Recently, in a moment of weakness, I volunteered to be on a committee. Well, actually, in all honestly, I volunteered because I was convinced that being on this committee was something that I felt God wanted me to do. I generally don’t like committees and meetings and all that but I had been working on stuff related to this committee for years and when volunteers were called for, it didn’t seem like I had much choice–this was God’s will.
So, like all good committees, we planned a meeting. In order to attend the meeting, I would end up making an eight hour round trip. The meeting itself lasted about three hours. Because this was a denominational committee, something that counts as work according to my agreement with the churches I work for, I worked eleven and a half hours that day, most of it driving.
Since I did take two other people with me, the drive wasn’t all that bad–we had good conversation in the car and ended up helping each other out in several ministry related areas. But the meeting did take a whole day and involve a lot of driving, which meant that as driver, I couldn’t work on my sermon, prepare a Bible Study, visit someone in the hospital or even take a nap.
Thanks to the Internet, our committee probably won’t meet again until our work is mostly done and we need to tie things together. And this work is important–we are trying to address an issue that has become a drag on a lot of ministry but will involve making changes in things that have a long history in our denomination.
Since this committee was drawn from all over the geography covered by our denomination and many of us didn’t really know each other, we needed to have this meeting to get to know each other and understand each other, something that is harder to do when we are linked by electronic media that obscures a great deal of the all important non-verbal information that is so vital to real communication.
But even with all that, driving eight hours for a three hour meeting isn’t particularly efficient or cost-effective. One of the things that I realized really early in ministry is that efficiency and cost-effectiveness are generally poor drivers for effective and efficient ministry. And that actually makes sense.
Real ministry ultimately involves relationships with real people–and we human beings are generally not concerned with efficiency and cost-effectiveness when it comes to relationships. Real ministry to real people is sloppy, time-consuming and often incredibly cost-ineffective.
Often, I find myself making the two hour round trip to spend 20-30 minutes with someone in the regional hospital. A phone call to check on a possible hymn for worship can take 20 minutes. A “brief” conversation after worship can become a half hour pastoral care session. A walk for some needed exercise becomes an impromptu counselling session with someone I meet along the way. Ministry deals with people and people really can’t be placed in time slots and cost per minute schemes and efficient schedules.
I try to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Both money and time are scarce commodities in ministry and I don’t like wasting either. But as careful as I try to be, inevitably, I end up using more time and money for some things than might appear to be efficient. While an eight hour round trip for a three hour meeting is fortunately on the unusual side, a two hour round trip for a 30 minute hospital visit is fairly common. But if I try for efficiency by waiting until there is more than one person in the regional hospital, I will end up not seeing someone who actually needs that 30 minutes more that I need to two hours for whatever.
The day after my meeting, I kind of regretted that whole thing, mostly because I was tired and had to catch up on the stuff I didn’t get done. But that was a temporary regret not a comment on the whole process. Ministry of any kind has a great deal of build in inefficiency–but the irony is that allowing the inefficiency actually makes for a much more effective ministry in the end.
May the peace of God be with you.