Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Musing on Ministry

Good morning God,
Our General Secretary has been musing on ministry on the back page of the Methodist Recorder.. so I thought I would follow suit, and similarly wonder 'whether, if I had my time over again, I would become a Methodist minister'.
Like Martyn, my answer is yes, I still maintain that for me, there is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding than being a Methodist Presbyter or Deacon. But that's where the similarity ends, for whilst Martyn takes joy in the increased numbers and diversity of paid lay employees in the Church, I see nothing but the failure of the Church to embrace its inherited theology of the priesthood of all believers.

Let me be clear here, I do not mean to devalue or demean the work undertaken by the laity of the Church. neither do I wish to imply that there is no such thing as a calling to full time lay ministry. But the simple fact is that the rise of paid lay employees in the Church mirrors the decline of the ordained ministry and in many cases has much more to do with finances than any real strategy for mission or ministry.
The rise of the Lay pastor in the UMC tells the same story -  the decline of the Church means that the Church can no longer afford to pay for manses and health insurance on top of stipends. The easiest solution is to employ someone to do the same job for less.

Am I being too cynical God?
Of course, in the UMC there is the added problem of Church elders (presbyters) also needing to be educated to Masters level BEFORE they begin their ministry. So - yes - an ordained elder of the UMC is more expensive than a lay pastor, just as a British Presbyter or Deacon is more expensive than a paid lay worker.

I guess I object on two grounds really:
Firstly I think that the movement towards an ever increasing number of professional 'lay ministries' represents a really shoddy abuse of the gifts of the laity and devalues what has historically been seen as lay ministry. 
I too value and give thanks to you God for the way you continue to call men and women into both lay and ordained ministry but I now wonder  how much longer will it be before the only people actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom insist on being paid for it?

I have to admit I would much rather that Churches and circuits didn't need administrators - I don't believe the amount of money and resources we spend, either locally or Connexionally on administration and management reflects well on us as a Church. To the outside world we are more like a people obsessed with structures, risk assessments, targets, committees and contracts than a people possessed by your Word and your Spirit God.
Also, the problem with employing youth workers, evangelism enablers, family workers, Lay pastors and pastoral assistants etc is that once they are paid to do the work, the rest of the congregation often seem to feel no need to develop their own skills in these areas. The overall effect is therefore to deskill the Church rather than to equip it.
We are in danger of creating passive congregations who are more entertained by their faith than engaged with it.

Who will take the Gospel into the workplace, into the schools and toddler groups, the markets, cinemas and pubs when those lay people with a heart for mission and evangelism are paid to work for, and focus on the Church?
Who will keep our theology and ecclesiology rooted in the communities we seek to serve in Christ's name when the laity no longer feel it is their job to undertake the very real ministry of networking and gossiping the gospel?

And so to the second reason - I grieve for my calling.
I grieve for the mismatch between what we say Presbyteral and Diaconal ministry is, and what it actually is in circuit. The rise of the professional lay employee has led to a mountain of administration, management and personnel work which the ordained ministry were never trained for and which is not a part of their calling. I am confused by the impression we are repeatedly being given by the Connexion that there is no value in our ordination, we can easily be replaced by someone cheaper who can 'do the job' just as well. Ordination is somehow presented as rather a nuisance for our Church financially, and administratively. The fact is that ordained ministers within our Church are increasingly being treated as employees - awkward ones, yes, but employees nonetheless - and not just because of the government's legislation either!

But above all this, I hate the impression that we are in danger of giving that the ministry of the whole people of God can be replaced by a team ministry of paid employees. The truth may be that there are fewer not more people now involved in the work of God in many of our Churches. Finding class leaders, junior Church leaders, local preachers, pastoral visitors, worship leaders, stewards and other Church officers becomes harder every year. "We pay other people to do that"

I am convinced that our Church's stated desire to increase discipleship will never succeed as long as we continue to employ lay people to hide our ministerial vacancies, disguise our financial predicament,  or cover the passivity of our congregations.

So like Martyn, I too wait with anticipation to see what the Spirit will do with us all..
But I confess, I'm biased God, I still believe in ordained and lay ministry as being equal and complementary in value but different in calling and practice. I believe in a Reverend or a Deacon being allowed to be a Reverend or a Deacon wherever God has placed them. Just as I believe that neither can practice their calling without the support and full cooperation of the Laity.

The simple answer is that you called me by name - I am yours - and am still amazed that you called me to serve in the ordained ministry of your church.

So I look forward to a time when we can once again celebrate 'the ministry of the whole people of God', lay and ordained, not just that of the paid 'Leadership team'.
And I dare to dream of a whole congregation committed to mission and service in the name of Christ who will being people to YOU God - not just to the Church.


  1. Hello Angela

    As ever, challenging words that need to be heard. The ultimate cry that you are there to minister, not administer, is correct and I would wish to remodel expectations of circuit and district to ensure they carried the burden of charity administration.

    However within your post one thing stuck out

    " I am confused by the impression we are repeatedly being given by the Connexion that there is no value in our ordination, we can easily be replaced by someone cheaper who can 'do the job' just as well"

    Where have you got this impression from? I haven't come across anything saying that a special lay position is in place of fully ordained minister or deacon. Indeed I always saw lay positions as support/specialised advice to engage and grow a congregation.

    Look forward to hearing your comments!

  2. Hi John,
    Firstly by Connexion I mean the Connexion, ie circuits and Districts of the British Methodist Church: The impression comes from the sheer number of circuits who seek to employ a lay person when they can no longer 'afford' a minister or when one has not been stationed. Circuits are even actively encouraged to consider this as an option around stationing time.
    Anecdotally, what happens all too frequently is that a circuit is 're-sectioned' and so ministers are called upon to divide their ministry amongst more Churches in the circuit whilst lay employees with supportive specialisms are sought to fill in the gaps - ie to do the mission and outreach, the youth work, pastoral care and community enagagement that the minister no longer has time for.

    It is not rocket science to realise that what that effectively does is strip the minister of a share in the Church's 'ministry' reducing them to being little more than administrators or managers, traveling Committee meeting chairs and Eucharistic presidents.

    Add to this the grumbles about the cost of ministerial training, the repeated attempts to end the ministerial session of Conference etc etc..

    Yes - I'm confused.

  3. O for a church where the mission and outreach and youth work and pastoral care were being done so effectively by the congregation that all that was left for the paid minister (or lay person) to do was admin, or looking for the next strategic mission opportunity for the congregation to fulfil?

    Interesting comments, as I candidate and try to figure out what my personal call is to... Thank you!