Fruitful Growth

10 December 2010

I have recently been involved in a number of conversations with congregations deeply concerned with how to ‘grow’ their church.  It sometimes feels as though they are looking for ‘the’ answer to this concern, or a formula for them to follow.   Such conversations have encouraged me to recover a paper which I wrote following my last sabbatical, where I looked at what we really mean by Church Growth and the foundations which are needed for real growth in the life of the Church.

You can find the paper on this site – “and he cursed that tree…”

Ordinands – quality not quantity

6 July 2009

The ordination at St James Grimsby yesterday morning was full of excitement, anticipation and celebration.  The four new deacons ordained in the north of the Diocese of Lincoln yesterday bring to the church a depth of gifts and competencies which bode well for the future.

Frequently I find that conversations with congregations seem to suggest that the quantity of those coming into and available for stipendiary ministry is the important issue.  I think, however, that it is the quality of those coming forward which will resource the church most effectively in God’s mission and ministry.

As the cost of employing priests increasingly depends on the generosity of congregations, we need to ensure that those in stipendiary ministry bring a quality and competancy  which supports such generosity.  At the same time, the church needs to ensure that it is using all vocations to ministry in such a way as to honour the gifts and talents of those call by God not only into the ordained ministry but also into Reader and other lay ministeries.  Justin Lewis-Anthony recent book – “If you meet George Herbert on the road, Kill Him” challenges the Church of England to rethink how we unfold the practice of priestly ministry.  As the resource of stipendiary ministry reduces, it is time for us to understand how best to use the gifts and talents of those who respond to the call of God.

Just repeating pattens of ministry from the past by stretching the resourse of the stipendiary ordained ever further is a questionabe strategy for mission and ministry.  Lewis-Anthony asks pertinent questions and it is down to us  in the local church, in deaneries and in parishes to respond creatively – if we are to use the gifts and talents of those ordained yeasterday effectively in the cause of the Gospel.

Grimsby Ordination

Whither the church……

21 June 2008

One of the most demanding aspects of being a church leader today is in helping the people of the parishes engage with the way in which the church is evolving.  This isn’t about the headline issues of women and sex, but the reality that year-by-year there are fewer vicars in the church.  In addition, there is also the challenging factor that a significant proportion of those who are currently vicars, are aged over 50.  This means that there are going to be some further challenges ahead when these people come up to retirement in 10 or 15 years time.

The problem is that we have developed a model for being the church which is associated with the figure of ‘The Vicar’.  So the generous and effective ministry of non-stipendiary priests and others offering ministry This cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘The Dave Walker Guide to the Church’, published by Canterbury Press.whilst still having jobs etc. is too often understood in terms of ‘filling gaps’ where we don’t have vicars, rather than being an authentic expression of the church’s ministry.

Much of our conversation as a church has been about individual vocation.  In our diocese we have invested a significant amount into individual vocation, thus developing non-stipendiary ministry, licensed lay ministers (Readers) and lay people to undertake a aspects of pastoral ministry within the parish.  This has been very fruitful and productive, but it continues to concentrate on the individual rather than developing the Christian community in its life together.

We have actually invested relatively little into discovering the vocation of the church in its local context.  Yet I think that the most important question facing the church is  what does God need from his church in our society and culture?     So, an enormous amount of time and energy is put into continuing the existing model, without addressing this fundamental question about the vocation of the church.  Indeed, I find that people can become quite grumpy when having to address the implications of there being fewer stipendiary priests (vicars) in the church – some even see it as a kind of Episcopal plot to “take away our vicar”.

If people are not feeling called to the full-time stipendiary ministry, then I believe that we have to respond to that reality – which is perhaps a God-given reality.  There are still a good number of people offering themselves for the full-time ministry, but at a rate which does not match the resignations and retirements.  So there will be fewer vicars to be shared out across the deaneries and benefice of the Church of England.

The mission and ministry of the church is, however, just as vital today as when we were blessed by an ability to have a priest in nearly every parish.  If the local church is to adjust to a new context for its mission and ministry, then we need to rediscover the vocation for the church with in its community.  I suspect that we will do this best if we engage with the realities of change, rather than I trying to avoid them.

If we invest in discovering our vocation as the people of God, then the patterns for our mission, ministry and worship won’t be better or worse than the past – but just authentic to our calling to be that people of God, serving the communities in which we are set. Being authentic is probably to be prized most about our ministry.

The cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘The Dave Walker Guide to the Church’, published by Canterbury Press.