Friday, February 16, 2007

Face Time

First Months on the Job

The last two weeks have been both extraordinarily full and strange. I've been meeting with a lot of the leadership teams of congregations, with some individuals about their involvement in mission in their communities, and with some non-members about life and God a little about our community. I feel like I'm working, but I don't feel like I'm "accomplishing" much.

I come from the public sector (well, a University is technically "public sector" but runs itself as if it were "private sector") where you have tasks, you do them, you get new tasks. There is a sense of accomplishment, of creating deliverables, however mundane. And even after a couple months in an office job somewhere you're going to start pushing things off your desk and filing them as "done." Not so with this job.

First of all, yeah-yeah, its about God - to my mind that means about dedicating ourselves to ongoing creative transformation, and encouraging that commitment to transformation in our world.

But this job is just as much about people - that is: getting to know people, and them getting to know me; learning what their hopes and dreams and abilities are, them learning mine; me beginning to understand what makes them tick, and them beginning to trust me; me learning where they are and where they want to go, and them seeing me as a credible source of ideas, organizing and strategy for how to get there. I know that the first year at least (if not the first three years) is just about us starting this process - me and these people I meet.

I love this - and find it a little frustrating at the same time. I love having my job be the spiritual development of people, to focus on my own and others' relationships with their world, their highest hopes and understandings, their most bold and courageous faith commitments. I love that my job is to think about how we can together reify our beliefs in the world, how we can help each other understand and bring about a real Reign of God. At the same time, this job isn't like most jobs - concerned mostly with profit or products. I come away from these first few months (and probably this first year or two) with no "deliverables" - no "products." (That's not entirely true, of course... I will have articles, workshops, presentations, sermons, meetings, initiatives, evaluations, starts and shoots to my credit at year's end. But those aren't why I'm doing this job. Those aren't the ultimately hoped-for products of my work.)

My "product" (to continue the inadequate industrial analogy) is relationships - relationship with me, with the church community, with the larger communities in which we participate, with God, of people with themselves. I'm sure somewhere there is a bookkeeper counting baptisms and plotting them, but this seems a clumsy way to measure the community of Christ that is built in building the Reign of God. And trying to grow relationships isn't like growing a garden - although some of the analogy works: healthy soil, regular watering and weeding, pollination, sunshine and warmth, prep-work of the bed beforehand, composting everything left over to nourish the next crop, saving some seeds from one crop to plant the next. But relationships and discipleship isn't as certain as planting tomatoes. There are things you can do to help the process, but there's only so much you can do. And even in gardening, most of what needs to "happen" to make things grow well, one has to rely on others to provide (sunshine, nutrients, rain, protection from fungi, etc.). In relationships even more so.

If I am to be the best "missionary" I can be, I can't approach everything as if I'm a missionary - seeking to convert, always seeking to bring people to the church (as if the church will answer all their needs or solve their problems). I have to be a friend, a genuine friend, interested in their best interests, in their development, in their goals and ambitions and fears and abilities. I can't enter or continue a relationship with the ulterior motive of making them CofCers. For some friends, such a community isn't where they are or what they need now. Some people would undoubtedly benefit from such a community, and as a friend I can try to communicate the love, support and growth I find in this Community. But our friendship can't be conditional on their acceptance of that invitation. I'm not knocking on doors trolling for converts. I'm building disciples - and that means building first and foremost healthy, whole, challenged and challenging people who have healthy, whole relationships.

So in my job I have to stop myself from working by the world's rules. I have to stop myself from approaching my job like a station on an assembly line. I'm not piecing together uniform automatons for Christ here. I'm trying to (help) grow whole, healthy people. And that takes more than one or two seasons. (I'd say it takes a lifetime, but I'm not sure that's long enough.)

At the same time, the church is a "business." (Och, I hate using that word, but I'm in a tough spot here in the English language. We don't have a word for "non-businessy business-type ventures" - except for clunky modifications of the word: not-for-profit business, and the like.) The institutional church is a corporation with directors and a constitution and bylaws. It is accountable to the Federal government in financial reporting and legal operations. There has to be some accounting of budget expenditures, especially on salaries and expenses on the front line ("bleeding edge"). Someone somewhere has to say, "this job is worth this much hourly pay because...." So, are we a business?

There is a strange blend of business ethics at work in a church job. I'm paid worldly money and the organization is held to some degree of worldly standards, but my job is intentionally other-worldly - not in the sense of being super-natural, but in the sense of deliberately bringing about a different world. How can we responsibly stand astride that line - make sure I'm doing my job, but also make sure we're not wasting our money on my "job?" Culture and counter-culture come face to face, and they dialog.

I had thought of myself as a paid agent of the counter-culture... but now I wonder if I'm not an agent of the discussion between the two. Somehow, that new conception of my job helps.

Ah, transformation from face time.

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2 Comments:

  • Hey Christian, Tim here. Great thoughts you have here. A comment... You're getting caught up in a comparison betweeen business and church/non-business, and I believe this could do you a disservice. For me, there is no distinction; there is the goal, your objectives to attain that goal, your tactics to attain those objectives (all wrapped together and labeled your "strategy") and the metrics used to measure your progress against the plan. Those metrics must be derived directly from the goal, and NOTHING else. The world most commonly knows this as a "business plan." Sure, I work to accomplish higher sales for my company, but for me it's only because that's the metrics I'm using - not because I'm only about the almighty dollar. You should make such a strategy plan and run like a business because in my opinion, you are an entrepreneur now. At a minimum, this could serve to be a good exploration for you in these early moments of your work. Even better, it could potentially be your roadmap. Cya!

    By Anonymous Tim S., at 9:35 PM  

  • Tim, what you say is true - identify your goals and measure your progress by them alone. Thanks! (I'm not ready to let "the world" or capitalism off so easily - but in terms of what I'm doing, the distinction is clarifying.) :-)

    By Blogger Christian, at 9:39 AM  

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