Saturday, June 27, 2009

Being free to minister..

Good morning God,
Carrying on our conversation from yesterday, you've had me thinking about the way in which church members may need to dissent from their own, and sometimes their minister's understanding of ministry in order to be able to be Church. It's sad really how quickly we can slip into blind obedience to unwritten expectations which make ministry more like wading through mud than liberating the soul.

Do you recall that one brilliant ministerial student asking me in utter panic when she had just been stationed - ' but what will I DO all day?' She was so concerned that she didn't know how she would be expected to spend her time (the same soul was later repeatedly told that she was a workaholic!)
The mistake we make, I think God. is assuming that ministry is like any other 'job'. It isn't a 'job' it is a vocation, a way of being, and as such it can't be broken down into a set of achievable outcomes or tasks. I think you have taught me over the years that ministry is simply a way of being with your people such that they know your presence and can be led into your truth by the power of your holy Spirit.
Of course, there are certain set times which we try and set aside by to be with you and with the minster in order that together we might delight in 'being' Your people, might offer you our thanks and praise, and seek to learn how to be more like you. These are times which may be 'planned', and which may well end up in a diary but which are sadly all too often squeezed or crowded out by a whole host of other things which actually have nothing to do with the ministry or the ministerial vocation.
They are, if we are honest, often more about power-plays than about people, more about status and systems than about the Spirit , and more about ego's and feathers than souls and salvation. And these things cripple the work you have called us to do God.

So before September starts, and a whole new round of ministerial expectations set in - here are a few suggestions which I think you would endorse God, for members of those Circuits which have asked on their circuit profile for a pioneer minister or a minister with experience of Fresh Expressions.

Suggestion number one : Let the minister you have asked for - be the minister you have asked for.
Take a GOOD look at the diary you are busy creating for them - and for every meeting that is already in it which CPD does not require a minister to Chair - try and find someone else to chair it. (for reference - the minister is only required to attend Church Council meetings, the General Church meeting, the Pastoral Committee Meeting and the Circuit meeting. and the Worship consultation meeting if one exists) Learn to ask - WHY do we need the MINISTER to chair this meeting - what will they bring to the meeting which nobody else can. If (as is so often the case) the only answer is to know whether or not the minister is free to attend another meeting/event/occassion - then ask the minister for some date BEFORE the meeting - and agree to one of those.

Suggestion Number Two: Expect the unexpected.
If you have asked for a pioneer or a fresh expression practitioner do not expect them to be the same-old-samo. They will not BE in the office every Monday, or pastoral visiting every Tuesday, at lunch club every Wednesday, Mother's and Toddler's and writing sermons every Thursday, doing hospital visits every Friday, hosting coffee mornings every Saturday and leading Church Services every Sunday.
They are more likely to be in schools, in pubs, in restaurants, in gyms, in the street, on the buses, in the sanctuary, in the cafe's, They are more likely to talking to a bunch of prostitutes than to the Woman's meeting, leading a street healing service on a park bench than leading a guild meeting in the Church hall, and being a pub philosopher/theologian than being in the vestry for a fixed hour once a week. They will be wherever those who do not know God are, and will create a different form of Church with them which may, but probably will not, lead to greater Sunday attendance.

Suggestion number three: SHARE in the work of God.
We have become frighteningly dependent on the clergy in our Churches over the last three decades, and I really think that this more than anything, stifles the ministry of the Whole People of God. Experience teaches us that its only when we begin to share in ministry that we begin to grow ourselves and discover the joy of our own calling. Here are a few obvious things that Church members can begin to reclaim a shared responsibility for: Class leadership, pastoral visiting, Baptismal and wedding preparation classes, leading WORSHIP, leading fellowship, PRAYING.. When these are part of a shared ministry, the Church is a vibrant, Spirit filled community which can't help but grow in grace and holiness.

I'm really thankful that in Methodism, the laity really can have a shared ministry - if they want it; a ministry which is not confined to attending meetings, stewarding or handing out bibles (important as these things are)
A Methodist lay person can be enabled to:

1) Take extended communion to the housebound
2) Baptise
3) Preach
4) Lead worship
5) Lead Bible Study and Fellowship

YES of course, training is needed - these things are important - but the first step is realising that this ministry is not only possible - but is essential to the future life of the Church.

What do you think God - would it work - could we do it?
Could we set our ministers free to minister and begin to share in the ministry of the whole people of God ourselves?

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