Last month’s post dealt with the concept of branding a church so that presents a consistent image that can drive both mission and publicity. Conversely, you could say that a strong mission identity can mold all aspects of the ministry and public face of the church.
But where does the minister fit into this? Do we have to mold ourselves to match this brand? Most of us were called into existing churches with beloved traditions and set identities. We know this going in. But we are never going to conform to every aspect of a congregation’s culture and style when we learn it from vastly differing perspectives.
On the other hand, a brand is designed to create a forward momentum. It has to honor the congregation’s history while identifying a realistic unifying purpose. In other words, it should be both aspirational and inspirational. But most importantly, it has to be accurate. There is no pointing in attracting people with a great website and bright new banners if no one greets them at the door or talks to them at coffee hour. We may need new members to staff the Sunday School and volunteer at the bazaar, but we can’t wait for them before we get started. We must have a vital mission, or we will lose the people’s trust.
In other words, the brand cannot fall solely on the ministers’ shoulders. No one person can be responsible for embodying a church. For one thing, faith is far too complex and nuanced for one person to manifest. We should encourage people to find their own expression of the Divine. Nor should ministers allow people to give over to us that much power. It’s not good for them, and it certainly isn’t healthy for us.
No one is perfect. We have all known leaders that take on so much responsibility that they crack under the stress. The ministry is difficult enough without the isolating effects of power. It may be a heart attack, or it might manifest in drinking, depression, or affairs. At its worst, the adulation can lead the clergy to abusive acts of sexual coercion, fiscal malfeasance, and unholy political alliances. Next – the tabloids.
No one can maintain an ideal image. And I don’t think we should. Our congregants need to know that they can make mistakes, have failings, and still be part of the family of God. We are growing, just like they are. The mission of our faith should be to help each other through the difficulties and the opportunities of life. It’s better to be a helping hand than a shining star. Easier, too. At least, that’s what I think.
But enough. Next week, I may finally get to the vexing issue of Conforming to the Brand.