Planning to fail

Planning to fail?

My wife is a Christmas planning ninja; no sooner has summer drawn to a close, she gets the Christmas card list out and begins to calculate who should receive a card from the ‘Mattholies’ this year, adding those who sent for the first time and removing those we have not heard of for two years (we work on a one year grace period to ensure the forgetful are not excluded!). She has lists of present ideas, potential present ideas and meal planners. I’ve come to somewhat rely on her planning abilities. You see I am not a natural planner; I love to go with spur of the moment ideas and just try stuff out, but because I know I am bad at planning, I have become super focussed on planning better utilising my calendar as a to-do list, marking up things to do in advance as appointments, relying on action lists and undertaking a weekly review to see what I need to do in the coming weeks and pick up anything I might have otherwised overlooked. It is not a full proof system, and I still miss things, but it certainly helps.

As leaders, many of us are familiar with the saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Perhaps a better quote is “plan for nothing, and you’ll be sure to achieve it”. My suspicion is many leaders within the Church are not natural planners; perhaps they feel that planning is primarily a management tool, and as such ‘not for them’ and yet some of the worst services and groups that I’ve attended were not bad because the leader wasn’t gifted to share or teach, nor because she or he was not fully capable, but primarily because the person leading hadn’t taken the time to prepare.

I think God is a great planner; Christmas for me is a beautiful reminder that the incarnation was something that God had planned ever since the fall; God didn't send his only son on a whim, or spur of the moment idea – it was intended from the beginning and was very much intentional. I think Jesus, in teaching his followers the cost of being a follower in Luke 14, gives the nod to the importance of planning; he uses the illustration of the foolishness of beginning a tower-building project without assessing the resources needed - surely this is a good example of the need for careful planning in ministry?

So, in this e-news, we include a link to a couple of helpful resources. The first is a year planner available through our friends at CPO that might be a useful prod to your year ahead in terms of planning for particular services and events. (For a FREE A3 paper version, simply spend £3.85 or more at CPO and use the promo code RURAL at checkout.) The second is a resource I discovered to help with planning for services, but I think it could be equally used for events. It can be tailored for your context and can be downloaded free of charge here.

Let me finish with one last piece of advice; our families deserve our undivided attention. Christmas can be an incredibly busy period in ministry, where much time is given to creating various services and outreach initiatives. In your planning, please do ensure that you include ‘family time’; a time where you can give those around you your full, undivided attention. It might just be the most missional thing you do this Christmas!

It’s leadership Jim, but probably not as you know it

It’s leadership Jim, but probably not as you know it

Being a leader in uncertain times is challenging, ask any of the current leaders of our political parties during the Brexit process. Uncertainty can result in people becoming more cautious in their attitude – not taking action or not making decisions because of the lack of clarity about the future. In uncertain times there is a tendency for people to feel increased levels of anxiety and even fear, either because of the perceived loss of control or loss of a routine or perhaps because they feel threatened that they may be unable to cope with what lies ahead.

Within Christian circles I am observing a growing unhealthy expectation for ‘church leaders’ to know what to do in every situation, perhaps suggesting that we may have modelled church leadership more on Captain Kirk than anything else; after all, did he not always know what to do? Certainly, there is a growing level of uncertainty in ‘the church’ because we realise that the old ways of doing things no longer seem to bear the same fruit as before.

But I would want to argue that uncertainty isn’t all bad; the motive behind many a pioneer and explorer is that there is something to be discovered that we do not yet know. The opening lines of ‘Star Trek’, if you forgive the split infinitive, is to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before.’ The five-year mission of the USS Enterprise and her crew was to explore, discover, seek out new things - inevitably this involves uncertainty?

So, are there any lessons that those of us in Christian leadership can take from Captain Kirk, as we lead in times of uncertainty?

  • Listen to a wide range of opinion, not just those who think the same as you. Consider how many times the logic of Spock, the ingenuity of Scotty and the linguistics of Uhura got the Enterprise out of a scrape. Ask for the input of others, as consensus builds confidence in the face of uncertainty.

  • Communicate clearly. Andy Stanley says, “You can't always be sure, but you can be clear.” Remind everyone of the mission you are on and the eternity which is at stake in those we seek to share Jesus with.

  • Be positive. Keep your fears to yourself but share your courage with others. There were numerous moments when the brevity of Kirk carried the crew through uncertain times.

  • Don't rush a decision. How many times was Kirk et al., able to see beyond the immediate knee-jerk ‘Fire all phasers’ and instead broker a peaceful solution?

  • Create small wins. Identify small wins that the team can achieve quickly and easily; these quick wins need to be meaningful and celebrated, as that will help to boost confidence, increase morale and create momentum.

  • Finally, and I am not sure this has anything to do with Kirk, remember God has not retired, grown hard of hearing or lost interest in the church. When it seemed there was no hope, God saved a baby called Moses who would one day lead His people out of captivity. In a time of war, when there was a struggle for national identity, God called Deborah to lead a military campaign. When a ruthless, godless culture opposed to God’s people, God acted using Daniel and a faithful few to influence and change an entire nation. I could go on. God is the same God who spoke a word and galaxies were formed – there might be a supernatural solution that you haven’t even dreamt of, and you never know, it may involve you going on your own ‘five-year mission.’

