Posts Tagged ‘ministry leadership’

In the posts that follow, I outline some of the core convictions from which I am working and about which I believe  “soul-stretching conversations” (Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass) need to happen. I recognize that these convictions will not be shared by many people in the United Church of Canada. I hope that they provide a starting point for the conversations since it is in the conversations that the way forward will be found. I also outline some of the implications of those convictions for the ways in which we train leadership in the church.

Conviction 5:     The Church is intended to be a community of ministers.

Christians know God as Trinity — a relational being who invites us to participate in that relationship.

The basic rhythm of church life is twofold: being gathered and being scattered. Worship gathers the community of disciples into God’s presence, receives their offerings of adoration and praise from the week that is past, nurtures them and sends them out into the world to live their adoration and praise in their daily lives, anticipating God’s new future. Churches that thrive in the future will be communities in which each person makes an active contribution, both in the church gathered and in the church dispersed in service. As much attention will need to be given to the formation of the so-called laity as to the clergy, to the church in diaspora as to the church in ekklesia.

The model of the church will need to shift to recognize the power, giftedness, and calling of all the baptized.

“Baptism and the ministry of the laity is the starting point for the ministry of the church to the wider community. Although ordained ministries have historically received greater attention, the ministry of all the baptized, sometimes called the ministry of the laity, is now the subject of widespread recognition. Importantly, newer occasional rites associated with baptism also include rites of blessing for the vocations of all the baptized, the ever-present and perennially overlooked complement to ordained ministry. Such attention to the ministry of the laity is crucial, for it is in the daily encounter of Christians with non-Christians, in life at the border, that significant missional activity occurs” (Robert D. Hawkins, “Occasional Services: Border Crossings,” in Thomas H. Schattauer, ed. Inside Out: Worship in an Age of Mission , p. 186)
In conversations about elevating the ministry of all the baptized in churches, two kinds of comments often surface. The ordered ministry state that they have a hard time getting the people of the congregation to make commitments to serve on committees and to attend programmes. The people of the church indicate that they do not feel qualified or adequate for the tasks that they are asked to do, that meetings are not a good use of their limited time, and that they are they are weary from taking care of the ‘business’ of being the church. They are tired of expending all their energy on fundraisers and on the administration of the structures. They are yearning to attend to the nurture of their souls. They are often strangers to basic Christian practices but, when they experience them, find that the practices feed their souls. They want their churches to be places of transformation: places where they themselves experience the transforming, liberating power of Jesus Christ and places where they are trained to invite others to experience that same transforming power.

Ed Stetzer has likened the church to a “bear fed by tourists . . . What happens when you feed the bear is eventually it can’t fend for itself.” The models of church and of ministry that are operative in most churches leaves most of the power in the hands of the paid ministers. The rest of the congregation, restricted from exercising real ministry, becomes dependent and weak. Paid ministry personnel need to be given authority to give their authority away to the rest of the congregation’s ministers. The baptized need to be commissioned to expressions of ministry that really matter — the kinds of ministries that will challenge them so deeply that they will be compelled to pray, to search the scriptures, to seek out the companionship of others in order to find the help they need to live into their ministry. “When people are grounded in spiritual practices and are growing in faith, they are more willing to take up the exercise of their spiritual gifts and calling” (from a conversation with Rev. Dr. Richard Bott).

Some Implications for Leadership Training

A) The leaders of a church will need to be trained to equip others for ministry, helping the  church to be the church. Their work will be less about providing chaplaincy services and more about cultivating environment where all the people of God thrive. They will need to be trained in cultivating an environment where each person knows that s/he is indispensable to the Body of Christ. They will need to stop trying to rescue the church by working harder when others do not step up. They will need to trust that a congregation’s mission endeavours will develop organically, i.e. from the callings and passions and commitments of the people.
B) Leaders will need to be actively engaged in apprenticeship in Christian practices. Training for leadership will need to include a strong emphasis on formation in what the scriptures call ‘holiness’, i.e. formation in spirt, character, and virtue. It will include training in faithful use of power and in exercising creative authority.

C) Congregational leadership will need to develop the capacity to nurture structures that help people discern their callings and the gifts that the Spirit has given for those callings. They will need coaching in trusting and empowering people to own their ministries and their identity as God’s ambassadors. Such participatory leadership cultivates a community that comes together to discern their participation in God’s mission. Elizabeth O’Connor describes such a community at Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C.: “Everyone was needed and everyone was aware of the point at which he was needed” (Elizabeth O’Connor, Call to Commitment: The Story of the Church of the Savior, Washington, D. C., p. 43.)


