As I write, I’m at the start of my second week as an Apprentice* at All Souls Church, Langham Place. A week in, it feels a good time to take stock and reflect on my first impressions of church work.
1. The encouragement of support
While I am only just getting started as an Apprentice, there has been a long gestation to my new role. As I have approached it, I have been helped and supported by friends and other trusted folk who have helped to guide and sharpen my thinking and decisions. I’ve benefitted from their counsel, and now have the privilege of keeping them up to date with what I’m doing day-to-day.
The support of others in the mundane as well as the more glamorous parts of church ministry is a big encouragement, and among the few unique privileges of those working for the church rather than exercising ministries in myriad other contexts.
2. The investment in people
My experience of the corporate world has been unusually positive: I’ve been valued as an individual and given chances to grow and develop in my skills. Even so, the church’s investment in people seems thoroughly radical by contrast.
The church is committed to the personal growth and development of its members (as well as holding out the gospel to those who aren’t members). We have a ‘growth mindset’ – to use the jargon of pedagogy that I’ve been using in the education sector – and are dedicated to harnessing leadership potential. There is no question that this is costly in the short term, sacrificing time and energy with little immediate pay-off. But the long-term benefits are overwhelming, resulting in a more mature and fruitful group of people.
3. The return on trust
The company handbook and associated ‘ground rules’ I used to work under took as their basic assumption that workers were not to be trusted. They had to clock in at a particular time and limit break times to specific periods of time at specific time of the day. There was a tacit assumption that if one was not at one’s desk, one was not working.
Because the church is so focused on people, it operates on the assumption that workers are trustworthy. We can work, with supervision, in a self-directed way that develops skills in independent thinking and resourcefulness. Where are the needs? What are the priorities? Is it a more valuable use of your time right now to work on a short-term fix or a long-term solution?
The result is a reflective, responsive, responsible workforce that adapts to changing needs and environments with impressive flexibility. Of course, we have blindspots and we don’t move in the right directions at the right time at every possible opportunity. But the entrepreneurial spirit gives energy and freshness to our mission, for the benefit of the congregation and the city beyond it.
Over the coming months I’ll be blogging more about church life, my personal interests and some reflections on books I’ve been reading. You can subscribe to the blog by dropping an email address in the box on the sidebar: you’ll get a notification when I post something new.
*For the uninitiated, an Apprenticeship is a one- or two-year placement in a particular area of church ministry with a view to developing skills and gaining experience. At All Souls, Apprentices spend one day each week in training sessions, some study time in preparation for the training, and the rest of our time (most of the week) in ministry placements.