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As the church moves into a new paradigm, ordered ministry personnel find themselves confronting questions about their identity and role.

Many different models and metaphors have been used to describe the role and identity of ordered ministers. When the Church existed in Christendom, the ordered minister often operated as a chaplain — tending to the pastoral and spiritual needs of people who lived in a culture that helped the church shape and form Christians and a culture that saw itself as  operating on Christian ethical principles. We live in a very different culture now.

A model or metaphor for ordered ministers that is being reclaimed is that of equipper — one who equips the culture of the congregation such that all the baptized know that they are ministers both in the church gathered (ekklesia) and in the church scattered into the world (diaspora). The ordered minister is a ‘ministry developer’ who mentors, guides and educates the ministers of the congregation for their ministries. S/he is the team leader, the overseer of the joint work of the people.

This model requires different kinds of leadership from the chaplaincy model. Among other things, it requires leadership that is willing to upset the status quo that prevails in the environment of most congregations. Major shifts need to be made in the ways congregations govern themselves and in their delivery of pastoral care, faith formation, worship and proclamation. They must be structured for relationships instead of programmes: relationships of trust, of truth-telling, of forgiveness, of compassion. That work of re-shaping congregations will require ministers who are cultivating a deep identity in Christ rather than in the work that they do or in the acclaim of the congregation.

Leaders need different metrics for measuring what they are doing. Rather than counting bodies, buildings, and budgets, churches could count how many people have had their gifts identified and their vocation made clear. How many people in the congregation are equipped for ministry? How many lives have been transformed? What is the depth of community? Where are there signs of mutual love and support? Those metrics are relationship-based. They are developed through different skills and capacities than most clergy received in their formal theological training. They operate out of a different imagination than functions in most congregations. William Willimon suggests that the test for pastoral ministry is not, “How much have I been able to accomplish at my church?” but rather, “How much have I enabled the laity to accomplish at their church.” (William Willimon, “The Point of Pastoral Ministry: Lay Ministry”  March 26, 2007).

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Something new is being created in various places across the United Church of Canada. A new congregational culture is taking shape, albeit often in tentative and fragile forms. Congregations and other faith communities are finding their way forward. Based on the conversations I have been having, some trends seem to be emerging.

There is a congregational culture emerging that is focused on the ministry of all the baptized, not primarily on the ministry of the ordered ministry personnel. Clergy-centred solo pastoral ministry is giving way to participatory leadership teams in all aspects of congregational life. Authority is being distributed among the people based on gifts, relational influence, and areas of mission; power is seen as something that is to be given away to others. Clergy are recognizing that it is not their role to ‘be the minister’ but to equip the ministers of the congregation and to cultivate a congregational culture where creativity and permission-giving and risk-taking are the norm. There is an expectation that people will be engaged in deepening discipleship throughout their whole lives since the work in which they are engaged cannot be done in one’s own strength and wisdom. What ‘deepening discipleship’ looks like is localized, depending on each different context and the gifts and passions of the people involved and driven by the missionary situation in which people find themselves.

A congregational culture is emerging that prioritizes the deepening of the ministry of all the people over the continuance of the institutional structure or the building. Organizations get the results for which they are structured. That which is given attention is what grows. Churches are changing what they are paying attention to. This includes changing the way the church measures what it is doing. Rather than measuring how many people are on the membership roll or how many dollars are being raised and spent, churches are beginning to measure the people’s depth of involvement in ministry and mission in the world. Rather than paying attention to who is serving on what committee, worship services and annual reports are providing opportunities for people to witness and testify to the ways in which the Holy Spirit is working in and through their lives in their neighbourhoods, places of work and leisure times. The conversation is about ‘sightings’ of the reign of God, not the needs of the institution.

