Every church needs a review

I have just taken part in a formal external review of the mission and ministry of Chelmsford Cathedral – or to use the jargon, at the request of the Cathedral Chapter the Cathedral has just undergone a week-long Bishop’s Visitation.

Unlike some visitations, this review has not been occasioned because there are problems to be fixed, but – in the words of the bishop – “because there are good things happening that need to be reflected upon, developed and extended”.  Rather than conducting the visitation, the Bishop of Chelmsford invited a recently retired bishop to bring a small team with him with a view to commenting on all areas of church life, including the following five areas:

  1. Worship
  2. Engagement with the poor and marginalised
  3. The development of the Cathedral building
  4. The strategic plan based on the Great Commission found in John 20.21
  5. Congregational development and the roles and responsibilities of volunteers

An opportunity was given on a Sunday afternoon for the whole Cathedral community to come and engage in ‘round table’ conversation with the visitation team.  However, most of the time was spent interviewing members of the Cathedral staff as also key lay people in the life of the church.   I too was summoned to appear before the team which was made up of four highly experienced church leaders:  the retired bishop, an archdeacon, and an accountant who was also ‘chair of laity’ in her diocese.  It was hoped that as a relative newcomer to the Cathedral I might be able to look the Cathedral with ‘fresh eyes’.

It was a fascinating experience.  I turned up with three pages of my own reflections on the mission and ministry of the Cathedral, in which I concluded:

“The Cathedral is a great church to belong to. I have been enriched and stimulated beyond measure by the worship and life of the Cathedral. I fully identify with the mission of the Cathedral as expressed in the Great Commission of John 20.21.  Nicholas (the Dean) has been a God-given catalyst for change, and as a result life and growth abound – but much more is possible – hence my comments.”

I now await the report of the visitation team. Significantly it will take the form of a public letter to the Bishop of Chelmsford available for everybody to see, for “serving with accountability is a key value and primary objective for the diocese”.  It may be that some hard things may have to be said, but I am sure that the ultimate outcome will prove to be positive.

Certainly the outcome was very positive when some ten years ago I invited a pastor from a large independent church to serve as a church consultant by conducting a review of the church’s mission and ministry.  At the time I felt it was an exhaustive review – we began first thing in the morning and went on until late at night.  However, my friend did not bring a team with him, and the visit itself only lasted three full days.  Nonetheless because we had prepared well for the visit beforehand and the church consultant on his return home prepared a full report, which we then circulated to the church as a whole. Issues addressed included the need for me in my role as senior pastor to focus on leadership and preaching; the desirability of the church to focus on young adults (25s-45s) because this is the key group in the town; the need for the church to look at every programme and see how it aligned itself with the mission of the church; and the importance of the church’s leaders communicating more clearly to the church. We were encouraged to set clear, specific, attainable steps to be taken in the coming year.

On reflection I think there is a lot to be said for every church to undergo a formal external review of its ministry and mission.  Ministers are encouraged to undergo an annual review of their ministry – so why should not churches undergo a similar process every seven or ten years?  Yes, such reviews cost money and involve a good deal of time and effort.  But if the mission and ministry of the church become more effective, it is more than worthwhile.

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