There are two questions I dread being asked as a minister. The first is 'what exactly do you do?' We'll not go there!
The second is 'where are we going as a church?' It comes in many variations. I remember being asked by a very serious young woman newcomer in my previous church 'what is your vision for the church and how can I get on board with it?' I wilt before such interrogation!
But I've been asked twice today 'where are we going?' so it's made me think.
As usual, it's also made me a little obtuse. You see, I'm not sure the church ought to be going anywhere. We're here doing our stuff Sunday by Sunday. More than that, we care for people, visit the sick, teach the young, provide a place for the generations to meet each other, offer spiritual direction and counsel and pray for one another and our neighbours.
Where should we be going, exactly?
But I know this is a question about strategic planning and I need to take it seriously. After all one of the reasons why people get involved in church is that they feel they can make a contribution, be useful and make a difference.
The trouble is that the church is not a business, its members are not my salesforce. So I can't say, our aim is that this year we'll contact 500 new households, convert 10% of them, recruit 50 more children to our Sunday School and baptise 30 new believers. Not that it wouldn't be great if that happened! And I know ministers who'd say 'we're praying for 50 newcomers this year.'
Well, we had over 100 newcomers in the past year. But before you get too excited, we are the same size as we were this time last last year, so we obviously leak. Or maybe that's just the natural cycle of suburban life - people come and people go.
But where are we going? I would like to see more families joining the church - people with children at home aged between 30 and 55. In my mind I have the committed, well-adjusted, hospitable and gifted couples who take family life in their stride and have time to spare for church activities.
But who am I kidding? What I want to do is reach the 30-55s who aren't currently aware of their need for a relationship with God, who are struggling like the rest of us keeping too many balls to count airborne and who have no desire to help me build a church.
The thing is that as soon as I start to think about where we're going a mass of contradictory goals come into view. I want more people who would love to serve God in caring for people, hosting groups, sharing the load in Sunday school and other areas of the church's ministry. At the same time, I want to build a place where burned out Christians can find refuge from the demands of an ecclesiastical machine that has a habit of sucking Christians in and spitting them out all dry, wizened and used up. And then I want to build a community where those who have no interest in God at the moment are made to feel intrigued about what he might have to offer them because of what they see in the lives of Christians around them.
So, where are we going? I guess this has always been the dilemma for churches. It's the old tension between maintenance and mission, between caring for the flock and searching for the lost sheep.
I'd like to think that as a result of what we do, more people will know Jesus this time next year than currently do at the moment. How will that happen? Ah... That is what the question 'where are we going?' is actually asking. Sadly, I don't know the answer to that one...