The life of a minister is filled with all kinds of tasks from the political to the pastoral to the practical, for which no pattern of ministerial formation can prepare us. Three decades of experience as minister, supervisor and mentor have provided me with a number of examples. I also invited the good people of the Facebook Groups of “Baptist Collaboration” and “Baptist Ministers in the UK” to share their own experiences, and I have quoted their words anonymously below.
It is not the things Ministers know we need to know that are important: the known unknowns. Rather it is the things we discover too late that we did not know but we really did need to know: the “unknown unknowns.” Here, then, is a catalogue of just some of the challenging issues faced by most ministers at one time or another, which range from the trivial to the vital and from the intentionally humorous to the tragically serious. This list may be of particular help to Ministers in Training and Newly Accredited Ministers. The categories covered are Finance, Premises, Practical Ministry Skills, Managing Time and Space, Diplomacy and Church Politics, Pastoral Skills, Wisdom, Leadership, Administration and Handling Conflict.
In due course this document will be expanded to incorporate suggestions of resources which help provide answers to these Ministry FAQs.
How can I understand church accounts? Which bits matter and which do not?
What is a Reserves Policy and why does every church have to have one?
What is an Independent Examination of church accounts? What should and shouldn’t it cover? And why do all churches have to have them?
What is a Pension Cessation Event and why must we do everything possible to avoid one?
“What to do when a tenant of the buildings (pre-school) goes bankrupt and the bailiffs are called in!”
Ministers taxes: how should I fill in my tax form, what can I claim as expenses from church and from HMRC and how do I claim them?
Can somebody point me to an idiot’s guide to Elf and Safety?
What do I need to know about “The importance of listed buildings and maintaining them”?
What do ministers need to know about Planning and Building Regulations?
Where can I gain the practical skills every minister seems to need? E.g. “Plumbing” “Electrics” How to unblock a drain.” “How to fix the church boiler they inevitably don’t make parts for anymore” “laying carpet, putting up shelves, fixing the coffee machine, the weird places cock stops were placed in the 60s, how to break into your own church safe. All alongside where to keep a secret stash of loo paper.” “Rescuing old ladies who have locked themselves in toilets… Negotiating the price of scrap and salvage…” “How to source rare light bulbs that haven’t been produced in the last fifty years. They are light bulbs that are only meant to need changing every decade, so of course, about once a year.”
“What is the correct course of action when you discover the church boiler has exploded and has begun to flood the church hall and you don’t know where the mains water stopcock is … when alone in the building and you are having an extended debate with yourself about how long you keep your finger in the hole in the pipe limiting but not preventing the flood before you go and find a phone to call for help?”
PRACTICAL MINISTRY SKILLS
How do I master the church photocopier, printer, data projector, PA system etc?
How can I learn to produce notice sheets, leaflets, posters, booklets easily and cheaply without breaking every rule of graphic design?
Do I really have to learn how to use PowerPoint? (Yes, you do!)
Where can I acquire “A complete guide to all known medical complaints.” “And unknown as well….” “and the corresponding catalogue of all medicines, prescribed, over the counter and alternative, and medical procedures, associated with every ailment.”?
Who will teach me how to do baptisms without putting my back out?
Is there a guide to the practicalities of scattering ashes on hilltops on windy days?
What should I do with the paperwork the undertaker gives you?
What is the etiquette of which coffin to process first and which is placed on the plinth in a cremation of husband and wife?
Where do you find out about “Negotiating funeral etiquette for a variety of different cultures.” (The same goes for weddings)?
What are the minister’s legal position, rights and responsibilities, e.g in issues such as confidentiality (since there is no such thing as “the sanctity of the confessional”)?
MANAGING TIME AND SPACE
What is “The meaning of Sabbath” for ministers?
How should ministers manage their day and their week?
“Boundaries and time off.” How do you protect your time off?
How do we help the church to recognise the need for priorities?
“How do we reply to emails/text messages, being available while having your own life?”
How do ministers avoid “the tyranny of the urgent” and focus on what is important?
How do ministers learn when to stop and when to rest?
How can I look after my own mental health and not getting too involve in the difficulties of others to the extent that I become ill too?
What are “terms of appointment” and why it is a good idea to press the church to stick to them?
DIPLOMACY and CHURCH POLITICS
“How can I make people agree on the colour of the curtains”/ carpets/ chairs/ walls/ wallpaper?
“How (can I) work the church heating, and stop people turning the thermostat up to 30 when they come in because they feel a bit cold and of course that makes it heat up quicker. Then we are all sweating and passing out before the end of the service because it feels like we are in the Sahara desert!”?
“How to explain to your very sensitive, but ever so slightly eccentric pianist why it would not be alright to put up a large floral patio umbrella over the piano stool and piano for the Church Anniversary service, to keep the sun out of her eyes.”
Why is it so important never, ever, to move, never mind remove objects and artifacts which seem to be of no value but actually have enormous importance in certain people’s eyes?
Why is it absolutely essential never, ever to put up a plaque in memory of anybody, especially not previous ministers, because those plaques and equally objects they may be attached to like pulpits, pianos or flower stands, will then be immovable parts of the fixtures and fittings until the Lord returns?