The emerging congregational culture is finding ways to attend to the pastoral care and spiritual needs of its members (often through small groups) but the dominant conversations are not about getting one’s needs met but about discerning what God is doing and what God is calling the church to be in the world. The focus is not on programmes and membership privileges but on following Jesus as a way of life. People are learning ways of listening to others outside the church. They are learning not to approach situations as ‘fixers’, with their well-intentioned agendas; rather, they are recognizing that they are often on the receiving end of the hospitality and gifts of ‘the other’. There is a humility and openness in their relationships — and a recognition that it is about building relationships rather than fixing problems.

Not every renewing congregation or developing faith community exhibits all those characteristics. However, these trends keep emerging in the conversations I have been having. What is also apparent is that congregations often are finding their way forward in isolation from others. They need to be in networks with other faith communities that are finding their way. What another church does is probably not directly transferrable to another church. ‘Cookie cutter’ solutions will not work in the diverse situations in which congregations find themselves. We live out our faith incarnationally, which means its expression is shaped by the local context. However, what is working for one church may provide inspiration for a creative initiative in another congregation. Besides, we all need companions on the journey, especially on this journey where we have no maps but only Jesus who is himself the Way.

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These posts on the changing shape of the church are the result of a project I began as an attempt to discern what supports would be most helpful for lay people who were providing ongoing worship leadership in congregations that either could not afford or could not attract ordered ministry personnel. What has become apparent is that that question is only one dimension of a much larger and more complex shift that is happening in the United Church of Canada. Across the country, increasing numbers of congregations are moving away from a clergy-centred model of church towards a model that recognizes that all who are baptized are called into ministry.

Communities of faith are seeking training and support for the ministry of the baptized in a number of different forms. There is, indeed, a growing number of congregations that are lay-led. They are looking for help for those people who are providing leadership in worship, in pastoral care, in spiritual formation and in outreach ministries. Other congregations find themselves able to afford to pay ordered ministry personnel for only part-time work and look to lay people to provide leadership in areas that would, in the past, have been done by ordered ministry personnel. They, too, are looking for ongoing training and support for these people. Even congregations that still operate with a more conventional model of church are looking for ways to engage their members more deeply in spiritual growth and practice. In all these situations, the ministries for which support is sought are largely focused on the ekklesia — the church gathered.

In some places, there is also a growing recognition that there is an equally urgent need for training and support for the baptized as they exercise their ministry in the diaspora — the church sent into the world. The United Church has given a lot of attention to the work of the church in the world as it addresses systemic injustice and oppression. However, there is room for richer and deeper support for the ministry of the baptized as they live out their faith — as individuals in the places where they live and work and play and as a community of faith in relationship to the neighbourhood in which it exists. As the Rev. David Shearman wrote in a recent post on his blog, “The local church [has been] generally focussed on making sure that worship happens, the sick are visited, the young are raised in the faith and at the end of the day, there is a good and convivial feeling.” Congregations are re-awakening to their calling to be externally focused and to engage their neighbourhoods. They are looking for resources to do that. This includes figuring out what ‘evangelism’ and ‘witness’ mean in a post-Christendom culture and for people for whom those words carry a lot of negative baggage.

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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

The United Church of Canada values its tradition of having an educated clergy. Training for ordered ministry in the United Church of Canada most often involves the person leaving their home congregation to receive a post-graduate education (or its equivalent). It is expected that, after ordination or commissioning, he or she will serve a congregation other than his or her home congregation. There have been and currently are other models of ministerial leadership for the church but this is the one that our denomination has chosen. It is also a model that is under pressure because it is very expensive. Student loans are difficult to repay when the salaries paid to ordered ministry personnel are low. Seminaries and training centres are underfunded and struggle to find alternate sources of income. There are indications that this model may also not be the best way to train people for ministry, either ministry in local congregations for the ekklesia or ministry in the world for the diaspora.

The Report of the Working Group on Leadership Formation for Ministry, with its proposal for “A Competency-Approach to Ministerial Education and Formation”, acknowledged that the present model of training for ministerial leadership “causes undue hardship to people and excludes potential leaders.” It proposes that competency for ministry leadership can happen in many different ways: “e.g. individual courses taken at any number of schools; intensive supervised training like Clinical Pastoral Education; supervised ministry as a Candidate or Student Supply; mentored projects and/or community involvements; certificate or diploma programs; mentored reading and individual study; teaching from elders; time-intensive workshops; cohort learning, etc.”

