Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Church of England: Life After Clergy?

What does the future hold for the Church of England, and what of the mission of the Church to the nation?
One thing at least is clear. Whereas in the 1960s, the Church could seriously envisage a working staff of some 16,000 full-time clergy (all of them men, incidentally), the Church in 2025 will be working with what, by past standards, would have been regarded as a ‘skeleton crew’.
When I came to the Diocese of Chelmsford in 1983, there were (as I recall) over 600 stipendiary clergy. By 2025, the number of incumbent-level posts will have dropped to 215. To cope with these changes, a diocese of several hundred parishes will be broken down into roughly seventy ‘mission units’ the size of mini-deaneries, each resourced by a centralized team.
Whatever else the future holds, therefore, the days of ‘one parish, one priest’ are over and will not likely return in the lifetime of anyone reading this blog.
The chief reason for this development is simple: recruitment has not kept pace with retirements. Some blame this on lack of imagination, others on lack of money. Whatever, the underlying cause, however, it is not unreasonable to describe the future as ‘life after clergy’.
Yet far from feeling doom and gloom, evangelicals at least ought to be somewhat pleased. It is evangelicals, after all, who have for decades been developing and encouraging the ministry of the whole body of Christ — what, in lay terms, is often called ‘lay ministry’. Finally, the rest of the Church of England is being forced to catch up. As I said at diocesan synod a couple of weeks ago, after working against the grain for so long, it is nice to find the grain has finally moved round to the direction in which we have been going.
Of course, other traditions than evangelicals have been developing the ministry of the body, but historically, though evangelicalism’s ‘lite’ theology of ordination has been an irritation to some, it has nevertheless encouraged the sharing of spiritual responsibility outside the circle of those with their collars turned back-to-front.
It will only be with a massive increase of ‘lay’ ministry that the Church of England will be able to maintain its policy of a presence in every community. If, for example, you have one clergy-person and four or five parishes, as is already the case in parts of the Chelmsford diocese, the choice is simple — either the non-ordained lead and preach or you reduce the number of services.
And if, as is often alleged, the most effective tool for church growth is church-planting, then clearly ‘church-uprooting’, by doing away with the regular, local congregational meeting, is potentially disastrous.
But developing lay ministry ought to do far more than just keep the present show on the road. The Church of England has been toying with lay ministry for decades. Yet despite this, very little has changed. The Church is still highly clericalized. And yet the clergy are fantastically over-stretched. Despite our best intentions, little has changed in practice.
Yet one cannot help wondering whether this is so surprising in an orgnization which insists that if someone is to give out the bread or wine at Holy Communion, they need the authorization of the bishop. Now I am by no means an anti-sacramentalist — on the contrary. But if the Thirty-nine Articles recognize that the unworthiness of the minister does not hinder the effect of the sacrament, what on earth makes us think that giving out the sacrament is an action which requires a certificate from an equally-overstretched bishop?
Arguably, the decline in clergy numbers may finally achieve what our best intentions have hitherto failed to deliver, by finally forcing us into a model of church which, whilst it has room for clergy, is not longer driven by them when it comes to local delivery of ministry.
Rather, the clergy will become more like the Apostles in the New Testament, or as the Chelmsford Diocesan document on the new ministry framework put it, they will themselves become more ‘episcopal’. It will be the local clergy who authorize and equip local ministry, whilst the bishop exercizes, perhaps, a lighter supervisory role.
The immediate question, however, is one of ‘delivery’. How will dioceses like our own deliver laity who can ‘take the lead’ in sufficient numbers within the required time period? And how will we prevent a mere descent into ‘amateurism’? It seems to me this will require a sea change in our spiritual culture.
The fact is that for a considerable period of time the Church of England has esteemed neither learning nor tradition when it comes to doctrine and ministry.
Contrast the mood of the Church of England with that of Islam or Judaism. At least in the conservative wings of both these religions, there is a respect for scholarship and an encouragement of learning. To give just one example, every Muslim (as far as I am aware) is expected to be able to read the Quran in Arabic. Indeed, many can recite it in Arabic in its entirety from quite a young age. Similarly, many Jews are expected to be able to read a text in Hebrew.
Now we should not over-estimate this. In Islam, mere recitation of the text is far more important than understanding it. Yet compare the attitude of Muslims and Jews to that of Christians, where a grasp of Greek and Hebrew is regarded as almost a mystical skill. Indeed, even most clergy have little Greek and no Hebrew whatsoever.
Why is this? The answer, I suggest, is because we have a concept of ‘pastoral ministry’ which emphasizes personal care above intellectual skills. And of course personal care is fundamental. The last thing we want is a community led by the merely intellectual. But might it not be that our attitude to the intellect at this point goes some way to explaining the anti-intellectualism that plagues so much of our Christian doctrinal development and application?
What I am saying is that the future for the Church in its ‘life after clergy’ potentially raises questions we have hardly yet begun to consider and cuts to the very heart of our notion of living the faith and equipping others to do so.
Peronally I am far from despondent. On the contrary, I am excited by the prospect. But I am under no illusions about our ability to deliver. To use a military analogy, of which I am fond, we are like Britain around 1936. Not only are we unready, we have hardly begun to appreciate what we need to get ready for. The next couple of years could be very interesting.
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  1. It is very exciting, and challenging. On the one hand it looks as thought we might get back to the sort of every member ministry that saw Priscilla and Aquila and other non-ordained people leading and teaching. On the other hand we seem to have a long way to go until congregations will accept lay work at that level and to accept that the next step for a lay person with serious bible knowledge is not necessarily to get ordained. We need to train people to know, understand and handle the Bible, to give a reason for the hope that they have. And we need to do it in a very short time. Good courses such as those arranged by the Gospel Partnerships and Cornhill ought to be well subscribed.