Adopting a posture of ‘sentness’

Adopting a posture of ‘sentness’

For many, September marks the start of a new term in their church, perhaps following the pattern of the academic year. While I accept that there is a general tendency to slow down over August as many enjoy holidays, I have been reflecting on whether the analogy of a new term is that helpful. I recently attended an induction service, where the speaker, who previously held a senior position in a theological college, made much of the role of the pastor to teach; it left me with a question around the danger of building a relationship with God principally as an academic exercise, and that the role of the congregation was simply to learn, not that this was what the speaker was saying I hasten to add!

It seems to me that we like to find models in society to which we can overlay onto the church, hence the academic parallel and the reference to ‘academic terms' in many churches. To a degree, I do see education as being an important part of discipleship; however, I would argue that practical outworking needs to be at least as essential as theoretical learning. From my own time at theological college, and from many conversations with other students over the years, it does seem that we communicate, either inadvertently or intentionally, the primary role of a minister is to organise services and meet the needs of those paying the bills. Invariably we use the metrics of 'Sunday morning attendance' and ‘giving' as the way of understanding and measuring church health; on this basis of these metrics, the rural church is often understood to be struggling.

I cannot help but reflect that this needs challenging and that we need to recover our ‘sentness’ as Christians. I am not calling for a raft of new programmes, nor am I rejecting traditionally structured churches, I am merely questioning if we are placing too much emphasis on the pastor or minister to be the one to bring renewal and a missional impact on our communities. Our Anglican sisters and brothers have been wrestling with multi-parish ministry for quite some time, the Methodists and United Reformed church have similarly been working by circuit ministry, and I understand that the Baptists are also exploring this approach. My anecdotal research questions whether this is a viable rural model if we continue with the premise that the minister will primarily be the one who does all the teaching and preaching, while the congregation consumes. It strikes me that this approach apes that of a consumer culture, where retailers try harder and harder to attract people to them.

Now I know I have now mixed my metaphors and moved from school to shopping; however, my gut instinct is that we are merely using the wrong model when it comes to church. I have been reflecting on John 20, that just as God sends his Son into the world, so Jesus sends us to continue His work and share His life*. I would love to see the role of the church to be more of an equipping station, which prepares and then sends people out for works of service where they are; that we become less focussed on consumers and more focussed on sending out, being centrifugal in force. This could be a great opportunity for the rural church to lead the way by showing our ‘sentness.’

So, my challenge as we begin the ‘new term’, is not to think and strategise along the lines of attracting people to our next big event, but instead focus on how we can encourage our church to adopt a posture of sentness, which perhaps begins with those of us who lead.

*Just as the Father has sent me, I’m now sending you.” John 20:21b (The Passion)

GDPR is nearly here!


GDPR is nearly here!

If your response is ‘what is GDPR?’ then you really need to read this!

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the biggest changes to data protection regulations that we have seen in many years and comes into force on the 25th May 2018.

Our detailed understanding of its implications is evolving all the time and this Bulletin builds on, and supports, two previous Rural Ministries Bulletins which you should read first:

This Bulletin gives more information on obtaining ‘consent’ and the exceptions to this requirement.

How do I get consent?
The GDPR requires that you have explicit consent for nearly all the data you hold and you can only contact people for the purposes they have agreed to. Large national charities (eg The National Trust) may want to contact people on their database for a variety of reasons: new products, special offers, events, membership and each of these may require separate consent. Most rural churches do not have that level of communications and so a simpler approach to consent may be appropriate.

Rural Ministries has collected a number of forms that are in use, either by ourselves or by churches we know, and which we turned into example forms. We do not claim they are perfect but and you may wish to adapt these for use by your church.

  • Rural Ministries data review form – this is the form we used in 2017 to contact everyone on our postal mailing list. Download here

  • Rural Ministries ‘Contact us’ card – this could be amended for churches to use. In many cases you will only need name and email address for first contact. Download here

  • Event consent form – people signing in for basic event such as a Light Party don’t want to complete long forms when queuing to get in, so how about this simple way of capturing permission to stay in touch. Again, just a name and an email address is all that you need to collect to invite them to the next event. Download here

  • Possible church data consent form – this allows you to collect and store more details as they develop a closer relationship with you. Download here

With the right forms getting consent for new contacts is relatively straightforward. For existing contacts, you need to go through the process of contacting people. Do not be worried about having to delete a large part of your contact list – the chances are that if they do not reply then they are not interested, or may even have moved away.

Other reasons for holding data
There are some cases where data can be stored and used without obtaining consent. This includes where data processing is necessary:

  • for the performance of a contract to which the individual is party.

  • for compliance with legal obligations – eg Gift Aid or Anti Money Laundering regulations

  • for the purposes of ‘legitimate interests’ – this applies where there is a reasonable expectation that the individual will want you to store their data. Examples could be the local companies that you use for servicing the boiler or fire extinguishers, and your contacts in your local Churches Together group or denominational regional office.

What data should I store?
Firstly, you should only store data you have permission for (see wording on the Church Data Consent form above), but you should also record the basis for holding the data. On a spreadsheet this may be a box where you enter ‘2018 light party sign up’, ‘contact us card’, ‘Gift Aid’, ‘Legitimate Interest’ or other descriptor. You should also store the date entered and/or consent last received. Any forms containing consent should be stored securely.

You should also ensure that the issue of data protection and compliance with GDPR is discussed and minuted at a leaders meeting (ideally before the 25th May), its importance is recognised, and the steps towards compliance are agreed.