Saturday, January 26, 2008

A SWOT Analysis for the Priesthood?

A few weeks ago one of the members of the parish I currently serve suggested that it would be helpful to do a SWOT Analysis focusing on the ministry of Orthodox priests.

"A what kind of analysis?" you ask. 'A SWOT Analysis," I answer.

Wikipedia, that online encyclopedia of, well, just about everything, says this about SWOT analysis:

SWOT Analysis, is a strategic planning tool used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieving that objective. The technique is credited to Albert Humphrey, who led a research project at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s {using data from Fortune 500 companies}.

As I've thought about what such an examination of the priesthood might look like, I've been stymied as to how I might try and characterized the goals of the priesthood in a manner that lend themselves to any sort of strategic analysis. After all, the goal of the priesthood is the salvation of the human race.

Yes, we can try and break that down into steps, but even this lends itself to a rather broad range of skills that characterized Orthodox Christian priestly ministry. What reading I've done that focuses offers any sort of analysis of priestly pastoral ministry tends to assume, often unintentionally, a particular type of priestly service, specifically parochial ministry. Assuming that this is the norm for the priesthood (itself a debatable proposition), the first question that we might want to ask is this:

Is there a normative model of the parish? In other words, do we even have a model or touchstone parish against which we can evaluate not only the ministry of the priest, but the life of the parish?

The answer, I would suggest, is no.

After all when we say "the parish" do we proceed in our analysis based on the needs of a large, wealthy suburban ethnic parish?

Or, do we want to do our analysis with a small, relatively poor convert mission parish as our touchstone?

Or possible, we want to proceed with an eye towards the priest serving an older, graying community in decline?

And, to complicate matters further, who decides what needs are legitimate, and how do he, she or they, make this determination?

You no doubt are coming to see some of the challenges that face us when we undertake any type of analysis of the priesthood.

In my own ministry I have served all three of the communities I just described. While this gives me a fairly broad range of pastoral experience, I also realize that I have a fairly minimal understanding of parish life here in the US. Actually, if there is anything I have taken away from my pastoral experience is that there really isn't a "typical" (in the sense of normative) Orthodox parish in the U.S. One advantage that I might claim for myself is that—again because I've served in a variety of circumstances—I know that there isn't a typical parish and so I am on guard against generalizing my experience to the broader Church.

Especially when we turn our analytic attentions to a complex (and vague) social situation we need to be guard that we don't succumb to what psychologist call confirmation bias. In a nutshell, confirmation bias is the tendency we all have of only paying attention to (or to over valuing) evidence that supports our experience.

At the same time we often ignore (or minimize) evidence that disagrees with our preconceptions. Or, as I will tell people, the joy of being a psychologist is not that I am unbiased, but that I am differently biased, when it comes to parish ministry.

So where might we wish to being an analysis of the priesthood?

Let me suggest that where we might want to being is with a consideration of marriage and its relationship to priestly ministry. I would invite your comments on this as I work towards as further, and later, elucidation of the goals of a SWOT Analysis of the priesthood.

It might be very instructive for both clergy and lay leaders to think about the priesthood both as the fruit of marriage (which is the biblical model) and in relationship to its effects on marriage. Do we, for example, foster the kind of marriage among our clergy that the Scriptures say is the prerequisite for ordination?

I will offer more thoughts later, hopefully with your input.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory