This coming weekend I am going away with my fellow leaders. There will be quite a number of us: for in addition to my 12 deacons and my three ministerial colleagues, there will also be our part-time children’s and families worker and our part-time seniors outreach worker, together with our church administration manager. Throw in our speaker for the weekend, and add in me, and there will be 20 of us. By most standards that is far too large for a group that seeks to major on relationships – and yet that is precisely what we shall be seeking to do.
This is not a one-off exercise. For the last 20 years it has been a regular feature of our leadership team that every autumn we go away together for a weekend. Correction: on two occasions we did not. On those two occasions we were seeking to save money – for we were in the midst of a £2 million redevelopment of our premises, and at that stage we thought we could not justify the costs of overnight accommodation. But the truth was that neither weekend ‘at home’ was as successful as the weekends ‘away’. When it comes to bonding as a team, two nights away adds a special dynamic.
To clarify the extent of the weekend: we begin with a meal at 6.30 pm on the Friday evening (this does mean some of my deacons coming home early from work) and return home after lunch on the Sunday. Fortunately we stay at Pleshey, a lovely medieval village where the Chelmsford Diocesan Retreat House is to be found – this is only 20 or so minutes drive away from Chelmsford. We are near to home – but quite definitely away from home.
Some people are amazed that we can all afford to be away on a Sunday morning. How on earth will the church function without us? But it does – and it seems to do so very well.
Although there is always a theme for the weekend, from my perspective the key purpose of the weekend is team building. The fact is that most members of the team do not really know one another. Of course, they know one another’s names – they see one another every Sunday and they meet one another for the monthly leadership team meeting. In addition we have regular leadership team prayer breakfasts on a Saturday morning. But the reality is that for the most part we do not truly relate with one another. In part because of the size of the church, in part because of the busy-ness of people, and perhaps also in part because of the local culture, most of us do not socialise with one another. As a result my leaders are not really ‘friends’ to one another – don’t get me wrong, they most certainly are not unfriendly, but they are not ‘buddies’ of one another. I have done my best to try to encourage socialisation – every Advent, for instance, Caroline and I run a supper party for the leadership team and their spouses; I also ensure that the church observes a ‘Hospitality Sundays’ every term. But all this appears to make little difference as far as relationships on the leadership team are concerned.
Hence the importance of the leadership team weekend away: it is the one opportunity in the year when we can deepen relationships with one another; when we can meaningfully pray for one another. For that reason I am so looking forward to this coming Friday.
Having said that, one section of the leadership team knows one another better than others, and that is our ministry team. This is composed of the four ministers, the children’s & families worker and the seniors outreach worker, the church administration manager, and two retired deacons (our senior deacon and pastoral deacon). This team meets every Monday morning in term. Nine in number (shortly to be 10 with the addition of an intern for international students), theoretically it is still small enough to major on relationships – but in fact we are primarily task-centred, as every Monday we go through an ‘agenda’ of three, four, and sometimes five sides! True we do have a termly ‘Away Day’ (actually, it is never a full day: we meet from 9.30 am – 3 pm), and this tends to be more relaxed – but even then we still have a lengthy agenda. On reflection, I wish I had thought of suggesting to the members of my ministry team that it would be good at least once a year to go away for a couple of nights during the week. It is not that we have poor relationships – indeed, we have very good relationships. It’s a great team. And yet it could be even better.