    1. Sorry - should have identified myself - David Brock, Elmdon

  2. One idea to solve priest shortages that never seems to get any serious consideration is re-imagining the role of deacons. I can see no reason from the Bible or church history why deacons have to be "priests in waiting". Therefore, I can't see why they require the same level of theological training or on-the-job experience as priests. Not sure what the CofE is like, but in Australia there are a plethora of youth workers, ministry interns/trainees, uni student workers, children's workers etc who would all make great deacons under the supervision of a priest. Why not give that a trial somewhere?

    Another idea I am aware of from Tasmania, where they had similar priest shortage issues, is to form a lay ministry team, of whom some are licenced by the bishop to lead services, preach and celebrate Communion for a specific parish only.

  3. But we'll still need priests to run our Communion Services for us....

  4. "It is very exciting, and challenging. On the one hand it looks as thought we might get back to the sort of every member ministry that saw Priscilla and Aquila and other non-ordained people leading and teaching."

    Agree with David Brock here. This after all, is the New Testament pattern, and one reason why 1 Corinthian 12-14 was penned by the Apostle Paul - apart from many other N.T passages which teach the necessity of multi ministries..
    The one great roadblock to its implementation is of course, the concept of a separated "clergy" class, and the associated presumed need for ordination before ministry can be exercised.
    The "clergy/laity dichotomy mentality needs to be erased from C of E thinking, and other churches entirely, so that a real 'priesthood of all believers' can become a functioning reality as the N.T. envisages.
    In fact, what some of us advocate is a thoroughgoing reformation of the doctrine of the church for all our mainline churches, many of which have been ossified in a time warp for centuries - all far from the simplicty of the N.T. pattern.
    The reason why the so called 'laity' are perpetually ill equipped for ministry is probably due to the fact that existing church structures simply forbid the exercise of any spiritual input at church gatherings, which are totally dominated by the ordained.

  5. It's interesting from me looking at this. Having worked in the C of E, now in EPC.

    We have ordained elders, who share Pastoral oversight of the congregation. But these elders with "proper" jobs, want a "trained" elder to take a lead. What's interesting is that I think most of our Ministers are trained to Masters level, & a disproportionate have PhDs, Greek & Hebrew is a prerequisite to being a Minister. So pastoral oversight and leadership is genuinly shared, whilst training is treasured. What I often saw in the C of E, was people looking for ways round training (especially more academic stuff).

    We also have a functioning Deaconate and of course the usual army of people serving in kids/youth groups, music ministry etc. I've got to say, I've been pretty bowled over by the culture of inviting people to things too.

    So, in 1 sense we have NO lay leadership, but the line between ordained and lay is more blurry and laity have a greater ownership. Elders and deacons are appointed by the congregation on the basis of - that's what they were doing anyway. Ministers are usually parachuted in.

    The opportunity John describes has potential. But it would need a culture shift and a re-think as to why churches think they need an ordained minister for, what they should do... & what do you need bishops for. In the NT where bishops and elders are used interchangeably, there is no doubt some sort of "chairing" or presidency, but among equals, rather than a distinct class. So, the whole thing needs a re-think, rather than, "how can we cope with these limited resources"... but I would say that.

    Darren Moore

  6. It is not clear how the Evangelical understanding of Article XIX will be served by replacing parish churches with deanery-sized teams, or who will be the Pastor in such an enterprise. I suspect that the result of this will be that only the church which has an ordained minister will survive long term, since the model of parish church + congregation = pastor which we have inherited is a very strong paradigm for the Church of England's identity. The seventy "mission units", in other words, will be the (vast) parishes of the future, replacing the existing 600.

    Would it not be better to call and train 600 people - existing lay ministers, Readers and new vocations - and send them to be pastors and leaders where congregations and churches already exist?

