I should wear ecclesiastical purple – but I’m being serious in that I am
the bishop! As the bishop I carry responsibility before God for the oversight
of the church, for its unity in Christ, for its growth in perfection and
maturity. It is my role to teach the Scriptures, pray and direct the affairs of
the church. I am God’s instrument (however unworthy, incompetent and ill equipped
I feel) and I therefore need to step up to the plate and be the person God
calls me to be.
the senior minister of a larger church is a ridiculously impossible job. The
breadth of skills and knowledge that are needed to do the role effectively
include: personnel management, group dynamics and family systems, public
speaking, one to one listening and responding, chairing meetings, strategic
analysis and planning, administration, cultural awareness, theology, Biblical
studies, church and denominational history, contemporary church movements and
more besides. The range of issues and the speed which they come at you is both fascinating
and challenging. On good days you recognise this and work with teams who have
gifts to balance yours; on bad days you get overwhelmed. The key to survival is
building a team which includes having someone heading up every significant area
in church life.
a smaller church was also challenging, I don’t think it is true to that one is
easier than the other. Being the minister of a smaller church is a constant
test of your personality, being the minister of a larger church is a constant
test of your competence.
churches are like a network of smaller groups. So people in the church
experience different things depending on which groups they are part of. What
they feel about church life at any moment says something about the selection of
groups they are part of and where they are at personally. This also impacts ownership of activities; in
a smaller church a congregational activity is something the whole church does.
In a larger church a congregational activity is nearly always something that a
group does on behalf of the whole. Those who aren’t into the particular thing
don’t feel obliged to be part of it; and those who hanker to the days when it
was all one big happy family haven’t recognised the diversity of groups.
you spend a fair amount of time speaking in church people often know much more
about you than you do about them. Whilst you are struggling to put a name to
the face they know about your family, your hobbies, your holiday…..
10. Church is
like a super tanker, it takes several miles to change course. When the Bank of
England’s monetary policy committee set interest rates they are not so much
concerned with what is happening in the economy now as to what they believe
will be happening in 2 or 3 years time. You also need to be working with a
three year horizon; most of the significant decisions are about where you are
going and the impact the current choice will make on the longer term
These are great posts, Neil. Thanks for them.