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The Future of Ministry: Looking Ahead 25 Years – Edited by Gavin Wakefield

May 29, 2015

This book was published in 2004, so it will be interesting to see where we have got to in 2029. We are already half way there and the parish system is still in place though dioceses like my own are moving in the direction of the ‘minster model’ envisaged by Steven Croft’s Transforming Communities: Re-imagining the Church for the 21st Century

Stephen Croft sets out the New Testament models for ministry: ‘exhortation’ is a term for public teaching and preaching; the term for ‘ministry’ is diakonia —already a recognized term ministry (see Romans 16.1 and Philippians 1.1); ‘the giver’ may refer to the person who offers help to the nee within the community (see Acts 6.1-6; the word means litera one who shares out); ‘the compassionate’ is possibly a reference to one exercising paste ministry or acts of mercy on behalf of the community.

What is clear from a comparison of all three lists is that the early church is trying to find categories and ways of describing Christian ministries and that this flourishing of gifts and ministries is a sign of the work and activity of the Spirit.

However, if we read on in the story of the development of ministry in the New Testament and beyond, the early church could only live with diversity to a certain degree. There came a time when it was necessary also to consul i date and to seek simplicity in the recognition of ministries within the body of Christ. By very early in the second century, the terms used are settling down to the three groups: diaconal ministries (service of the poor within and beyond the congregation and those exercising ministry which engages with the wider society); presbyteral ministry (the bifocal ministry of word and sacrament I exercised mainly within the Christian community); and episcope (leadership and oversight of the people of God and of other ministers). In the last ten years, there has been a renewed exploration of these traditions in the life of the church down the ages. They are helpful because they differentiate not by the gifts of the ministers (as in the earlier lists) but the particular sphere of ministry in which those gifts are to be exercised (so­ciety at large, the life of the local Christian community, and oversight of the whole in connection with the wider and historic church). Christian ministry is not representative of the ministry of Christ or of the body of Christ unless it is exercised within these three spheres.

Over the next 25 years, I hope that emerging and developing ministries would be able to accommodate diversity as the Spirit brings new life but also cherish and nurture sim­plicity of understanding around the three dimensions of diakonia, presbyteral ministry and episcope. The temptation for a church in a difficult context is to focus on ministry within the life of the Chris­tian community and on the skills for gathering that community (presbyteral ministry and part of episcope). In such a context, we need to ensure there is space and recognition for diakonia in all its forms—the ministry and service of the people of God in the world.

David James asks the stark question ‘Which Death Will the Church Have? His view: Survival is not an option for the church. She has to die but she can choose the means by which she dies. She can hide her face from all that is going on around and be suffocated by what John Tiller called, ten years on from his report A Strategy for the Church’s Ministry, ‘the dynamic conservation of the Church of England, that phenomenon which enables it to summon up enormous energy to avoid having to change,’ or she can die to herself and trust that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will give new life to his body on earth.

The Future, for him, is Cell. Many clergy repeat the mantra ‘every member ministry’ but there is all too little evidence of it in the public life of our parish churches and such laity involvement in worship as there is appears pseudo-clerical. By contrast, in cell-sized churches theology and practice coincide, faith is contextualized, the spiritually blind are given sight and the inarticulate learn to speak.

He writes: I have held back from writing much about ministry until now because so often the ministry, that is the ordained ministry, shapes the church and her wor­ship and mission rather than the reverse, so the priest becomes the church instead of the church being the priest.

When cells do indeed become the key groupings in the church—and in some areas, particularly rural and inner urban, many congregations are little bigger than cells now—this will completely redraw the map of the church, with far more churches and far fewer buildings. It will have enormous implications for ministry and for ministerial training and priestly formation. Leadership will be lay and it will be voluntary and collaborative…… Cell churches must be eucharistic communities somehow — otherwise there will be a divorcing of Word from Sacrament to the detriment of both. My initial Anglican traditionalism leads me in the short term to look to ordaining very many more people to local ministry within teams of clergy and laity together. However, in a flexible and rapidly changing society in which cells form and divide and some die to sow seeds elsewhere the stamp of indelibility of orders will rest uneasily. By 2030 lay presidency will be taken for granted…. they will come together with other cells for worship, perhaps monthly. What will be appreciated, even though some of the celebra­tions will only have a couple of hundred people, is the sense of there being ‘a host which none can number’ gathered together…. cells will be linked to the wider church through the internet. Most I members will log on daily to study the Scriptures, pray and share…. Each particular thread will be fairly tenuous but overall the web will oth provide a strong sense of cohesion and considerable flexibility. This will be particularly important since geographical boundaries will have become virtually redundant. There will be only nine or ten dioceses, each with a team of bishops.

Jayne Ozanne asks: Can the Formal Church Structure Continue to Exist? She goes on to say that all groups need good leadership—the Bible makes this very clear. However, there is a difference between demanding a ‘king’ as the Israelites did, and recognizing the God-ordained leader that God has appointed over them. The critical difference here is that the former was originally desired by the people so that they could be seen to be like other nations, whilst the latter was raised up independently by God. The former receives their power and authority through the law of the land, often exerting a certain amount of force to implement it. The latter relies on the love and respect of the people he or she serves, and whilst they have no ‘official’ power or authority they have great influence. I would define this as having ