Friday, 10 March 2017

Redistribution and Growth - a Conundrum

Matthew 9:36 - 10:1
When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. "What a huge harvest!" he said to his disciples. "How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!"
The Twelve Harvest Hands
The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.

I'm trying to process conflicting and contradictory concepts at the moment:
Concepts that I think may be key in our moving from an inherited model of church to a Missional model. Concepts that may signal the difference between being engaged in the Mission of God and ensuring the survival of an institution.
Please be clear that what I share is my questioning, not criticism and not solutions.
A phrase I've heard numerous times in the last few weeks is: "we must stop taking minsters out of the parish ministry pool". And yet, a growing phenomenon in the Church of Scotland at present (and one that is being actively encouraged) is the influx of ministers ordained to word and sacrament from other (selective) countries. To increase our pool, we diminish another pool.
We are also engaged in a huge recruitment exercise, largely aimed at under 45s, assessing those who respond using robust but traditional methods and then slotting those who survive that into a programme of training and theological education that is generic.
Stefan Paas suggested at a recent conference that, if a person has been able to endure the prescribed route into parish ministry, which includes the rigour of gaining a theological degree, they are unlikely to have the necessary skills for entrepreneurial or pioneer ministry.
And yet, haven't those called to ministry been prepared to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to get to a place or to gain the recognition required to practice ministry in all its forms? Operating within the confines of an institution should not mean that, when the opportunity presents itself, one shouldn't be released into a Missional calling.
And, if the reshaping God is about today signals anything, it is that renewal will come from the fringes and leadership will grow there too. Structures and compliance tend to squash that growth on the margins. 
It seems that, more than ever, we need to hold things lightly, using structure to equip and empower rather than curtail. And that this freedom should extend to the growth of new leaders as well as being extended to those chafing within the confines of the institution.
So, how do we hold lightly and yet not subscribe to an "anything goes" approach to ministry?
How do we honour our Presbyterian need for good order while responding to the ravages of the Spirit, allowing the Spirit to blow through our structures yet maintaining a culture of care and support for those who are dependant on such structures?
Path of Renewal has, from the outset, sought to be an agent of transitioning inherited to Missional, to embrace the adaptive challenge of changing a culture and mindset, to be a movement and not a programme. 
Perhaps that also calls for a more intentional naming of the questions and tensions that are around, the dichotomies with which we engage in this time of upsetting and reshaping. 
And, for sure, it calls for a continued openness to the Spirit of God, showing us the way through the wilderness for this age in all its complexity and confusion.


  1. For what it's worth .. I believe that everyone needs to be encouraged to pursue the calling God has placed on their lives and this needs to stand at the centre of what is taken forward. So some people in parish ministry may feel called to a different area of ministry and the church should encourage them to pursue that, even though it will be at a cost to parish ministry. Opportunities do exist for this! Alongside that, we need to create opportunities for those who are called into Pioneer Ministry or as Evangelists or church planters to pursue their call. Opportunities do not currently exist for this - and what Stefan pointed out was that many in this group are unlikely to follow the formal training the Church of Scotland sets out in order to pursue the call God has placed upon them. It's not an either or but the latter is the one that needs the focus just now.

    1. Thanks, Graham. I appreciate what Stefan was saying. There are those who, having no other choices, find themselves in parish ministry, some of whom have been pioneers there.
      My concern is the prioritising of one model over another, the signal that gives and the impact that has on those who have been faithful and more with the resources available and within the confines of an institution. More questions than anything else.

  2. Hi Liz, I wasn't sure if you were inviting comments here or on FB, but here goes anyway.
    As one who has fairly recently swapped pools, I wouldn't worry too much about the growth or redistribution question. You get that sort of thing in every profession and I think it can only be enriching for all pools involved to have a regular cross-polination. I know I have grown tremendously by being exposed to this new "pool" in which I find myself.
    I think your second question is more critical and one which is facing Reformed churches around the world - namely the monochrome view of the ministry which we have inherited. It strikes me that the fundamental issue is the inherited Reformed reliance upon an educated clergy. For us, our clergy ARE our theologians. This goes right the way back to the Reformed understanding of salvation as intellectual enlightenment, evangelism as preaching, discipleship as Christian Education and Church as Lecture Theatre.
    I have always been fascinated, for example, by the Orthodox Church's distinction between Priests and Theologians (is there a remnant of this is Calvin's distinction between the offices of Doctor and Pastor?)
    I'm not proposing such a clear and binary separation, but I do think we could use a bit more flexibility about the types of ministry needed from place to place and from time to time, and the type of training required for each stream. In the Anglican Communion, for example, the office of Deacon enables people to perfome many priestly functions without the depth of Theological training required for the Priesthood. Even Anglican Priests (certainly in South Africa) are not required to do as much theological training as our ministers do. The same is true in the Methodist Church etc.
    I think that in the Diaconate, OLM's, Interim Ministries, Chapliancy and the Eldership, we already have alternative models or "classes" (are we allowed to use that word?)of ministry which could be used more fruitfully, more creatively and with greater honour to meet the needs of a more varied vision of what ministry is.

    1. Thanks, Neil. The Reformation has a lot to answer for! I'm sure the reformers would never have imagined that 500'years later we'd still be wrestling with some of their struggles. That whole split between clergy and laity - not only do we become the theologians but paid theologians today which often disempowers others.
      While for many beyond the church the distinctions in role, in education and in license won't matter, it is important that we equip and affirm each in their respective ministries and don't simply put all our energies into whatever is the new thing. And that, at the very least, we acknowledge the feelings of loss that will be around if we change the nature and delivery of a territorial ministry.

  3. It is just a thought, but in a healthy church I think a minister will be viewed as a part of a congregation rather than set apart in a pulpit.

    1. Thanks, Janet - that would be great. It's important that we all feel enabled and empowered to embrace whatever ministry God lays before us.