It’s still start-up season, that time when many congregations increase their activity levels after a summer slow-down. This start-up season has been as busy as any since I started working in congregation in 1994, and more intense than any other start-up. And then in staff meeting this week, Amy, our senior minister, said she was experiencing a very busy start-up season as well.
Perhaps it is just coincidence that we’re both experiencing busy start-ups at the same time our congregation appears to be on the brink of a size transition, from a pastoral-size congregation to a program-size congregation (that is, from less than 150 average attendance to over 200 average attendance). But I don’t think it is a coincidence. Other ministers who have been in congregations in this same size transition zone have also reported feeling intensely busy; so have lay leaders.
The thing is, sometimes that feeling of intense busy-ness can lead to burnout among clergy or lay leaders. I have documented a few instances of clergy burning out to the point of leaving the ministry. (I’m half convinced that some clergy sexual misconduct can be traced to burned-out ministers in transitional congregations who engage in stupid and/or self-destructive behavior.) Because when a congregation is growing, the first impulse of most people is to do more. You do more, but all it gets you is exhaustion. And it scares newcomers away — who wants to be part of a congregation where the clergy and lay leaders look burned out?
So I’m thinking the best way to handle an intense start-up, especially in a congregation that is on the edge of a pastoral- to program-size transition, is to spend less time doing, and more time just being. Fewer committee meetings, and more time spent in small groups just talking with one another about life. Less email and more face-to-face conversations about matters of the heart. Less writing of reports and more singing. Fewer tasks and more meditation, prayer, and worship. Doesn’t that sound more pleasant?