Assessing Change

Were they the good old days?

I’ve been asked to write something about how the organisation I have served in has changed since 1990.  After 32 years I have now retired, leaving the tasks of ministry and leadership to “the younger generation”.  

Certainly a good time to reflect. But also a challenge to do it with clarity and equanimity.

The risk is being overall all negative.  My first thoughts are of what has been lost, particularly what has been of significance to me.  Can I see through that to what has been gained?

As a new on the job in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was finding my way into the tasks and the calling of parish ministry. The people who supported and mentored me were the key people in the organisation, regionally and nationally.  Being involved in national committee work was something new and fresh, as well as a chance to get to know more people with similar calling and purpose.

Key resource roles were disestablished years ago.  Working in the hinterlands of rural ministry, I’ve become more and more on the outer of what those in bigger churches and in the centre of the organisation are focussed on. 

It just hasn’t been relevant.

The challenge of reflecting with an open mind and an even had was sharpened when I read a document currently circulating. The document contains recommendations from a working group on the future of education for ministry.

How can I judge what they are doing now, let alone the ideas for the future, when it is so different from my own education?  The positives that have endured for me have been mostly connected to what doesn’t happen now – on campus education with university courses interwoven with personal formation in community. It is the community aspect that stands out most of all.   

Also I have had no recent contact with the process of ministry training, nor until this year any experience of the fruits of current training.  All my colleagues have either been in an older age bracket or have been educated in other denominations or overseas.

I can name all the good things we had that seem now to be lost, but how do I know whether they are relevant to those starting the journey now?

What is more, much of the change has happened because society has changed. What could work then – all students relocating (with their families) to Dunedin for several years – doesn’t fit personal and family lives now.  

I think what I need to do, if I’m to avoid simply harking back to the good old days, is three-fold:

  • name what was good and proved valuable for me – that could be able to achieved in a different way now;
  • identify the pertinent social and economic changes that have played out in the last 30 years – to clear the decks and be sure of addressing today’s reality;
  • find words for what does not change throughout all this – the purpose of ministry in relation to the calling of the gospel – or maybe that should have been number 1!

Then and only then, perhaps I can have some insight into how things have changed in a way that can do justice to the good old days and to the good new days.