The Elephant in The Room

Keep your eye on the elephant in the room:

How do you feel about Common Tenure and the new Clergy Terms of Service?

With ‘Common Tenure’ coming in and more focus around terms of service and clergy review, at best there is a real possibility of positive and sustainable change that will support
•    clergy
•    dioceses
•    parishes
•    the kingdom of God
At worst there is a danger of fear and misunderstanding.
There is a significant amount of anxiety around not knowing how the new terms will work, or more significantly ‘how it will affect me’.  People work better with clear roles and responsibilities. According to Investors in People’s Health and Wellbeing research:

“As well as the external influences on an individual at work, the way their role itself is defined and the support they have to accomplish their objectives are important to maintaining good health and wellbeing. If an individual’s role is unclear, or they feel unable to meet expectations due to a lack of skills, support or shifting demands, then this can be a major cause of stress.”

There are many ways in which the new clergy terms of service can support that clarity. One is through Clergy Review – when it works well. For that to happen, both the priest and the diocese need to be clear

  • What is Clergy review for?
  • What will be different in 5 years time when it is working well for the priest, the parish and the diocese?
  • How do you use it so that people can develop and feel safe enough?
  • What needs to happen to make it more than telling a story
  • How can both the priest and the reviewer make the most of the process?

And most importantly: How do you keep an eye on the elephant in the room?  In our experience, the best and worst part of being in the church is the presence of the pastor.  Pastoral skills are vital in ministry.  But the pastor is invisible.  You never know where it will come from and what it will do.  Clergy are adept at changing role in an instant. In clergy review, if the reviewer switches to being the pastor, it can sabotage the process. That is the elephant in the room


  • Is clergy review about the pastor listening to the story which the priest wishes to tell or which the reviewer chooses to explore?
  • Or is it a conversation with an agreed purpose?  If so, are you clear what the purpose is, and what will you do if the pastor is tempted to take over?
  • Reviewers and clergy will both need to keep an eye on the elephant and be explicit if the pastor turns up.
  • Clergy do need pastoral support, but is that the role of the review process?  There are ways to be supportive and pastoral without allowing the conversation to be sabotaged. Talk to us if you’d like help in thinking that through.

The same can happen in senior staff meetings, review and selection:

In recruiting a new priest to a parish, the panel can be exploring whether the interviewee is called and competent enough and suddenly enter a sensitive and complex conversation about something in a previous parish.  The selector who is looking for evidence silently leaves the room and in comes the pastoral listener. Now the place where you are walking is holy ground and there is an elephant in the room. Roles have changed without either consent or clarity and at the end of the allocated time, the candidate has been listened to. The problem is that they came to explore with you whether they are the right person for the job. And the cost is that there is now insufficient time and not enough evidence in the room to make a well informed and discerned decision.

In senior staff meetings, where there are many pastors present, keep your eye on the elephant and notice out loud when the manager/ strategist/ leader has become the pastor.  Yes, you do need to be pastoral, but you need to be clear what you are doing and be informed by the manager AND the pastor.  Otherwise you may avoid tough decisions which are not in the long term in service of the priest, the parish, the diocese or God. Try:

“The pastor in me is thinking… and the leader is thinking … How do we take this forward?”

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you get clarity in how you are working, call us now on 01462 483798 to find out about how 3D can help you.