Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book 11 of 2016 -- Studying Congregations

edited by: Nancy T. Ammerman, Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley, and William McKinney (USA: Abingdon Press) 256 pages

This book was recommended by a classmate 15 years ago. So I guess it was time to read it.

One of the realities of ministry is that in order to provide leadership you need to constantly be gauging who and where the congregation is (both in their self-understanding and in reality – because those two are not always the same thing).

This book gives tools and perspectives on how we do that analysis. Sometimes you do it intentionally to deal with a specific issue or problem (or “mess” as one quote in the book suggests we do not solve problems – we handle messes). Sometimes you do it intentionally as part of a visioning/re-visioning and mission/goal setting process. You are always doing it at an unconscious level.

I liked that the authors gave a variety of frames or lenses to use in this process of studying. How we look at a situation will often change what we see. Years ago, in my first year theology class I remember the prof saying that the questions are far more important than the answers. Same with choosing what way you will look at a situation. Those things shape the answers we gain. I also appreciated the constant reminder that this sort of study is NOT best done by one person. You need a variety of eyes to get the clearest look at the picture.

But I have a major concern. It is my sense that organizations, perhaps particularly the church sometimes tend to act unreflectively. And so taking time to reflect and study is a good thing. But organizations, and certainly churches, sometimes swing too far the other way. Study and reflection can become the endpoint. We go too far into navel-gazing and never quite get to the action portion (admittedly I recognize this because it is a trap I personally can fall into). Sometimes it feels that the study has not quite given us the magic information that we need to know exactly what action to take.

This book is helpful in giving tools and methods and perspectives as to how we study our congregations. But at the same time I am not about to put it into practice immediately (at least as a formal study process). Sometimes we need to act so that we have something new to reflect upon....

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