This congregation is lucky to be served by highly capable, effective and committed staff members who help us develop, administer and perform many dimensions of ministry that realize our mission. But as most of you have learned by now, as we look ahead to the challenges this congregation faces in the coming budget year, we at UUCA will, unfortunately, have to shrink the size of our staff.
It’s a difficult moment for us all. All of our staff do a terrific job at work that is important to our success. We hate to lose their services, and we feel sad about the impact this has on them. At least one staff member, Communications Specialist Jules Smith, will be leaving us by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
This has forced us to think again about how we accomplish the ministry of this congregation and the role that our staff plays. In that vein, I’d like to share with you some thinking that comes from a congregational consultant who worked with us a few years ago. Her name is Susan Beaumont, and she has a special expertise on working with what are generally called “large” congregations, which basically means anyone with more than 500-600 members.
Congregations of that size, she says, face special challenges that are different than smaller churches, and one of them has to do with staff. As congregations grow, she says, they add staff who have the expertise to carry out increasingly complex duties that are needed. Once these people are employed, though, some congregation members make the mistake of assuming that the staff will simply do the work of the congregation for them. After all, that’s the model we know in the secular world.
The fact is, though, that the world of religious institutions is different. Ministry, the work of religious institutions, is not a product or service that members of the congregation passively receive; it is something that the members themselves accomplish.
As Susan Beaumont puts it, “the staff team works in service to the mission and on behalf of the congregation but does not carry out the work of the congregation. The work of the congregation always belongs to the laity.” The staff team exists, she says, “not to undertake the work of ministry in place of the congregation, (but) to equip the laity in pursuit of the congregation’s mission.”
I seize on that word “equip” because I think it speaks well to this point. For example, I measure my success as a minister not by quantifying some product I have produced – how many sermons I have given, how many pastoral visits I have made, or whatever. I succeed to the extent that I have invited you into a ministry that, say, has helped you live into your deepest values, to relate to others more compassionately, to act for justice in the larger world.
There are many dimensions of this, but you get the idea. Religious institutions like ours exist to invite people into deeper, more fulfilling ways of being, what I have described elsewhere as lives of compassion, integrity, service and joy.
So, how might we as staff help equip you to accomplish that sort of ministry? I welcome any thoughts you would care to share with me about this. Meanwhile, we as staff will work in coming months on how to configure our work so that we best serve the ministry of this congregation.