Communication problems in the parish ministry: an action research study of fifty Protestant ministers in a New England city
Chamberlain, David Barnes
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Designed within the framework of communication theory and utilizing psychological methods, a study of the Protestant parish ministry has been made yielding basic vocational information, and permitting the formulation of five major problems confronting the ministry and the Church today. Vital information about each communication which took place on one weekday and one Sunday in the life of each minister was systematically collected by a self-recording technique. All topics of conversation were gathered for content analysis. The methodology of this study differs from others made in this field in deriving primary data of communication from records made close to the moment of action, employing extensive followup interviews, and representing a virtually complete sample of the professional Protestant ministry in a greater urban area of 150,000 people. Primary data were transferred to IBM punch cards and processed electronically; statistical results are presented in thirty-two tables and illustrations. Analysis is made of the contents, means, motives, and personal network of communication, providing answers to the questions: What does the minister talk about? By what means does he communicate with others? To whom does he communicate, and why? On the basis of primary and interview data five crucial problems of communication are formulated: (1) the problem of specialization, arising from the desire for vocational fulfilment, but largely frustrated by an overwhelming need for non-professional services; (2) the problem of supply and demand, which calls attention to the Church's failure to provide facilities and manpower to meet rising demands, and the inadequacy of a communication network corresponding roughly to a single wheel with all lines converging at the center, the minister; (3) the problem of selectivity or bias, indicating the degree to which the minister's conscious and unconscious preferences interfere with the establishment of truly cosmopolitan and inclusive Christian communities; (4) the problem of superficiality, indicated by the heavy predominance of incidental contents, brief contacts, and impersonal means of communication; and (5) the problem of sensitivity, of remaining a sensitive receiver of communication in spite of the serious barriers created by status, schedule, and preoccupation with parish detail. Judging from his communications, the major role of the minister today is that of pastor, with the role of administrator a close competitor. In actual conversation as well as by stated preference, ministers move away from administrative functions toward pastoral, while parishioners and others call upon them more often for administrative than for pastoral services. Heavy involvement in committees and groups, averaging one fourth of all working time, gives new prominence to the organizational role, a role in which the minister is not well adjusted, and lacks strategy. The more professional ministry involving direct attention to religion in either pastoral, priestly, preaching, or teaching situations is mainly a Sunday phenomenon, all of these put together accounting for only 11% of weekday conversation. A large proportion of ministers in this study are dissatisfied with their present vocational roles. Yet, they seem unable to cut out spheres of major activity and competence for themselves, and to interpret this specialization to their congregations. In outlining a strategy of communication to meet the situation, the author begins with a consideration of the pastor's own motives and vocational goals, laying particular stress upon the hazards of the Messiah complex. In asserting the need for multiple foci of communication, he analyzes the effects of staff on the actual communications of the pastor, and critically evaluates the staff-solution to the minister's dilemma. Greatest hope is seen in a renewal of a true ministry of all believers under the direction of a spiritual overseer, the pattern of communication which prevailed in the New Testament Church.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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