    Or 1200 people - and plant 600 new congregations?

    Stephen Trott

  7. Would it not be better to call and train 600 people - existing lay ministers, Readers and new vocations . . . . .- or 1200 people - and plant 600 new congregations?

    Stephen. One is bound to ask: where would 600 people come from? Who would train them?
    and "plant 600 new congregations"? Just like that! Such a revolution has not been seen since the spiritual revival associated with the rise of early Methodism, and the massive evangelistic and church building labours of the Wesley brothers and Whitefield. Then new churches were being established on an almost daily basis - because they took N.T. principles seriously!

    The solution in part, as I suggest, is to abolish entirely the artificial clergy/laity divide, and make a start on implementing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and allow these to function in the regular congregational meetings as Paul teaches.
    Eph.4:11-16; 1 Cor.12-14; & Romans 12 all chart the way ahead. Why are such passages completely ignored in this context?
    As a contemporary writer states: "In many local churches one sees little evidence that it is the Holy Spirit who has appointed various persons to specific ministries. There is a reason, and it is crucial. The New Testament assumes certain preconditions, and where these preconditions are lacking, N.T. results will not follow. Paul's teachings about the gifts of the Spirit assume a N.T. view of the church"
    Many churches are so deeply institutional that the only way out is by way of renewal along N.T. lines.
    As ever, the Bible itself has the answers - it simply needs applying!

    1. I guess the Diocese already has a significant number of theologically trained lay ministers, especially its Readers, but also serving in other authorised ministries. If the Church of England is going to be serious about re-evangelising then it should deploy resources like these at the front line, with whatever training is necessary. It will be necessary for some to be ordained, since the Church of England is never going to authorise lay administration of Holy Communion, but what is a "priest" other than someone who has been authorised to administer Holy Communion?

      It is better not to let the ordained/lay question get in the way. Every diocese has considerable resources which are at present simply going through the motions of maintaining the familiar patterns of worship and ministry. If all (or as many as possible) were commissioned explicitly to be pastors of existing churches, or to plant new churches, we might see the kind of revival which the Wesleys witnessed.

      600 or 1200 are just figures plucked from the air, but if the dioceses do not start to call people to be pastors and evangelists then they won't come forward.

      If however a diocese were to undergo this (admittedly radical) shift, then I believe that there are many, many people who would respond because it would give them permission to evangelise in a way which has been impossible for many generations within the Church of England (and why the Wesleyan Revival took place outside the CofE).

      The only thing holding us back (we have resources of which the Wesleys could not have dreamed) is our own unconscious conformity with the kind of Church which we have always experienced.


  8. The CofE is by far the most important denomination in England, despite parts of it having walked away from the Bible. Although I left the CofE for a non-conformist church eighteen months ago, utterly frustrated by the way it was run, it is of vital importance to the people of England that all that is good in the Anglican church is preserved and built upon, whilst all that is bad is disposed of.

    The problem is, the power to make the necessary decisions rests with the wrong people, people who are, in many cases, the problem themselves. I refer to the bishops and their diocesan staff.

    The problem is primarily one of resources - basically money and buildings. When money is short, the dioceses cut back on paid clergy. This is completely wrong.

    In the first instance, there needs to be a massive church CLOSURE programme. I estimate that 50% of all churches have attendance of less than 25. Many have only ten. It is not economic to keep buildings open for such small numbers, and they should be transferred to house groups, or something similar. This is not "church-uprooting" but "church-transplanting" from the cold expensive church building to the warm, low cost greenhouse of a small group. For every three church closures, you could employ another member of clergy.

    Next, clear out most of the diocesan staff. They serve no useful purpose. For each central position gone, you can afford another paid member of clergy.

    Is this all possible? Very difficult. Look how hard it is to make cuts at government level - even though there actually no cuts, just a slowdown in increases! Everyone would plead that they were a special case. The bishops in particular. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

    The key achievement would be to introduce a greater degree of congregationalism, so that each congregation had more "skin in the game" when they gave money or took decisions. I hate paying tax, as I thin k it will be wasted. I am happy to contribute to my own congregation, as I can see how it is spent (and have a say, too).

    This is what Synod should really be talking about, not fussing - one way or the other - about women bishops. They should be campaigning to cut the powers of the bishops, and increase the powers of the congregations.

    A good example happened here in Cheltenham. Six months ago, 30 or so people left a local Anglican church and set up their own church, meeting in an office block. Now, they are employing a vicar / pastor, whatever you want to call him. The local church they left, 10 or 15 times larger, cannot afford to pay their own staff, weighed down as they are by a rapacious diocese and unnecessary buildings. Whether they should have left is not the point. The point is, when you are giving to a local church for use by the local church, you give generously.

