A clash of cultures

After 25 years in church leadership I have found myself thrust back into the cut-throat world of commercial negotiation and professional advisors. This has been more of a shock than I anticipated; having worked in a professional environment for many years I expected to fit back in without too much difficulty. But I have found that many of the practices that the commercial world treat as entirely normal, are quite foreign to the church and charity sector and visa versa. There is a stark clash of cultures.

The most obvious manifestation of this clash is with regard to money. Within the church we are used to making our money stretch a very long way indeed. For instance, given ten thousand pounds we would use it for perhaps employing someone for up to six months to make a lasting impact on the lives of numerous people. Yet in the professional world such a sum vanishes in little more than an instant with the writing of a few letters and attendance at a couple of meetings. I live daily with the knowledge that every penny received by St Bs is often at the cost of couples deciding not to go out on a valentine's date, or elderly people turning down their heating, or people foregoing a holiday etc etc. And I feel a pang in the heart every time a professional fee invoice comes in. How much sacrifice does the paying of this fee represent to our generous self-giving people. And do the surveyors, engineers, architects, and other consultants know the true cost of their work.

Yet without these people we can go nowhere. If one sets out to build a fantastic new church centre in the heart of the community, it is impossible to do so by separating ourselves off into a hinterland bubble of amateur make-do-ism and the occasional volunteer pro bono work. At St Barnabas we have always aimed for excellence in all that we do, usually managing astonishing results with very little by way of resources. However we have now entered a new realm, and we need to address the huge and complex world of commercial property surrounded by the very best professionals available. Of course we will negotiate as hard as we can to pare down every last cost, and to make the scheme as economically prudent as we possibly can. Jesus himself envisaged a similar scenario to the one we face today when he said: 'Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?' (Luke 14:28). Nevertheless, while constantly testing the viability of the project, on such a large scheme we cannot avoid spending very large amounts of money.

As a vicar used to signing off much more modest bills, I am fast having to readjust my perspectives. Will it all be worth it? We have set out to infiltrate the secular commercial world and carry off the prize of a new building in their midst. If we, by the grace of God, manage to pull off this feat - you bet it will be worth it.

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