It recognizes that people are already being trained for leadership in congregations outside the traditional academic pathways: “Studies taken at centres of transformational adult learning, like the United Church’s education and retreat centres, may also be recognized as effective means of achieving some competencies. Innovative programming offered by the EDGE Network and regionally-based initiatives, like B.C. Conference’s LeaderShift, will be similarly recognized and promoted.”

Significantly, it suggests that “such recognition should, in turn, till the ground for the planting and growth of further grassroots, context-responsive, leadership development initiatives.”

When the leadership for a congregation is ‘parachuted in’ from elsewhere and when they come as ‘professionals’, or experts, who have received training and skills that others don’t share, there is a danger that the natural leaders of the congregation are disempowered. The underlying message is that ministry is about having specialized knowledge and skills acquired through  taking courses.

In the New Testament, the criteria for leaders in congregational life is described mostly in terms of their character. In particular, the focus is on character that is shaped by the cross of Christ. Such ‘character’ includes humility, the courage to tell the truth, the willingness to lose one’s life in order to find it, the willingness to be forgiven, to forgive and to live by the grace of God. Admittedly, acquiring such qualifications is not easy but it can be done by all the baptized.

This is not to say that leaders don’t also need to be well-educated in such topics as theology, the scriptures, Christian history, pastoral care and ethics. It is to say that the ways in which people acquire the knowledge they need for ministry and mission in shifting. Even more determinative is the question of what leadership is for. What is needed now is leadership for congregations that are more mission outposts than fortresses of stability and respectability.

The structures and leadership development models that were suited for Christendom do not serve the church well in its new missionary situation. Some congregations are experimenting with new structures. What post-Christendom churches will look like is still taking shape. What is becoming clear, however, is that there will be no single model of ‘church’: local responses to particular contexts will lead to great diversity in models of church and, consequently, greater diversity in the kinds of leadership that is needed. Some congregations are already engaging in innovative experiments to develop the kind of structures and leadership they need.

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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

As the church moves into a new paradigm, ordered ministry personnel find themselves confronting questions about their identity and role.

in the process of moving towards every member ministry, ordered ministry personnel will find themselves having to confront their own need to be needed. “Every member  ministry” will mean that the people of the faith community will look to each other to provide some of the care that, previously, was provided by the ordered minister. Providing care at the deep moments of living and dying is holy work. It is a cherished and life-giving blessing in the work that ordered ministry personnel do. Relinquishing these precious times to other people is difficult. However, when pastoral care rests primarily with one person, the amount and depth of pastoral care that can be provided in that congregation will be limited by the time and strength available to that one person. There is always more care needed in a congregation than one person can provide. There are always more people gifted for ministries of caring than one  person specifically designated for that work. Releasing and equipping those people requires that the ordered minister face up to his or her own need to be needed so as to be free to share that work with others. In conjunction with that personal, spiritual work on the part of the ordered minister, the congregation will also need to develop a sense of mutual responsibility for one another and develop structures and training methods that put that mutual responsibility into practice.

Additionally, being ‘the minister’ in a congregation is “as much a mentality as a status: a mentality of feeling responsible to provide the vision for the church, of leading the church, even running it . . . [a] feeling of indispensability” (R. Paul Stevens, Liberating the Laity, p. 23). Moving towards every-member ministry entails letting go of that mentality. It entails handing control over to the community as a whole as it lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

This is difficult for some ordered ministry personnel because they are conscientious. They see what needs to be done. When nobody else steps forward to do what needs to be done, they take it upon themselves to do it. They know that there are people in the congregation who expect them to do so. They know that there are people who will blame them if it doesn’t get done. They probably share with most people in our culture a deep need to be in control and eliminate uncertainty. Overcoming this mentality requires ongoing, robust spiritual work focused on trusting God more deeply and learning to live in ambiguity.