    Localism. Very 21st century. And for the CofE, the only alternative to obliteration.


    1. For the avoidance of doubt, can I say that the David above is not me - David Brock.

  9. David, I know what you mean. But does God always use the "important"?

    Graham, I know what you mean! But rather than abolish clergy/lay distinction, how about a Biblical more nuanced understanding. In Ephesians 4 (which you reference), there are certain "word ministers" who are you equip the Saints. So "clergy" equip Saints for works of service. Bishop/elders have their place, but they aren't the "dress-up & do the magic" place that's often given to them by the "laity" nor the lording it over they might take themselves. So, it comes back to the What are they? question, which will lead to some sort of reform - rather than get rid of them. (the Brethren tried that. x-Brethren people tell me a new un-elected/selected tyranny emerges their too)

  10. Darren. Thanks for your comment. I still cannot understand why you cling to the 'clergy/laity mindset. The word 'clergy' itself is a misnomer anyway - (it comes from the Gk 'kleros' which simply means 'lot', or 'inheritance' which of course is a description of all christians)
    laity? (from Gk 'laos' which means people).
    Why use such artifical terms which in todays context includes a professional "minister", separate from the people in terms of a segregated ministry, status, and "ordained" - in other words an institutionalised professional. That is far from the N.T.
    True, Eph 4 and the Corinthian passages mentioned indicate that the WHOLE body of Christ is to be involved in ministry. True, also that "elders" play a part in that process but only as a mean to an end, not as an end in itself. Thus Paul states that they are indeed to equip the saints for THEIR work of ministry. The present structures of the C of E and other mainline churches completely exclude the actual functioning of mutual ministries in the church.
    It is interesting that the N.T has no less than 58 references to those mutual ministries in the phrase "one another". That is what 1 Cor 12-14 describes, and as actually functioning in the Corinthian church, albeit with some abuses which the Apostle addresses.
    The Brethren? Their principle of mutual ministries certainly gets nearer to the N.T., but in recent times they have largely abandoned the concept for the familiar 'one man ministry' and the elevation of -"the pastor" and thus are departing from their own principles.

  11. Thanks Graham,

    Frustratingly, I gave a great reply, which the computer deleted! Not sure I can be so to the point again, ever, on anything.

    Yes, you're right; clergy/laity is a bad distinction/terms. Also, of course remember by context, I'm not defending an Anglican system!

    A better way to think might be, the whole body of Christ. Which will include the office of bishop/elder/shepherd & deacons. 1 Cor 9:13-14, there is a place for a paid "Minister", drawn on a continuity/parrallel of OT f-t ministry. 1 Peter 5, role of Elder there, Phil 1:1, addressed to bishops and deacons. I think too in the Pastorals there is a place for ordaining...

    BUT don't impose an Anglican mindset on that! The point of those minsistries is to release people into ministry/service. For sure - mutual encouragement, yeah,yeah, great. Ministry isn't something the Vicar does to the people, but something people do to/for each other.

    Also, we ordain non-professional elders. Because we have an eldership, we've found it far less them & us, less, "rebelling against the man" & all that. People had far more say in who they have as elders, including the f-t paid one.

    A number of churches also lay a premium on "training", getting people equipped to do stuff. But really that's a bishop/elder job.

  12. The clergy/laity divide is unhelpful (and I recall that "Eucharistic Presidency" points out that we're all laity but some of the laity are ordained). But the great thing about what is going on in Chelmsford is that the Diocesan Bishop is leading an initiative which should in practice mean that more lay people (at this point I am going to follow Eucharistic Presidency and opt to use “laity” to mean non-ordained – fewer keystrokes that way) are given leadership roles in our churches, thus more closely following the NT model and using the varied talents in our churches. Sadly, much of the paper produced by the Diocese focuses on structures and I fear there is going to be a tendency to concentrate on the trellis rather than the vine in the debates which follow. Yes the trellis is important, but as Marshall and Payne point out it’s an easy distraction for our energies. I am for example tempted to argue here that the idea that the ministry units embrace all the traditions of the church is going to make things rather difficult. So let’s welcome the change of attitude to lay leadership and pray that it will become accepted both by congregations and by clergy.
    But I come back to the question of how we are going to train up these people in sufficient numbers. In the first place I would hope that there is a core of able people who already have the skills in a sound biblical way. They should be used and if necessary their training needs to be supplemented. Meanwhile there will need to be others in their wake, and they need nurturing and instructing. This is where clergy have a huge role to play. Just like Paul, Timothy and there must have been others – if Priscilla and Aquila could do it, I suspect Apollos and Barnabas were at it too. Paul managed to found and leave a church at Thessalonica with capable elders very swiftly. And without wishing to skimp on quality I hope that at Chelmsford we can get away from the current requirement that all those who wish to train as readers undertake two years of preliminary study before commencing the two year reader training course. The document says that from beginning a vocational conversation it is likely to take two to five years to produce a reader. The two year end of that timescale is totally unachievable at present.
    But we need also to address the issue of where we train people. And here I would make a plea that we respect the traditions in the church and allow these new lay leaders to be trained by institutions and course providers which accord with their traditions.