These days, many people are looking for hands-on-ministry. They are not interested in being passive consumers in a church that operates out of a solo-minister model. They want to participate. More than that, they want to participate in activities that emerge organically, from the grassroots, not in activities that are dreamed up by someone else and managed from the top down. Leadership for such people consists of participatory teams. Most United Church ministers have not been trained in team leadership. They do not know how to do it. There will need to be ongoing training provided for ordered ministry personnel who want to move their congregations toward ‘every-member ministry’.

There seems to be very little attention given to training people for participatory team leadership in the United Church of Canada. One possible exception is the Camino D’Emaus congregation in Quebec. This congregation includes five ‘base communities’ which meet weekly in addition to the Sunday worship services. These base communities are located in their neighbourhoods and each one has a different focus. Each gathering includes a spiritual dimension; for example, a sharing dialogue on biblical passages and life experiences. They are lay-led. The animators, or lay leaders, of these communities are part of the parish council. The church provides very intentional leadership training once a week. The focus is on “popular education” rather than academic. This is not to say that the quality of the training is not high. Rather, it is based in liberation theology’s model of praxis and reflection. Through participation and discussion, the participants develop their faith and leadership skills.


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I am continuing to reflect on the ways in which our ‘model of ministry’ must change as congregations are coming to terms with the end of Christendom. Our current model of ministry was shaped by and for a culture in which congregations were large enough and strong enough to employ full-time ministers who had been trained in established institutions such seminaries and Bible colleges. The United Church of Canada has tried out some alternative models of ministerial training. There is a distance-education model at Atlantic School of Theology. Students work in pastoral charges and, in the summer, attend AST for six weeks of intensive courses for five years. There is a “Designated Lay Minister” (DLM) option, which includes a number of weeks of training at Calling Lakes Centre. Both options are a response to the changing landscape of ministry personnel: being available for full-term studies at a seminary is not an option for many people how have felt called into ministry. Yet, (and I may be wrong) my sense is that both these alternatives still operate out of traditional model of ministry — paid employment (which is at least part-time) in a congregation.

What kind of training for ministry is needed for congregations that are functioning in a post-Christendom world?  Many of these congregations are not large enough to be able to afford traditionally trained ministry staff. Many of them are isolated enough that they have trouble attracting traditionally trained ministry staff. I can understand that the denomination wants to ensure that its ministry staff have the appropriate training to be able to provide good leadership. I can understand that the denomination is concerned that its credentialed preachers are preaching interpretations of the gospel that it deems acceptable (although that is a whole other topic). However, I am wanting to approach this issue from another angle. What if the critical issue is not how the needs of the denomination are met; rather, what if the critical issue is: “How we can help small, struggling congregations find high quality leadership that they can afford?”

In order to answer that question, we need to address a more elemental issue: “What is it that congregations need in order to survive and thrive?”

The book of Hebrews speaks of a time when God’s voice will shake earth and heaven to the foundations. This shaking, it says, is for the purpose of  “a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.” (Hebrews 12: 27, The Message)  When congregations are in crisis, they enter into a time of discovering what the ‘unshakable essentials’ are for being the church. What ‘historical and religious junk’ has accumulated over the years?

Recently, I can across this from Ed Searcy:

“The church too easily forgets that it is first a people with a word to speak, not an organization with programs to run or a building with a history to conserve or a denomination with a reputation to uphold. This is the reason that Martin Luther claims that a true church exists in a congregation even when there is no Christian fellowship, no pastoral care, no teaching, no service, no authentic worship but only the Word of God read, heard and proclaimed. Luther knows that God’s Word can not return empty, that it has extraordinary power beyond our limited imagination. Yes, there are five marks of a living church, not one. These marks are the pattern of our life together: liturgia – worship; koinonia – community; didache – training; diakonia – service; kerygma – proclamation. But the primal mark, the starting place, the origin of the church is always the proclamation – the kerygma – of God’s odd word that offends as it consoles, a gospel that we regularly resist and reject even as we desperately long to hear it and to believe. The church is formed – and re-formed – by prophets who speak God’s surprising word.”  (Calling Jeremiah)

Not everyone will agree with this take on the church; however, if Ed Searcy is right, then, the essential element for training leadership for congregations has to do with helping the church hear and speak “God’s surprising word”. Whatever emerges as the new model of ministry for congregations will need to enable and support this vocation.

The search will continue . . .



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