Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What kind of ministers do we want?

I've been thinking about this post from Andy, On (not) being ordained. You need to read it, but in short, he describes his journey to the point firstly, of being called to ordination training as a pioneer minister, and now, of deciding not to proceed to ordination. 

It's something of a cry of the heart, but also reflective and challenging. Andy reveals a certain degree of hurt without being at all bitter. He exposes some of the weaknesses of the modern Church of England, but is still able to affirm its strengths.  Two observations particularly struck me. The first was "old habits die hard - actually, many of those old habits don't need to die".  Although it's a truism, the reminder that "traditional church" is still where it's at for most churchgoers is a challenge to the way in which we present new ways of doing church.  The second is much sharper - "there is a degree of salesmanship in any church ministry".  I don't think Andy means this as a condemnation of ministers - just a statement of fact. But it's still a challenge to the conscience of those of us who are in ministry, as to whether we're selling the product with integrity, or have resorted to blarney and bluster to convince the punters. 

I think Andy's piece also exposes some deep fault lines in current thinking within the Church of England.

The first one is that our ordination training has too many inbuilt tendencies to failure, with a huge waste of human resources as a result. Andy has fallen foul of one of them - that it is quite easy for selection panels to cheerfully recommend a candidate for a specific type of ministry, and then for him to find years later, at the end of his training, that there isn't a job for him in that type of ministry.  The Ordained Pioneer Minister track is a great idea in principle, but many more experiences like Andy's will kill it stone dead. And how many OPMs have already been shoehorned into curacies that are basically "old-style" with a bit of youth work or something tacked on?  OPM trainees need to be guaranteed OPM curacies.

The second one is deeper, and harder to fix.  The blossoming of new ideas about ministry is welcome and has led to a healthy diversity, both of people entering the ordained ministry, and the available roles for them. The downside of this is that there is a huge amount of confusion about the role of ministers, and most of the time we no longer know what kind of ministers we want, or what we want from them. 

Or, to be more precise, we do in fact know what we want, because there are a number of good models of ministry out there. But what we find it difficult is to allow individual ministers to be any one of them.  The job advert asking for a vicar to be a pastor, visionary, teacher, leader, evangelist and administrator may be a cliché, but it is one found every week in the pages of the Church Times.  But what is true of curates is true of all clergy. Each has their own set of giftings and strengths, and these reflect their own calling as a Christian and minister.  Some are able to balance the demands on them and to play to their strengths. But many end up in situations where they are loaded with all kinds of things that they are neither called to do nor very good at. Some are so crushed by the weight of expectation that they drop out altogether.

Whether we can get our heads round this will define the next generation of ministry in the Church of England.  We need to allow more specialism within the ministry, especially within the ranks of the paid clergy, traditionally the "jack of all trades", but now with too many trades to ply.  Whether we do this by shaping jobs to the giftings of particular ministers, or by creating jobs and selecting people to fill them, is a moot point (or perhaps there's room for both).  But we need to make space for Andy and people like him, and we need to make it possible, not impossible, for ministers to follow their calling.

6 comments:

Vicar Factory said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts on this issue. I feel a particular sympathy for andy as i feel in a similar (but perhaps less defined) position as him. When i went through the (in my case lengthy) selection process i was always clear about where i felt my strengths and weaknesses were in relation to ministry and in which type of ministry i feel God is calling to me. Now i am at the end of my 2nd year of three in training and my diocese appear shocked that i havent changed into wanting to be a traditional parish priest because they do not have the the kind of ministry i feel called too. However i have to balance this with the fact that i am called by God to serve him and should i really be trying to put caveats on that? It is such a difficult situation and one i know is replicated in at least three or four other people at the college i am at so therefore must be even more widespread across all colleges.

Charlie said...

Hi, thanks for your comment and for backing up my observations. Sorry to hear of your dilemma. You have a difficult choice, whether to "do an Andy" and seek an alternative path, or to take on a curacy. I suggest the latter is still worth exploring - perhaps seek release from your diocese and then look around for a sympathetic incumbent who will nurture your gifts. After those three years you may have more options as well as a better idea of where you are going in ministry.

Ordinandy said...

Thanks for your response to my original post. I remain hopeful that the structures will catch up with the theory. At my training college - on a "mixed-mode" course designed for pioneers - the pioneers who felt called to an expression of ministry other than church-graft type model have struggled to find a role for themselves at curacy level. Most have not "done an Andy" (I hope that doesn't become a popular phrase in training colleges!) and have secured themselves a curacy that either allows for the kind of pioneer ministry that arguably all church leaders should pursue (albeit with the suggestion of it being an add-on, as I've argued), others have taken a more 'traditional' curacy and are hoping they'll still have the call at the end of their title post.
Ironically, the only one of my peer group with a truly pioneering curacy is someone who was not identified as a pioneer...

Charlie said...

Hi Andy, thanks for your comment. I hope you find an outlet for your gifts, and that this isn't the end of the conversation between you and the Church of England.

Edward Green said...

I really feel for Andy. I came out of Westcott slightly grumpy because I was desperate to do Pioneer work but I was a 'normal' ordinand. Now it seems Pioneers are being required to commit to mixed-economy.

As are we all.

I have lots of thoughts on this but hard to form them without reflecting on my current relationship to a rural fresh expression pioneer church plant and my seat on the rural FE round table.

Alastair said...

Courageous post from Andy, and good reflects from you - thanks Charlie. Agree with Eddie on 'mixed economy' model - my own experience is that we can sometimes create a false dichotomy between 'pioneer' and 'traditional' church - and personally I feel called to 'church'. I have been amazed at breadth of ministry I have been a part of in past twenty years or so, particularly at present in what should be sleepy Devon villages - not a hope, gospel alive and well, though sometimes Churches need a bit of a kick to plug into what God is up to anyway!

As you can tell I've been absent from blogosphere for some while, hence it has taken me a month and a half to respond to this.... Hope to do some catching up this week as part of retreat/reflection - as well as getting some serious biking done, vrooooommmm :-)