    David Brock, Elmdon

  13. (3) The Sacraments must be delivered to the Church. The bishop must make sure that they have learnt the manner and the meaning of their observance. They must be taught how to administer them, and how to receive them, practically. They must not be allowed to think, as some of them may have gathered from their observation of a Mission Station, that Baptism is the end of a long probation during which a man has proved his capacity to observe Christian laws; but they must think of it as the beginning of a Christian life which a man cannot live without God’s Grace. They must be taught how to administer it, and if necessary they must be warned of the gave dangers which may ensue if they abuse its use, dangers from which the whole congregation, and the whole Christian Church may suffer. They must be taught how to administer the Holy Communion, and how to receive it, and that in a very practical way. They must be taught the meaning of the Holy Communion, and here I am very bold. I have a profound belief in the power of the Sacraments. I believe that in a Divine way the use of them teaches the teachable their inward meaning so that the Church grows by degrees into a deeper and deeper sense of the Divine Grace imparted in them; and therefore I think that we need be in no hurry to attempt to teach new converts all that we think we know about them. I think it suffices if we begin with some one aspect of the Holy Communion, and that the one which our converts can most easily apprehend, whether the Common Meal at which Christ is the Host, or the Common Sacrifice which all offer together, or the Common Thanksgiving for the Common Salvation through the death of Christ. If they learn one of these in its simplest form, they can learn the others by degrees. Much they will learn without any teaching from others, by their reading of the Bible in common, much from participation; for in the common rite they will find in experience a common bond between Christian and Christian, and of all with Christ. And by degrees they will discover the profound significance of such Communion with one another and with Christ. Thus the first teaching need not be long or difficult of apprehension. This is what I mean by the delivery of the Sacraments to the Church: they should be delivered to the Church as a whole; and the Church as a whole should be responsible for their proper observance. When the Corinthians misused the Lord’s Supper, St. Paul rebuked the whole Church. (Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church)

  14. 1. Everyone should read “If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him” by Justin Lewis-Anthony. One of the best books on specifically Anglican ministry I have ever read, much better than most evangelical books because he has more idea of what a “normal” parish is like.

    2. The decline in the numbers of stipendiary clergy means the death of the parish system. This has never worked in cities, but now it has collapsed in the countryside too. The parish system depended on “one priest, one parish”. These are the very things that the Church of England encourages by merging parishes into multi-parish benefices: an utterly insane idea. Once you no longer have one man, one parish, you no longer have a parish system. Unfortunately, the C of E doesn’t seem to recognise this, and sticks with a romanticised ideal of “a presence in every community”- claims to this are delusional.

    3. “Mission units” – “super parishes” are a way of managing decline. They make the full-time, paid pastor a distant figure (like the diocesan bishop) who doesn’t have the personal contact with people that the old “parish priest” had. The C of E must stop thinking in terms of parishes and start thinking in terms of congregations, and each congregation needs to have a pastor, some one who is set aside, trained, and paid. This means that we have to bite the bullet and close churches. Lots of them.

    4. Call me cynical, but isn’t the real motivation behind “mission units” and multi-parish benefices the centralization of power? That is the classic response of a bureaucratic organisation facing a crisis. It goes with the elimination of freehold, the introduction of common tenure, and the dumbing down of ministry training (every authoritarian regime is afraid of education: it encourages people to think for themselves- that is one of the reasons behind the “anti-intellectualism” that John identifies). It also means the homogenization of churches: no more pesky conservative evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics (or really radical liberals for that matter). And does anyone seriously think that churches will grow with the bland leading the bland?

    5. It is good to see diocesan authorities encouraging lay ministry, and thinking of models where the clergyman’s role is to train and equip others (meshes with what Sydney diocese have been saying for years eg The Trellis and the Vine), but they don’t seem to appreciate the challenges that this faces. First, there is an assumption that there are hordes of lay people out there with bags of time on there hands to take over ministry. In fact, anyone who has tried to start a ministry team will tell you that aren’t. It’s hard enough to find people to be on PCC, warden, treasurer etc. Second, diocesan authorities are often talking to the wrong people. The assumption seems to be that clergy want a clericized church and are unwilling to hand over ministry to lay people, who are champing at the bit to be trained. In fact, most clergy are heavily over worked, and would love to do this. The problem is that many- maybe most- lay people want the old model where the vicar knows everyone and does everything.