It must be acknowledged that people in ordered ministry often face great pressure to meet the stated needs of the congregation. There are still some people put ‘the minister’ on a pedestal. Over the past few decades, more roles and tasks have been added onto the basic position. There is little acclaim or encouragement given for pastors to develop the practices of prayer and submission to God’s Spirit that cultivate a deep identity in Christ. However, it is that identity in Christ from which ministry flows. It is that identity in Christ that sets one free to share power and responsibility with the rest of the Body of Christ.

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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

As the church moves into a new paradigm, ordered ministry personnel find themselves confronting questions about their identity and role.

Over past fifty-five years, the United Church has produced a number of papers and studies about the meaning of ministry. These documents reflect a variety of understandings of who ordered ministry personnel are, what they should be doing, and what authority they have in the church. Sometimes, attempts to recognize the ministry of all the baptized have left ordered ministry personnel unclear as to what their role is. If everyone is a minister, have ordained and diaconal ministers been demoted? Are the sacrifices they made to become ordained or diaconal ministers no longer valued?

Pressures about their identity come from other places as well. As the church is pushed more and more to the margins, the status of clergy in their communities has declined.

Betsy Anderson, in The United Church of Canada: A History puts it well:

“As the church in Canada is moved out of the social and cultural centre, ministers are seeking their bearings in a post-Christendom church and culture . . . As congregations call forth lay people to function as ministry personnel, the ordained question their role and value to the church. Issues of authority and authenticity swirl around us as we seek to understand the roles and relationships of ministers and the laity in the institutional and congregational settings of our church in these times.”

Some ordered ministry personnel react to the uncertainty about role and identity by protecting their turf even more fiercely. They seek to retain control of whatever happens in the congregation. They do not encourage the people to find or develop their own gifts for ministry and mission. Even though they may wish that more people would be more committed to the work of the church, they resist giving real power and authority to the rest of the people in the congregation.

On the other hand, some ordered ministry personnel consider the uncertainty as an opportunity to return to the original ground of their call and to discover new dimensions of its exercise within congregational ministry. They recognize a deep fatigue that signals that the system is no longer working. Even so, they encounter a number of obstacles in the path.

For instance, when the term ‘minister’ is used to refer only to ordered ministry personnel, the message communicated is that they are the ones who do ministry. In some sense then, the rest of the congregation are not identified as being ministers. What they do at work, at home and at play is often not considered as doing ministry.

When the ordered minister is considered the real minister, the rest of the congregation can see itself as a group of volunteers rather than as ministers. As volunteers they get to choose how much they will participate in the activities and mission of the congregation. Notably, there are no volunteers in the New Testament. There are communities of people whom the Holy Spirit has commandeered, called and gifted for ministry and mission. Ordered ministry personnel are ministers of and to the community within a community of ministers.

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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

Some structures encourage a culture of passivity. In most United Church of Canada congregations, the current model of church is structured in ways which give the message that the ‘real minister’ is the appointed or settled ordered ministry personnel. For example:
* Meetings of the congregation’s Board or Council cannot be held without the ordered minister present;

* Until recent changes allowing ‘sacraments elders’ and diaconal ministers to administer the sacraments, only ordained ministers could do so.
* According to the Manual, the Session is responsible for the conduct of worship in a congregation. However, many Session members are unaware that they have this responsibility and authority. In practice, it is often the ordered minister who makes the decisions about what will and will not take place. This may also be the case for other committees and functions in the congregation, especially where the ordered minister is the chair of the committee.
* Worship spaces are often set up to facilitate the leadership or performance of the few, especially of the presiding minister and preacher. Typically, one third of the space is reserved for the presider/minister, the choir and the music director. The lighting, sound system and acoustics primarily accommodate the needs of the few who lead worship from the front of the sanctuary.
* Congregations are required to provide money and time for continuing education for their ordered ministry personnel; training for ministry leadership and/or faith formation of all the people is often not included in congregational budgets. When churches cut their budgets, programming areas are often the first to be cut back.

