THE current model of ministry has become financially unsustainable. Various new projects were reluctantly accepted “with resignation and without much joy”. It seems that the mind of Christ has not yet been discerned.
God is missionary. He looks beyond himself and acts with love towards his creation. The Church is called to partner with God to serve his mission. Therefore, the main question is: how, in the current context, with our expected resources of people, buildings and finances, should we order the life and work of our churches so that they are most able to participate in the mission of God in his world?
Saint Paul established each local church to be, from the beginning, self-sufficient, self-governing, and self-reproducing. Shortly after establishing a church, Paul left to continue his apostolic work elsewhere, entrusting the new church to very recently converted leaders. Paul trusted in the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire each Christian community in its life and work. They don’t need to depend on him; because that would limit his apostolic work. Of course, things turned out badly, sometimes very badly; he therefore visited them or wrote to them to advise them, but – and above all – Paul still gave them the freedom to make mistakes.
The Church is not an organization to be managed and restructured, but a living organism to be nourished. The Church is a living body, filled and animated by the Holy Spirit, and not a cumbersome machine which must be managed and “set in motion” by those who hold the “levers of power”.
The task of bishops is to fully equip, empower, and liberate each church for worship, mission, and ministry. Of course, congregationalism and parochialism should be avoided, but by nature every church is local, rooted in its community.
While churches should be encouraged to work together in partnership, legal amalgamation is contrary to the very nature of the local church. Why? Because it takes away Paul’s principle of local autonomy, and we break that principle at our peril.
FOR DECADES the Church of England merged parishes, and it was disastrous, producing neither health nor growth. It is a strategy based on financial opportunity and secular management theory, with no biblical guarantee or theological justification.
Paul always made sure to leave a complete and self-sufficient church, with a team of leaders and the ability of its own members to celebrate the Eucharist. He knew that a church without sacramental power, having to look elsewhere for the provision of the sacraments, was an incomplete church – a truth we seem to have forgotten.
Before leaving a location, Paul invited church members to “Choose from among yourselves” those whom God was calling to serve on their leadership team. Usually these leaders were unpaid, but self-sufficient. The availability of leadership and sacramental ministry has never been dependent on the availability of money. Unfortunately, today we have learned to feel helpless without money.
This New Testament model is ideal, being entirely compatible with the Anglican tradition. It was considered by the House of Bishops in 1979, was advocated by the 1983 Tiller Report and also recommended to the Church of England by the 1998 Advisory Council of Ministerial Policy Document No. 8: stranger in the wings. Unfortunately, the full potential of these documents has never been realized.
Local ordained ministry programs were created; but these retained a paid office, whereas the usual pattern of sacramental ministry left by Paul had no paid ministers.
Today we should adopt Paul’s pattern, with each local church having only several self-governing ministers, sharing leadership with lay leaders. Sometimes circumstances may require the appointment of a stipendiary minister, but, after a transitional period (15-25 years?), during which the majority of today’s stipendiary clergy would continue to receive a stipend and a housing until retirement would be the exception. .
EXAMPLES of non-retention of scholarship holders exist in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United States and South Africa.
An example is the Diocese of Michigan, USA. When a vacancy occurs, the parish is invited to call, from among its own members, at least two candidates to serve as priests, and at least one to serve as deacon, exercising leadership in collaboration with lay leaders.
The diocesan manual, covering all aspects of their project, can be found at www.edomi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Total-Ministry-2016-Handbook.pdf — even if the principles must be adapted to our context. The diocese invests its budget in training clergy and laity, rather than paying and housing clergy, plus pension contributions.
These clergy should not do everything that stipendiaries traditionally do, but focus on providing sacramental ministry, doing so according to their gifts and personal circumstances. Since ministry belongs to the whole church, most other ministries are undertaken by lay people, including shared leadership. These priests do not attend all the meetings; church life does not revolve around them. This cost-effective way of generously providing resources to the local church endows everyone with spiritual resources and confidence for God’s work.
A local leadership team made up of lay people and ordained people is not called the “ministry team,” but the “ministry support team,” which conveys the truth that ministry is to be exercised by all the baptized , rather than by the team on their behalf. The issue of clergy welfare is currently a serious concern within the C of E, and this model would greatly improve it.
PAUL could take the risk of letting newly planted churches manage their own affairs, trusting that the Spirit would “lead them into all truth.” Collectively, the local church would know “the mind of Christ.” By virtue of their baptism, all baptized Christians are empowered, empowered, commissioned, and authorized for mission and ministry. Nothing more is needed: it is their right under the new birth.
The potential benefits are numerous:
• Sacramental ministry and leadership would be generously provided to local churches, building congregational confidence in worship, ministry and mission.
• Each member’s ministry would be energized and liberated.
• The welfare of clergy would be enhanced by having manageable jobs, without expecting them to be “omni-competent”.
• Lay formation would be increased; reduced clerical dependence.
• Capital financial resources would be freed up, as well as a reduction in housing maintenance costs.
• As more and more parishes adopt the new model, each diocese will become more and more financially viable.
• Parishes would see their parish share decrease and retain more of their income for local use. (Many churches in New Zealand now have sufficient funds for a wide range of ministries and keep their buildings in top condition.)
Some may dislike or feel alarmed by these ideas, but that’s no reason to dismiss them. If there are theological arguments against, let them be advanced and examined. Does it work?
A thriving congregation in the Diocese of Michigan was asked about the transition from a traditional model of church and stipendiary ministry to the one described above, and they replied, “It has been extremely difficult and very painful, but we don’t wouldn’t come back now.”
Canon David Power is a former evangelism counselor in the Diocese of Portsmouth, where he served as parish priest from 1981 to 2018. He is licensed to officiate in the diocese.