“What to do with books that churches have hoarded for years without feeling guilty, if even book aid don’t want them. At least we can add them to recycle banks.” “And what about the three icky blonde Jesus pictures from the 1950s.”? One answer: “You put them in the damp room at the far end of the church until they are white with mould and everyone begs you to throw them out. It takes from two to four years depending on the level of dampness in my experience”
What can you do when you have tiny premises and no storage space and the problem is not getting rid of stuff you don’t want but rather try to find a way to prevent the church wombles “tidying away” things you really want to keep?
How do you stop people from donating to church their broken crockery, worn out sofas, tatty old books and anything else they can’t face parting with?
How do we best deal with “the quirks of people and local histories. Relationship issues can be horribly complex and varied. One big surprise was discovering there was still local feeling because two villages had been on opposite sides in the civil war!”
“How can you deal with the ‘Hyacinth Bucket’ characters in the congregation?”
What should you do with all the books on excellence in preaching the congregation keep giving you? (Give them in return copies of “101 Things to do during a dull sermon”)
(There is a whole book to be written on how to negotiate with organists / musicians / singers / worship leaders.)
How do you develop the skills of “Furniture shifting; talking, smiling, eating, drinking simultaneously while being pastoral”?
How do you cope with “Drinking tea which is too strong, or milky or sweet without spitting it out or making faces?”
“How can you lose weight while doing pastoral visits?”
How can I develop the spiritual gift of “Mind reading …. you know everyone’s problems without being told and react accordingly.”?
Do we ever find ways to deal with difficult pastoral situations without it hurting? e.g. death of a child, self harm, abuse, anorexia, mental health issues?
How can ministers achieve “the art of being right all the time” which seems to be what everybody expects of us?
“How to say ‘no’!”?
“How do I please all people, all the time?
How do I learn plate juggling … of the metaphorical kind?
How long does it take to learn that “you cannot lead people where they do not want to go”?
How do I recognise when its time to move on rather than stick it out with the vision you believe God has given you?
“How do you deal with a church leadership that don’t listen to you because you are “young and/or inexperienced.”
How do you choose which battles to fight?
How can we learn to recognise the danger of winning the battle but by doing so losing the war.
How do we know when to walk away?
What is the best way to introduce change to the church?
How should we manage staff, and do so in Christ-like rather than secular business ways, yet at the same time introducing appropriate good practice?
What is the difference between managing volunteers and managing staff?
“How do we work out when change would be helpful – or how to figure out when its best to leave people where they are?”
What is the difference between leadership and management?
How do we know when it is right to take a risk on others?
What are policies? What policy should churches have on which policies to have?
Where do I learn how to write policies?
What should I do if the church won’t adhere to their own policies?
What are the difference between Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules and why do we need to have them?
What are the correct processes for changing Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules?
How can I change Trust Deeds, Constitutions and Church Rules without splitting the church?
Where can I find the BU Guidelines documents and why should all churches read them and stick to them.
What are the rules and processes for churches which are applying for Home Mission Grants including and how on earth do we fill in the dreaded GD1B form correctly?
Why is it so important to know what our church rules and constitution say and how do I know which bits I can get away with ignoring and which bits I dare not.
How do we answer a county council survey on the use of the church hall when the first question is “Can any group use the hall regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.?” without opening the church to litigation from the Equalities Commission?
What is the difference between Deacons and Charity Trustees and why does it matter so much that Deacons know the difference?
What are Conflict of Interest and Conflict of Loyalty and why do they matter?
How much law do I really need to know to run a charity and a small business?
What do church need to know about Data Protection and in what ways are many churches breaking those laws?
Where can I learn about conflict management in theory and in practice?
How should we deal with awkward people / deacons / worship leaders / those who have been in the church forever?
“How do you deal with the ‘power families’ in the church?”
“How do you deal with a leader who shows no fruit of any kind of spiritual life, even in their speaking?”
“Dealing with a Deacon Possessed Church. … How to deal with someone who believes that the Church cannot possibly function without them dictating every move and deciding every standard in every single aspect of church life. … What to do when that person sets about trying to get rid of you when you try to gently point out the flaws in this thinking and start challenging the status quo.” (And how not to become that person yourself, of course.)?
“How to deal with a very longstanding deacon who has decided to step down but you know will be busting to find out what’s going on and will now be able to ambush us in church meetings ..benign negativity that stops do much?”
What to do when said deacon is no longer able to fulfill the role, and stands down, and everyone is convinced that the church is about to fall apart!
“How to deal with bullying from church members?”
“How not to bully church members?”
How do you recognise bullying deacons and what do you do when you do?
“How can we manage conflict without resorting to external mediators”
“How should we handle conflict when it becomes personal?”
“What is the Church Anniversary FOR?” (Somebody very helpfully replied, “The flower arrangers. I’m pretty certain it’s for them.”)
“How do you deal with a deacon who comments … so are you growing your hair? I know other ministers who have had comments about the suitability of their clothes. On elderly lady when asked about dress code for a funeral then asked what I was going to wear. Navy was the reply at which point she turned to her daughter and said…she always wears bright colours.” Another commented “I preached at another church and was slipped a note at the end – ‘for a new cardigan’”
“How to do we learn to accept that we won’t be prepared for everything?”