Reading Emma Percy’s book What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing turned out to be an enjoyable and fun experience. When I first scanned the pages, (a practice I do before I actually sit down to read any book) I thought “would the cultural and denominational distance between me and the author prevent me from gleaning anything worthwhile?” Of course that sentiment only highlighted my ignorance and naiveté. After all, what connection might I have, a male Filipino-American who grew up in a Plymouth Brethren church in the Philippines, with a vicar in the Church of England? I couldn’t help but be amused by that contrast. Then I realized, that’s the beauty of Christianity—we’re one body.
I appreciate Percy’s idea of using mothering as a metaphor for ministry. In all the years of being in and around ministry, I had not thought of it that way. I’m certain the fact that I am male with complementation views only helped to confirm my blindspots. Nevertheless I found some helpful lessons to apply in my own context and for that I feel enriched.
Percy talks about how easily church leaders can be frustrated1 when they see themselves as a boss. A church leader who easily succumbs to frustrations fails to appreciate the distinction between complicated issues over and against complex ones. Berger and Johnston reminds us that complicated situations in organizations have solutions.2 Complex situations, on the other hand, don’t. have solutions. Leaders can only manage complexity.
It took me a while to appreciate this distinction which now I realize has been the source of frustration when I first transitioned into my current job. For more than two decades I had worked in the non-academic arm and auxiliary services at Biola University. Success was defined by clear metics. For example, at the campus bookstore that I managed, we could tell by the hour whether or not we were meeting our sales goals, or if we carried enough of a popular item. It’s not the same now that I work in a graduate program at a seminary. This time, it’s all about people; meeting their felt and real needs and guiding them successfully through the program.
I had to make adjustments. What worked in one setting was causing frustration in another. Obviously, I was aware that selling widgets is a world of difference from advising students on what classes to take. But I still stubbornly maintained that there was a way to measure success in my new context.
There are still moments when I feel I am not doing enough since I still struggle to find that metric. But I’m happy to report that those are now few and far between. What has helped? It’s borderline deleterious, but what I found helpful was to lower my expectations. It sounds irresponsible but I feel this is akin to Percy’s use of the “good enough”3 concept to mean that a task can be performed satisfactorily well. Perfection is unattainable. In my case, the use of metrics was not only unobtainable, it was not even required.
As I was reflecting on Percy’s work, I discovered a field of study called Expectancy Theory which helps explain the causes of frustration. Experts in this field “propose that individuals behave a certain way because they are motivated to select a specific behavior over others due to what they expect the result of that selected behavior will be.”4 I chose to go after (behavior) certain goals in my current job because I wanted to see certain things happen and measured (expected result). Something (thwarting) stood between my behavior and the goal which caused frustration. In other words, frustration is “an interference with the occurrence of an instigated goal-response at its proper time in the behavior sequence.”5
It may seem simple and obvious, but the act of “naming”6 the problem has proven to be more helpful in ameliorating issues than I realize. It’s the same power utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Step program. The first step is to admit there is a problem. For me, identifying that my expectations at my work were misdirected was super helpful. I’m glad this reading was one of those thwarted expectations, but only in the positive sense.
1 Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing (London: SPCK, 2014), 20.
2 Jennifer Garvey Berger and Keith Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders (Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2016), 179.
3 Percy, 4.
4 Expectancy Theory, Wikipedia, March 07, 2019, , accessed May 30, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expectancy_theory.
5 Stephen Worchel, The Effect of Simple Frustration, Violated Expectancy, and Reactance on The Instigation to Aggression (dissertation, Duke University, 1971), 3.
6 Percy, 37.