It was not long after we had started in Ministries when Gabby and I met in coffee shop just off the M8, pretty much halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. We had come from various conversations and consultations from around the Church. We sat there with our coffee and were fairly overwhelmed.
Stories from up and down the country revealed to us the ever-increasing demands and pressures ministers were facing. And the church’s unique structure made it feel like it was a machine we couldn’t stop, or even adjust without a mountain of unseen consequences. And people were getting lost in the midst of all this work.
In an attempt to focus our conversation, we sketched a quick picture of three circles about what makes up a person in ministry. It was simply to focus our minds; and is clearly, an over simplification of the reality. But it provided us with a reference point to help focus the work of Ascend.
As you can see – the image is essentially three circles. At the centre is the core of who we are. Then we move to the next ‘layer’ which consists of the vocation that we live out: this might include aspects of ministry that we were first drawn to. Then there is the outer layer which is the vast number of tasks that we must undertake to support our vocation.
As with any analogy, it has its limitations, but it gives us a helpful focus. I am sure you will have different themes you could add as additional layers in this analogy such as family, friends or other work you undertake.
Changing landscape of ministry
In discussions we had with ministers up and down the country (and beyond) we heard a consistent experience of finding ministry far more pressurised than it was previously. This is true. The statistics in the Church of Scotland present a picture of increasing number of roles and tasks required but decreasing number of people to undertake the work. And people were being squeezed and stretched far beyond what was reasonable.
And the challenge for ministry is who we are is the gift that we bring. This requires that we look after all the different areas represented in picture. When we looked at a great deal of the provision and support, it was mostly in the outer layer: how we become better at tasks.
Don’t get me wrong, this is important. But there is something deeper required in ministry.
We believe that the core services of Ascend should support all aspects of who we are. We will continue to highlight resources that develop the tasks required for ministry, such as developing our understanding of civil law. But we want to enable further resourcing and support in our ministerial practice and understanding, such as developing pastoral supervision and providing leadership development.
But ultimately it is about who we are. At the core is our sense of self and identity. So often we can neglect this area of our life, or put it at the bottom of our to-do list. But we are encouraged in Scripture to strengthen the inner-being, and as we do we are able to reconnect with who we were created and called to be, and take that gift into our ministry and life. When we connect with who we are, there is a power and energy that enriches our wellbeing, ministerial practice and can (even) help support some of the tasks that we need to plough through.
I presented this model at a continuing professional development conference hosted at Napier University by Edinburgh Coaching Academy (our MDC partners) with a number of different sectors represented. One of the delegates was a manager in the NHS and she was struck by how this model is the same for those she was working with in the healthcare sector. People were drawn by a sense of purpose and call, yet were overwhelmed with that outer layer of additional tasks. New legislation and structural changes had made life more taxing rather than solving problems.
We cannot always define our exact roles, but we get the best from ourselves and others when we make room for who we truly are.
Where to start?
A Ministerial Development Conversation can help reconnect with who you are, and look at putting in place services that will help reconnect such as retreats, coaching or supervision.
David Plews is the Education & Training Secretary for Ministries Council and is co-lead on Ascend with Gabby Dench.