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‘Why do we fill out these forms?’

Man filling out paper forms

The Rev. John Hice claims the process of creating and completing ministry-related forms does make a difference, even though it may be difficult to see at times.

Superintendent, East Winds District

Now that it’s my turn, I had visions of writing about the most consequential matters before Christians today. I wanted to touch on the trends of culture. I wanted to write on the church’s emerging purpose and its place in the world today. You know, interesting stuff.

Then, I was invited to take part in the work of a Michigan Conference team that is working on developing leadership in the conference and learned that my value to the team was my work in the creation and administration of . . . forms.

Oh no, forms! You hear it from teachers and medical professionals: “We are leaving our profession because we can’t focus our attention on our students or our patients because we must spend all our time on documentation. We spend most of our day writing mandatory reports.”

It’s like that in the church, too. Here we want to grow in God’s powerful grace and lead others to do the same. We want to be out on the front lines working for justice, alleviating suffering, bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ, and transforming the world. But then the dreaded email from the district office arrives in September, asking us to fill out a bundle of forms.

I heard this statement while working on the team: The demand for the completion of forms from leaders contributes to annoyance, burnout, and distrust of the conference.

The unavoidable reality is that there can be some truth in the complaint. Who doesn’t wonder if the district superintendent reads this stuff, after they spend so much time writing answers to the questions on self-evaluations, processing Staff-Parish Relations Committee assessments of clergy, and sorting through the mounds of other local church reports? Who doesn’t wonder if forms are just uninteresting requirements imposed by an institutional beast that requires the submission of forms to satiate its own dietary need and nothing else? Who doesn’t consider the possibility that addressing these forms is nothing more than a waste of precious time?

Yet, what if? What if forms were not an end in themselves? What if these forms had been carefully constructed by generations of connectional leaders who wanted them to be used as tools for leadership development and implementing best practices in our churches?

What if these forms were not ends in themselves but precision tools placed in the hands of ministerial artisans to create the most beautiful work they can produce?

What if self-evaluations and clergy reports were not for proving that time is not being wasted but for the guidance of structured reflection, meditation, and self-examination as a significant aid to go on to perfection?

What if leadership assessments were for Staff-Parish Relations Committees to help clergy become as effective as they want to be? What if the “Joint Dialogue” document were for comparing self-examination with outward examination to build a strategy for fruitful ministry in the coming year?

What if these forms were used by the district superintendent for further collaboration, advice, and referral, assisting in the ongoing quest for Christian leadership perfection?

What if these forms, as well as other forms completed during the church conference season and through the Conference Statistician, were for the continued, faithful leadership development of our connectional body . . . Christ’s body . . . the church?

This is what is intended.

Yes, we are ever striving to improve these forms. They can probably be made more concise. They can probably be made easier to fill out. We can probably continue our recent efforts to condense them and limit their number. And yes, we will probably find more effective and convincing ways to give responses to the hard work respondents invest in them.

But, as uninteresting as it may sound, they are important. They do make a difference.

And yes, we actually read them.

Last Updated on September 27, 2022

The Michigan Conference