As a general rule, men in ministry shouldn’t work on their own. Isolation isn’t healthy. After all didn’t God say, ‘It’s not good for a man to be alone’. I know. I know. I’ve taken that completely out of context! But let me explain.
For much of the life of Christ Church Balham, I’ve been working on my own in a study in the family home provided by the church. And in many ways, it’s been great. But sometimes, just for my sanity, I needed to head out to work in the local library. I just wanted to see other people. During this time of working alone I developed a close friendship with the postman! And I’d look forward to a time-consuming trip up to town just to see one of the church lads for lunch. Other staff we’ve employed have had to do the same thing. Because we weren’t working in the same place, we’d meet up every week around our family kitchen table for a staff meeting. We’d arrange to meet up in a local coffee shop to catch up informally or talk through an individual issue. And there’d often be the regular meeting at the Co-Mission Ministry Training Workshop. But overwhelmingly we’d work on our own, in our own spaces.
Part of me loves that. I have a tendency towards introvertedness. It’s either that or I’ve never met anyone I enjoy spending time with quite so much as myself. In which case it’s arrogance. But there are times when I love being shut away to read, study, think, sometimes even pray and to send emails, strategize and write. At times like that, the personal interaction happens virtually. I’d occasionally pick up a phone and talk. But I always feel awkward about doing that with people who otherwise are at work. Their employers don’t pay them to talk to their church minister! In a church like ours, in which the overwhelming majority work up in town, I mainly see people at the weekend or on weekday evenings. But for huge chunks of the day, it’d be me in my study. Home alone. Not any more. Not since we got a church office. And that’s been great. It’s killed my efficiency. It’s undoubtedly harder to get stuff done with the distractions that other staff create. But it’s undoubtedly been good for me and good for the staff team.
It’s been good for me because it’s not good for a man to be alone. Ministry is fundamentally relational. And men (or women) who spend lots of time on their own aren’t preparing well for relational ministry. Gospel ministers need to be people people. And the best ones usually have strong inter-personal skills. It’s hard to develop those when the only person you spend time with is yourself. I don’t doubt that it’s especially difficult for church planters or lone pastors who can’t afford staff teams to address this. But we need to. We need the encouragement and stimulation of others. It’s not good for pastors to spend time in the company of themselves. And so it’s been no surprise to spot Pete Snow in and around the Factory in Raynes Park, even though he’s just launched a church in Putney. And it’s my intention to give Jay Marriner the opportunity to work from the Mews in Balham once Brixton gets up and running. We need one another. It’s good for encouragement, for accountability and simply for normality!
Once you’ve got a staff team, or even apprentices, it’s very hard to build a team spirit if you hardly ever meet. In the past we’ve had situations where the staff and apprentices had a professional relationship but not a personal one. That’s just odd. It ought to be the case that the staff team model Christian relationships to the congregation. The congregation ought to get an idea of how Christian men and women should treat one another from the way we relate. They ought to get an idea of how we submit to one another from the way we treat those in authority. They ought to get an idea of how to serve one another as we serve those for whom we have responsibility. But it was well nigh impossible to develop a staff team dynamic when we worked in separate locations. Before the office we wouldn’t really talk about what we did at the weekend, where we were going on holiday or what we made of the England game. We’d get together and talk strategy, people and rotas. Because we had to. It was all very efficient but not very productive. We’d misunderstand one another. We wouldn’t appreciate one another. And we wouldn’t really encourage and care for one another. That’s different now. The relaxed opportunities created when we tell our new ministry trainee, Dave to go and make the tea (!), or when we grab a bite to each at lunchtime or when we simply want to distract everyone else because we’ve come to the end of our work; those are the chances to talk nonsense and get to know one another.
It’s only since moving into office space that I’ve realised how unhealthy that working in isolation had become. It was unhealthy for us as individuals and also as a team. It would be very hard to go back to that arrangement. And so, congregational members need to look after their minister and their staff. They need to do what’s necessary to get them out of their studies. And if they have a staff team then they need to do what’s necessary to provide them with somewhere to work together. It’ll go pear-shaped if they don’t. The Minister will either go mad from working alone. Or he’ll love being alone, in which case he’ll be hopeless at personal ministry. He might be a great preacher but he’ll be useless with people. And no one profits from that.