    6. There is a great danger in the expectation that ministry can be handed over to local “lay” people. I have seen this happen: people look around and, encouraged by the diocese say “our vicar can’t take all the services- we need a lay reader”. So someone is encouraged into preaching ministry who isn’t really gifted for it or called to it, just because someone is needed to do the job and keep things going (and of course they are not trained for it either). Of course there are many lay readers etc who are gifted and called; but the pressure is such that we are going to see many more disasters.

    7. If evangelicals are serious about both reforming the Church, and the conversion of England, they will complete the Reformation by replacing PCCs and churchwardens with elders and deacons. Arguing about the clergy/laity distinction is a red herring.

    Stephen Walton

    1. Stephen

      You make a number of really good points. Can I respond to some of them?

      Your para 4 – homogenisation – this may indeed be a danger, and it is especially so at the training level. But if we get the training level right, using the resources already provided by e.g. the Gospel Partnerships and Cornhill (if you’re an evangelical – I assume there are others for other traditions) I would hope that can meet the challenge. Instead, dioceses and deaneries tend to set up their own training institutions and programmes (at least that is what has happened in Chelmsford) which, being diocesan/deanery, are almost inevitably going to be homogeneous, thereby satisfying few students and causing distrust among many.

      Para 5 – who wants the old clerical model? You are right to identify the laity as among those who want a clergy led church. And in fairness, they will want some guarantees of quality, for example that what they are being told from the pulpit is true. Laity are also quick to suggest that x should get ordained because x has a good understanding of scripture. This suggests that laity do not themselves expect to have that understanding and insight themselves. How can we address this?

      Para 5 – are there enough lay people out there wanting to be take on leadership roles? I don’t know but it is interesting that in Chelmsford diocese over 100 people a year enrol for its Course in Christian Studies which is a gateway(/hurdle) to training as an LLM/Reader and for other service in the church. Of course we don’t know how many of the 100+ are doing the course so as to be able to serve.

      Para 7 – good point but how many battles should we fight? (And it sounds like a trellis point to me.) I like the way Richard Bewes when Rector of All Souls Langham Place used to encourage people to stand for election to the PCC; he would include the suggestion that they read 1 Tim 3 in considering their suitability, always saying that whilst it isn’t exactly applicable it is helpful.

      And your para 1 – poor old George Herbert – let’s remember his superb Christian poetry too.

      David Brock - Elmdon

  15. Stephen wrote: "Arguing about the clergy/laity distinction is a red herring."

    On the contrary, it reaches into the very heart of the unbiblical structures of church and ministry, and as I asserted in my earlier post, the greatest roadblock to the actual practice of ministry by the WHOLE church when gathered, and in particular the functioning of a priesthood of all believers when the church is gathered.
    Because the N.T knows nothing of "clergy" that fact that a separate class of the "ordained" permeates our vocabulary and practice illustrates that we do not take the N.T very seriously.

    The "clergy" practice is a heresy (strong word but justified IMO) for the common priesthood of every believer (as assumed throughout the N.T.) is a grace and privilege which belongs to every member of the born again community of believers - a privilege which Jesus purchased for us on the Cross. Paul works out in great detail the answer to this man-made deeply entrenched tradition, or system of mono-clerical ministry in his letter to the Corinthians (chap 12-14) and lays down the basic premise that the body (of Christ) is not "one part, but many"
    I suggest that the current clericalism and institutionalised system of which it is a part, is by no means a "red herring" therefore, but a vital issue that needs to be urgently addressed and reformed.
    Graham. (York)

  16. Well, I'm in a minority among commenters here perhaps, but I'm one evangelical who's at least as excited as John that

    "the decline in clergy numbers may finally achieve what our best intentions have hitherto failed to deliver, by finally forcing us into a model of church which, whilst it has room for clergy, is not longer driven by them when it comes to local delivery of ministry. Rather, the clergy will become more like the Apostles in the New Testament, or as the Chelmsford Diocesan document on the new ministry framework put it, they will themselves become more ‘episcopal’. It will be the local clergy who authorize and equip local ministry, whilst the bishop exercizes, perhaps, a lighter supervisory role."

    Exactly! And it really is working in a number of churches in the diocese of Chelmsford.

    Where I'm not sure John and I agree 100% is about how much 'learning' is needed for public ministry. For example I'm meeting with a small group of people - one of whom has been a Christian for only a couple of years and comes from an unchurched background - to get them going as preachers (team-preaching for six minutes each to start with); all being well, the diocese will authorise them on the understanding that they get support from me as they begin and complete an agreed and not overly onerous training course within three years. The idea is that they can learn on the job, rather than having to be trained first and only allowed to 'minister' later. Yes, they may not be very learned; but I would suspect that what they say will be more worth listening to than what you'd get from a lot of PhD-ed experts!

