Stop hiring Alan!

Stop hiring Alan!

As tempting as it is to use an Alan Partridge image for this post, it’s entirely possible this would undermine a serious and potentially sensitive issue – so I’ll resist…  

First things first, this post is not about a man called Alan.

I’ve seen Alan many times, in many churches, and in many guises.

Alan

Alan is a lovely guy (or gal).

He’s committed, servant-hearted and sometimes even has the rarest of gifts – time.

Alan might work in IT – he might have done for years. It’s possible he even builds websites or does graphic design for a living, or at least, he used to, back when the internet was young.

Or perhaps Alan doesn’t have a communications-related career, but he’s young; he seems to know what’s going on with technology that’s far too complicated for you to understand or keep up with.

Alan’s good points

We all have good and bad points, and Alan’s no exception. Here are some of the benefits he brings:

  • He’s hard working and willing to put in the time to make things happen, often on top of his busy lifestyle, full of work and family
  • Alan’s keen to share Jesus with those around him!
  • He recognises the potential of ‘digital’ to share the gospel with the local community and beyond
  • As such, Alan has a keen enthusiasm for new technological and online trends
  • More often than not, Alan’s already involved in leading (several) ministries

Alan’s bad points

On the other hand, here are some potential pitfalls you may encounter with Alan:

  • ‘Alans’ can sometimes struggle to see new or different approaches, and so tend to use the well-trodden path, which can lead to avoiding ‘change’
  • Because Alan ‘knows what he’s doing’ (whatever that means), it can often be hard to challenge his ideas of best-practices
  • Tied up with this is the knowledge that if Alan doesn’t do it, ‘we don’t really know who else to give the task to’, so disagreements must be avoided at all costs, as they might have the potential to offend, which would inevitably bring the digital communications ministry to a sudden halt
  • Through no fault of his own, the precursor for Alan’s appointment to lead the digital communications ministry is often ‘he seems to understand this more than anyone else here’, whether or not he actually knows what he’s doing
  • Because of this Alan’s ability to bring a website to the Internet, or to get a flyer printed, can often cause other key areas to be overlooked

Evidence of Alan

‘Alans’ come in many shapes and forms. Someone may be an Alan in one area of their ministry and completely different in another. Too often we place important tasks in Alan’s hands without knowing how well they’ll be handled.

You may find, for example, that Alan’s writing style may not be the best, but he ends up doing all of the copywriting because he’s the only one who knows how to ‘update the website’. Perhaps his preferred style of graphic design is ten years out of date, but he’s the only one in the church who ‘knows how to use Photoshop’, so when a flyer needs to be produced it’s up to him.

On a slightly bigger team, more communications roles are needed, including the ability to manage people and projects. Alan may not be the most organised person, or particularly skilled in giving personal feedback. Yet he is given this responsibility because he produces a nice poster or regularly updated the church Facebook page.

Here are a few other possible ways to spot Alan:

  • You’ve given him feedback or suggestions before but nothing has changed, either because he holds strongly to his views or because he’s too overworked to give the task the attention it requires
  • You’ve never seen an actual working example of his non-Church communications work
  • His work has been endorsed only by other churches
  • He’s in his role because he’s the best person you can think of to do it, whether or not it’s a good fit for him
  • He uses powerful, maybe expensive and outdated software, where something newer and simpler might do the job
  • He feels the strain of the pressure on him, to produce a large amount of digital communication, but doesn’t want to complain, or reach out for help – probably for fear of putting pressure on others

So what do we do?

I’ve been quite harsh on Alan so far, so what do you do about him?

Note that this applies to people who have responsibility over Alan: know your place, because going about this wrongly has huge potential for hurt! If you have concerns about an individual, talk to the ministry leader or to an elder. This is certainly a pastoral issue!

So here are a couple of suggestions.
– I’m not saying take Alan’s responsibilities away from him! Sometimes this may be for the best, particularly if you’ve had previous difficulties, but there are other options!
– First of all, talk to your Alan. Ask him how he feels about his role, whether he feels able and equipped to do it, whether he feels like he’s in the right role or something else might suit him better
– If the answer is no, look in to ways to train Alan; there are many great resources out there, my favourite resources section is a great place to start!
– If the answer is yes, this is good, however it’s possible that Alan considers himself well equipped when you feel otherwise. Clearly this demands sensitivity in how you communicate your feelings, and in how you decide the best way forward. Maybe you should get a second opinion from another leader in the church

What if Alan is… me?

First of all, well done for considering this possibility – I’m convinced this takes a good deal of humility. Not wondering this, even for a second, could be quite Alan-like in and of itself.

If you feel you’re in the wrong role – tell your leadership. If you enjoy your ministry but sometimes feel ill-equipped (who doesn’t?!), ask for help, ask for training or resources. Pray for God’s guidance over the way you serve Him in His church.

Pray for God’s guidance over the way you serve Him in His church

Conclusion

I’m not trying to set you against ‘Your Alan’ – he’s usually an absolutely great guy. You’re blessed to have him in your congregation.

Just consider, sometimes the ‘best person we have’ is not necessarily the ‘right’ person to do the job.

This job of church communications is a critical one, with as many opportunities to preach the gospel to a new audience as there are opportunities to poorly communicate your message.

People have many different gifts and there are many different areas to serve in. We should be using these gifts well, wisely looking after what God has graciously given to us, in the context of love, for His glory:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:10-11

Finally, this post isn’t intended to make you want to hire me; it’s meant to make you think twice before ‘hiring’ Alan, without first making sure you’ve equipped him the best you can for the job you’ve entrusted him to do. If it turns out I can help you to achieve this, great!

1 Response

  1. Thanks Joe – sadly there are Alans in many ministries in our churches aren’t there, not just communications. I have seen (and maybe even been) Alans in youth-work, leadership, music etc. Sometimes I fear it is people looking to be needed, sometimes its just as you say “there wan’t anybody else”. Definitely needs sensitivity and discernment between equipping and calling as you point out – church communications tends to attract techies but that may not always be appropriate. Thanks for raising the topic – and urging caution in how we deal with such matters.

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