I once interviewed with a church search committee as part of a calling process. Their written materials were impressive. These included their church profile, other information about their church and community, and the results of their most recent visioning activities. These revealed that their ministry plan included hiring two people to fill newly created ministry positions. When I read a little more closely, though, I could not find a clear indication of what these new positions were meant to accomplish.
It is possible that I did not read the documents closely enough. It is also possible that the church’s idea of what they were hoping for was much more clear than their written materials indicated. But, it is also possible that the church had confused goals with strategies, as if hiring staff was the goal not a strategy meant to accomplish a goal. I think the same thing happens at classis.
It happens with the best of intentions. I have been part of more than one committee, church council or classis that wanted to dream big. These groups want things to be better. They want to do something and often hiring staff seems to be the obvious thing to do. After all, our volunteer system isn’t working that well. Volunteers are getting harder to find and their attention is divided. Meanwhile churches are dwindling, and young people are leaving. Besides the corresponding body in another denomination already has three people on staff. Once the idea is floated it develops a momentum of its own. The discussion shifts from what we are hoping to accomplish to whether the position should be part time or full time and when the person can start. The enthusiasm of the committee overwhelms those few who ask what exactly the person will be expected to do and how the effectiveness of the position will be evaluated.
A couple of years ago Frank Engelage used this forum to ask whether the day of classis staff had come and gone. He noted that several classes which had hired staff as part of ambitious renewal plans, no longer had these positions. He wondered what had happened to the idea of regional ministry. Since then, the trend he identified has continued. Classes that once had interim pastors, pastor church relations consultants, youth ministry consultants, or ministry coordinators, either no longer have these positions or have left them vacant. No doubt unclear expectations are not the only reason for this trend, but they are one of the reasons. When we create a position without first asking how the success of the position will be measured, we create the conditions for failure and frustration.