    As for "one man, one parish" - Chelmsford South Deanery (21 churches) now has no examples of parishes with one full-time paid minister. None. This gives challenges, but is surely a lot better than the old system where the same person preached the majority of sermons, visited the majority of the sick, did the majority of whatever evangelism they had time for and led the majority of services in one place, week in, week out, and everyone else was expected to do what the vicar told them...

    Andy Griffiths

  17. Andy, actually we have a group of preachers which sounds very similar to your own. It was set up donkeys years ago under one of the previous bishops of Chelmsford who gave official approval to the scheme. Only one of the original members is still with us, but we add people on as and when we think they might have a gift for this sort of thing. The initial training is minimal, but we get them all together once a month or so for training and they are constantly supervised by the clergy. It works very well and we couldn't manage without them.

  18. Andy, I both strongly agree... & disagree with you.

    Of course, we should be whisking people into ministry pretty quickly. We've got a bunch of students, 2 were converted just before Christmas, they seem to be the ones running the CU now! or at least outreach, & doing well. Yep, no hanging around, get people doing things ASAP. & yep, train as they do.

    But some of what you said could only be said by an English-man. I'm sure that the person you have in mind has more to say than some PhD people... but doesn't that rather depend on the person with the PhD, & what it was in? I gave the example earlier, because in our Presbytery, the guys are all very mission/ministry focused, but still find talking about things to do with God very exciting and want to do that at a very deep level, rather than just being about jobs in church.

    Related to that, if we want to get rid of clergy/laity distinction, the way to do that is educate laity! Something you'll find outside of the C of E (I've found it in the C of E too, but not as obviously) is "ordinary" folk being extrodiarily well read in theology, often having their favourite Church Father, Reformer and Puritan... & this isn't just in "posh" areas, much to the annoyance of some "formally educated" people, that such people have "over-taken" them in their knowledge of the Bible, theology and, let's be frank... God. So if you want to KEEP the lay/clergy distinction, make sure that your training is JUST practical, & theologically superficial... if we can make clergy training the same, so their difference is merely status, then the distinction will be written in stone.

    Also, yes get people doing stuff, but remember, "not to be hasty in laying on hands" & "Those who teach will be judged more strictly" & the like.

    Sorry to sound like a non-conformist at this point, but where does the doctrine of Church fit in? This is where Steve Walton had a point. Pastors are to Pastor, a flock (which means training, educating and realising them into ministry). But we need to define a flock. So, he's idea of closing some, may long term save many.

    Our denomination, you may find comically small and most of our congregations aren't large either. BUT, we have, 4-6 plants being talked about, a couple will happen shortly. 3 of our churches are only a few years old, the rest are no older than early 20s. All started by a planter + a few in a Bible study, then met for Sunday worship, then became viable. They've grown because each congregation is treated as an entity, nurtured, cared for, people equipped. If they are not viable after a certain length of time, they close (it's happened once or twice in the past 25 years). So, we're all small, but growing, & maturing.

    I think John's point that kicked this off, is that there are opportunities. But when you walk through Chelmsford passed Diocesan HQ, there are enough people employed there to staff your 21 churches (& beyond). So, is it going to be the thing that shakes up the church, or managed decline to keep some buildings & a central office going (we don't have a central office or central staff).

    The real question there is, how did the current situation come about? Not to blame anyone, but because if the situation hasn't really changed, you can't turn it around.

  19. hi Darren! i think we probably agree on a lot of this. and i certainly am English, though i would say that i spent 5 years training churchplanters in hungary, and some clergy there were loath to give our students ministry exposure too, so some of these issues might be international...
    sorry, i didn't mean to suggest that all people with PhDs aren't worth listening to.
    and as for merging congregations - i'm in print strongly advocating it in some cases, and so is the bishop of Chelmsford. but that's a separate matter from the need to devolve a lot of the teaching and pastoring to people not paid by churches. i hope your denomination goes from strength to strength.
    john, we are in even stronger accord on this than i thought.
    andy griffiths

  20. Thanks for that Andy,

    I think actually the differences people have voiced here are within quite a close range of views. That's not to say, not worth knocking around a bit. Especially Graham Wood, whom I think we're agreeing with... mostly

    One thing I remember when training & the whole, "where to go" question is that people often muddle in their mind, "practical ministry" (best learned on the job) & "Theology", of course the 2 are related. Theology by itself can be self indulgent, practical ministry, by itself, is sentimental & long term ineffective. The medical professions is a useful analogy, there are lots of jobs/roles. But would you want someone to perform open heart surgery on you, if they weren't properly trained, not just in the skills of cutting & stitching, but biology etc. Sometimes we make ministry sound a bit too easy.

    There's a bit of a balance, like the old; the Bible is deep enough for an elephant to swim, or baby to paddle. We want to encourage the babies to paddle... & go deeper. But we do need to go deeper. Churches are often characterised by superficiality.

