Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Developing Ministry?

I serve on the Board of Governors of our local Primary School. Alongside speaking in Assembly and teaching some RE lessons, it's a way of being involved in the school, and engaging with the wider community. I'm coming to the end of my second year on the Board, and it has opened my eyes to everything that is involved in managing and maintaining a school.

Within the Board of Governors, there are different roles and responsibilities, shared out among the members. I'm one of two Governor reviewers for the Principal's PRSD (Performance Review and Staff Development). In June, we meet together with the Principal and an external adviser to review the past year's performance in terms of their specific objectives, and to set the new objectives for the coming year.

The three objectives are within the areas of: 1. Leadership and management; 2. Pupil and curriculum development; 3. Personal and professional development of the principal. The objectives are also SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound).

In turn, the Principal reviews the PRSD of the teachers in the school, under three similar but slightly different areas, reflecting the different responsibilities: 1. Professional practice; 2. Pupil and curriculum development; 3. Personal and professional development of the teacher.

Coming away from the review meeting last week, it made me wonder about some form of PRSD for ministers in the Church of Ireland. As it stands, there is no model of performance reviewing and development planning as far as I can see. Perhaps it happens in some dioceses, but I've never experienced it.

It needn't be an onerous task - certainly not as detailed as the Annual Appraisal that Doctors endure, in which they produce a full ring binder of evidence of their Continuing Professional Development (CPD) - reflections on their reading, courses and lectures attended, and a certain number of learning hours spent in development; Quality Improvement Activity - auditing their work; Significant events - reflections on particular cases, and how they might do things differently; Feedback from colleagues and patients; and Records of compliments and complaints. I'm certainly not recommending that something as detailed be done, having watched the process of compiling such a portfolio.

If there was some form of review and planning, I think it would be incredibly helpful for those in ministry. Some structured, even if informal, way of reviewing the previous year of ministry, reflecting on particular challenges; as well as identifying two or three areas for focused learning and development.

Perhaps they could be structured around the themes of:
1. Theology (some particular branch or area of theology you want to learn more about e.g. Ecclesiology, or the Holy Spirit, or Biblical theology or Systematic theology, or committing to studying one Bible book intensively);
2. Pastoral (some area of pastoral ministry that you would wish to develop or improve - ministry to the sick / elderly / housebound / marriage prep / Baptism prep etc);
3. Professional - although immediately I recognise that isn't the right word, but I'm struggling to come up with the word, prompted by John Piper's challenging book, 'Brothers, we are not professionals'. This would look at the practical doing of ministry, including prayer, preparing liturgy, preaching prep, conducting meetings, choosing priorities, managing diary and time commitments etc. Perhaps Practical Ministry is the term I'm looking.
4. Personal - looking at home life, making sure time is managed well to ensure days off and holiday time is taken; maintaining and developing outside interests/hobbies; investing in friendships etc.

When at Theological College, we were always warned by the example of a previous anonymous student, who allegedly said that on graduating he was looking forward to never opening another book, because his studies were now finished. So how can we build some form of reviewing and planning into our ministry? How do we ensure that we haven't given up on reading, learning and growing; content to get stuck in a rut, just doing the same old things as we count down the days until retirement?

Some of my colleagues may not want or appreciate a top-down episcopal-imposed 'review', particularly Church of Ireland rectors with the security of parson's freehold. Perhaps we could develop something like this from the bottom up, for those who would appreciate such accountability, and mutual encouragement to keep going and keep growing in ministry.

Today marks the 8th anniversary of my ordination as a Deacon in Dromore Cathedral. God's grace has been amazing, through the highs and lows of pastoral ministry. God is faithful, and in his grace, we'll have many more years of ministry. In his word, he shows us how to do it, in words written by the apostle Paul to his young colleague, Timothy:

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 Command and teach these things. 12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. 14 Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Practise these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim 4:6-16)

Paul speaks about training yourself for godliness - toiling and striving in it, because we have set our hope on God. The Olympic athlete doesn't just turn up at the stadium in Rio and have a go at running or jumping. They've been training hard for the past four years, their eye on the gold medal. It involves hard work, commitment, dedication, blood, sweat and tears. Are we as committed to godliness?

Young Timothy was to set an example to the believers - by no means perfectly, but so that all could see his progress. That's the review question - have I grown in the past year? How have things changed, improved and progressed? The planning phase comes under the keeping a close watch on 'yourself and on the teaching' - your life and your doctrine. The apostle Paul would, I feel, get behind such a review and planning strategy - not for its own sake; not to add another thing onto packed schedules; not as a burden; but simply as a way of growing in godliness and effectiveness in gospel ministry. With that aim in mind, it could be a very useful procedure.

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