Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An end to ordained ministry?

Good morning God,

What does it take to persuade a minister to leave their church? The process of becoming a minister was so arduous for some that it seems almost inconceivable that anyone who put themselves through it would walk away casually - unless of course, they enjoy self harm! And then of course, there are the practicalities of having to find a new job (what ARE the transferable skills of the clergy?) and of course, a new home - few jobs outside the Church come with a place to live. And for some, there are other concerns, like health insurance, car allowance etc etc.

Yet in spite of this, more and more ordained Christian ministers are leaving the Church.

  • It isn't that they don't want to minister,
  • it isn't that they don't love the people that You have placed in their care -
  • it isn't even the inevitable petty squabbles that happen each and every week which the minister is routinely expected to resolve..

Almost without exception, those who leave state that they are just as convinced of their calling to ordained ministry as when they first offered to serve You.

So what is going wrong God?

The majority of those I have spoken to about this cite a breakdown in the relationship with the 'institutional' Church as the main reason why they left. Some speak almost bitterly of the lack of support, of isolation, of mismanagement and even of betrayal.

But they are not talking about doctrines, about Scripture or even the traditions of the Church. Neither is this about belief in You. It is about the perceived failure of the Church to practice what it preaches at every level - including the institutional. The trend towards treating ministers as corporate employees, with contracts and line-managers, HR departments and handbooks, is a step too far for some who claim it dehumanises ministry, negates 'pastoral care' and replaces YOU with the Church at the heart of ministry.

The other side to this of course, it the appalling standard of ministry which local Churches have to endure from ministers who insist on doing their own thing, who cannot be disciplined except for major offenses, who will not hold themselves accountable, and who sit lightly to the practices and doctrines of their Church. Not surprisingly - such ministers seldom leave of their own volition! The frightening increase in the numbers of such ministers persuades many that the only answer is for the Church to embrace models of leadership, management and governance borrowed from industry.. which encourages others to leave..

The challenge for the Church is to find the balance...

I'm not convinced that there was once a golden age when the Church took better care of its ministers, but I do agree that the institutional Church seems less and less conscious of, or even concerned about, the part that You play in ministry and the needs of the minister for pastoral care and the opportunity to grow in grace and holiness rather than to be 'managed'.

I am also forced to agree with those who say that there is an increase in the number of ministers for whom the word 'sacrifice' is not only archaic but simply 'not in the contract'.

There is however, little to suggest that the Church has either the courage or the confidence to act to obtain the balance we need.

Which begs the question - has ordained ministry perhaps had its day..?

The simple fact is we could do without it..
The Church has always grown fastest when it didn't have it..

What do you say God?

1 comment:

  1. Angie,

    "The frightening increase in the numbers of such ministers persuades many that the only answer is for the Church to embrace models of leadership, management and governance borrowed from industry.."

    I don't know what the numbers of ministers leaving are and I wonder what research has been done to analyse the reasoning.

    As for the business models, maybe. I agree there is a temptation to look for other models. However, I wonder how much that temptation results in careful research of business models of leadership and theologicial reflection on how they might be applied to the Church.

    The lack of such research and reflection in many churches may be more of a problem than the basic idea of looking outside the Church for good models of people working together well.

    There is of course also the temptation to see greener grass on the other side of the ordination service. My own experience of management in secular business is very mixed - some excellent and some that makes the church appear saintly :-)