    I'm also English (but married to & son of a Scot), although in (for it's size & location - also Chelmsford) quite an international church. What I meant was not the English withhold exposure, but they dis education. So what we need as we train up people in church is try to get them the best stuff we can. Certainly some courses out their, like Growth Groups, some of the regional training courses and youth/kids work days are great. The 6 steps courses, 2 ways to live, all very good at giving people confidence to have a go. My memory of Diocesan courses was that they were very "lowest common denominator" & often not great. That's not the same as; me not agreeing with the content (there often wasn't much to agree/disagree with), although I'm sure at points that came into it. That's another reason I wouldn't be filled with excitement about it.

    But say this is all embraced whole-heartedly. Will this change the culture. For e.g. people have mentioned laity/clergy false distinction. Will it stop people taking some layer of exalted title, dressing up, parading in, best seats at the banquet? I imagine it will get worse as "clergy" become more of a novelty. And the questions about HOW a Church needed to share it's meagre resources got to that stage. Which I think is more to do with theology, than "how to".

  21. I notice that in all the posts thus far the constant assumption of the clergy/laity divide continues- but one must ask why?
    Are we reading different Bibles on the matter of ministry? Lets be clear, the "clergy" system has become a massive institution, a hierarchical structure that bears no relation to what Scripture teaches about ministry in the church of Christ.
    Of course there is to be leadership in the church, and the norm is via a spiritually qualified plurality of elders and the qualifications (not necessarily wholly academic) are in terms of spiritual maturity and adherence to sound doctrine - as set out in the Pastoral letters.
    If there is not a hint of a "professional" and separated "clergy" in the whole of the N.T - why
    is it perpetuated? Itr has its roots not in the N.T. but rather in a post-apostolic tradition.

    Some practical steps to reverse this artifical and spiritually damaging situation:
    * Stop using the title "Reverend", and allusions to "clergy" and "laity"

    * Renounce a "clergy" status and see elders/pastors as part of the 'laos' of God's church.

    * Affrim that the entrenched cleargy system is indeed a mere tradition of men, and actually militates against a true functioning priesthood of all believers as the N.T. teaches.

    * Instruct the brethren that all aspects of caring for one another in spiritual ministry is a responsibility of the WHOLE body of Christ, not some separated elite.

    * Adopt a teaching style where dialogue occurs and questions/insights from others are encouraged, instead of a 'flat' monologue delivery of a diet of sermons.

    Paul's letter to the Corinthians charts (chaps. 12-14) the way - why is it not acceptable as God's pattern for church government and order - or do we not believe these passages are part of the God's word?

  22. Graham,

    Sorry... how is that different to what I am saying?

    I am saying, "Rev", robes etc. - ditch. I'm saying there is an ordained office in the NT. But that part of their role is to "release" people. I'm saying that some people can be paid to do this. But I notice that some Churches have elders, deacons and staff, where not all staff are elders/deacons & vice versa.

    I think that there is a correct view of someone's position "in the Lord" (1 Thess 5:12-13, Heb 13:7 &17). I've noticed in more hierarchical institutions which enforce a clergy/lay distinction, that there is in fact LESS respect for office holders and a them & us thing & a "rebellion" in the ranks. The more elders etc. are seen as a different part of a whole body, then the more "respect" there is for the office.

    So, I can't see what I'm saying that's different Graham. I'm saying, "let's not ditch elders/deacons, they're in the NT", but let's give them their Biblical role. The issue becomes WHAT do these people do. If you answer right, then what John talked about at the start becomes a great opportunity for the sort of thing your talking about. Get it wrong & either there will be chaos, or there will be even more pomp & ceremony because of the novalty of having the Vicar here this morning. Or in all likelihood, both.

    Calvin has a good crack at this in Book IV. I think largely he gets the balance right.

  23. Graham,

    You're in York aren't you. Is this Church more up your street?

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  25. Thank you for this post. I have often thought that the reason clericalism is a heresy is that by giving an unwarranted importance to the priest, it actually diminishes what their Christ given mandates are (fully detailed in the Great Commission and the duties we read the Apostles carrying out throughout the NT). As an ignorant lay person, from what I've read it seems that the pastoral duties in the Church are duties for everyone, from deacons (especially within the early church) to the laity. The priests are the spiritual descendants of the Apostles - their job is to perform the sacraments that they have been entrusted to and maintain the Truth and Traditions of the Church. Everything else can be said to be up to us.

    The irony is that in attempting to perform other roles, what I have seen is that far too many priests are deficient in performing their precise duties - i.e. teaching, explaining, discipline and administering the sacraments. In a sense it could be said that so long as there is a bishop in each diocese, one has enough clergy.

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