* In most congregations, pastoral care is considered to be primarily the work of ministry staff, rather than the work of the whole Body of Christ for one another. Often people don’t consider that they have been visited by ‘the church’ unless an ordered minister has made the visit.

*Until the 2012 General Council, it was the ordered ministry personnel in a congregation who were considered responsible for keeping the ‘peace and good order’ of a congregation and could be sanctioned for disruptions.
These kinds of structures have cultivated a mindset that fuels dependency on ordered ministry personnel. They leave many congregations with over-functioning clergy and many under-functioning members.

The Holy Spirit calls and gifts all the baptized so that the Church can participate in God’s reconciling mission in the world. That mission is large and life-transforming: it heals and makes new; it sets people free and gives them hope and courage and strength; it challenges people to live at their best and to become more than they were before; it shapes communities where authentic life flourishes. As people participate actively in God’s mission, they experience the thrill of doing something significant with their lives.

When the structures of a congregation give real power and authority mostly to ordered ministry personnel, there are few opportunities and little encouragement for the rest of the baptized community to exercise their Spirit-given gifts and callings. Most of the people become passive consumers of the goods and services of the church rather than active participants in God’s mission. People who want to make a difference with their lives look elsewhere to offer their gifts and time and energy. The congregation loses the full expression of its ministry and mission.

On the other hand, when people feel that they have ownership of the work of the congregation, they are motivated to grow in faith and in the exercise of their gifts. Many new and renewing congregations are creating structures that give power and authority to as many people as possible. Some use spiritual gifts inventories to help people discern their gifts and vocations. The primary focus of the structures is on helping people live into their gifts and callings, not on keeping the organization going.

For example, Eagle Ridge United Church in Coquitlam, British Columbia states in its Philosophy of Ministry: “Leaders of healthy churches understand that one of their primary roles is to equip, support, motivate and mentor individuals to become all that God wants them to be . . . Ministry of all Christians is best performed when in line with a person’s life gifts, spiritual gifts, personality type, values and passions. The role of church leadership is to help its members identify their gifts and integrate them with ministries that match their gifts.”  Convinced that every member is called into and gifted for ministry, the congregation invites everyone to take an inventory, LifeKeys. Through an intensive set of exercises that discern a person’s “spirit-given gifts”, personality, values, and passions, LifeKeys helps people discern what the Spirit has called them to do in service to Christ’s mission. The process can be done in a workshop that takes a day and a half, or in an eight to twelve week seminar series. After taking LifeKeys and having its results interpreted, members are encouraged to join Life Groups, small groups of no more than twelve people who gather regularly around a common interest for spiritual growth and nurture.

Its structures include a Ministry Development Team whose purpose is “to facilitate every member of Eagle Ridge United Church to do ministry . . . [by] regularly providing opportunities for members to discover the direction of their ministry through LifeKeys and following up with each LifeKeys graduate to help them either find a ministry of which they can be a part, or assist them in creating a new ministry. This ministry also oversees and supports the LIFE Group ministry”. People are encouraged to join congregational teams based upon their spiritual gifts.
The whole congregation is also encouraged to develop six spiritual practices as a way of journeying deeper into discipleship. Regular opportunities for deepening spiritual practices are offered.

The congregation recognizes that not everyone will sign up for long-term groups. They will, however, sign up for several short-term group experiences over a long period of time. The pastor, Dave Anderson, draws on Kennon Callahan’s distinction between people who are ‘marathoners’ and those who are ‘sprinters’. Most people these days are sprinters, willing to make only short-term commitments. However, sprinters can be encouraged to become ‘serial sprinters’. They will make a number of short-term commitments over extended periods of time. The leadership of the congregation develops its opportunities for spiritual development with that in mind. They have also discovered that people have a hard time committing to weekly gatherings; they are more open to groups that meet every two weeks. The small group ministry is responsive to those realities.

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