The clergy in my diocese are having a vigorous online conversation about the meaning of contemporary ministry, burnout, change, and so on. It’s probably a familiar litany to any gathering of clergy.
I can see in the exchange a tendency to focus on one issue or another that, if solved, would make everything OK. It’s very hard to examine issues as elements of systems in which the interconnectedness of things is both recognized and understood, especially if overlapping systems are in play, which they always are. So it’s not surprising to hear the argument that if we could just solve this one thing, all would be well.
Now and then someone will suggest taking the broader view of things, but even that seems to be prefaced on assumption that if you simply understand the systems, they will somehow work better. The connection seems to be lost between seeing the big picture and working on one thing at a time within that picture. Of course there are dozens of books and consultants who, for a few bucks, will tell you how to do it right, and, for the most part, it’s good advice.
Not much has changed in the forty years I’ve been working on organizational systems, and I do get discouraged at the lack of progress. Maybe it’s that working on these issues is hard, and most people are so busy trying not to drown that they don’t have time to learn to swim. It may also have something to do with the glazed over eyes whenever a consultant starts into the interconnectedness of all things. It’s just too complicated and intimidating. The not infrequent response is, “Oh yeah, I read that book, but it didn’t work.” Which is true: reading a book does not make something happen.
I think that’s what keeps me going back to the AA model. It’s God centered. It’s simple. It’s focussed on what one person can do, one step at a time. It introduces the concept of interconnectedness at the right time in a way that one person, doing what he or she can, is able to comprehend. The problem is that it requires commitment, time and patience, which flies in the face of the too busy and want a fix right now mentality that many of us share.
So, will I share these observations in the ebb and flow of the on line conversation in our diocese? Absolutely not! No one wants to hear from an old retired priest that they are unlikely to accomplish anything more than continuing the ancient game of Ain’t it Awful. Who knows? Maybe there’s something therapeutic in playing the game, and maybe that’s enough.