Expectations, again

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I’m still reflecting on my experience working in a Japanese church. I’ve written before about the sense of expectations I’ve felt put on by myself, and by my church in the UK (or at least my perception of what they expect) but I didn’t really think before about the expectations of my local congregation, the church I was working for. Perhaps at the time I was too close to the action.

It’s quite a Japanese thing that key relationships can completely shape your world. Everything happened through the church or through the pastor, my direct superior. He was my oyabun, parent figure. Quoting Mitsuo Fukuda again, just cos:

The relationship that Japanese people form together is essentially a mutual dependency relationship represented by the `parent-child’ (oyabun-kobun) relationship.

Eric Berne’s classic book on psychology, “Games People Play”, is all about how parent/adult/child roles literally “play out” in human relationship. In the West, independence and adult-adult peer relations are the norm and the goal; in Japan, mutual dependency, the parent-child relationship is the usual way people relate. So everything, everything goes through my “patron”.

This has the advantage that it allows people to avoid direct communication, which can be surprising for people used to more adult-adult relationships. For instance, because everything goes through the pastor, it was natural that church-relationships got me a house. A nice house, very big. Too big, really; bigger than I’d had in the UK at least, which is bizarre for Japan. And it had a garden, which being a busy man, I ignored.

One day in summer, the pastor calls me up. “I’ve had a complaint from one of your neighbours,” he said. “The weeds in your garden are too long, and they’re causing mosquitoes to breed.” Now I wasn’t too annoyed by this, I knew that things are usually done through intermediaries. But it did remind me that, because the patron-client relationship is completely all-consuming, the expectations my church has for me extended to how I kept my garden.

I had to be a good preacher, I had to go to all the meetings, I had to be a good conversationalist and pastor, and now I had to be a good gardener as well. And that’s before we get onto doing anything that I felt I should be doing for the church.

See, my grand plan for Japan was to encourage leadership development so that lay leaders can be raised up, help and/or become clergy, plus be examples and witnesses through their leadership in their life situations. That’s still my mission. But if I’m working with an established church, that will always have to be a sideline. An add-on. Something that I can only get around to doing when I’ve been to the meetings and written the sermons and spoke to the people and fixed everybody’s computers and updated the mission web site and cut the bloody grass - only then could I start on what I actually came for.

I spoke the other day to an Anglican vicar here in the UK. He’s not cut out to be a parish vicar, and I think he doesn’t actually likes it. He’s a youth worker at heart, forced by personnel needs into established church ministry. Theoretically he has a number of days set aside per week to do youth work, and parish work should only take up one or two days. Theoretically.

But the expectations of the church expand to fill and overfill the vicar’s time. People need hospital visits from the vicar. People need counselling from the vicar. There are Bible studies to run, meetings to lead, sermons to preach, people to see… and only when that’s all done can he get down and do what his passion is and what he’s in the job for, working with kids. Most of his time is occupied doing stuff that he doesn’t like theoretically so that he can then do the work he loves, but the expectations of the church do not always leave him the time for that.

And on top of that, he has a house on the corner of a road, and everyone drives past and knows if the vicar’s in or out and what he’s doing when. There is no privacy for him or his family. He is on show 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. His whole life is taken over by the job. Even when he’s not at work, he’s on duty.

That’s going to be me if I get forced back into established church ministry by personnel needs, which I believe is likely for next year. If I’m working for or with an established church, I’ll either I’ll be the missionary-client to the pastor-patron or I’m going to be the pastor-patron to the congregation, but either way the expectations involved in those relationships will lock me into a way of life that leaves me little time and space to do what I believe I should be doing.

And I don’t think it’s worth it.


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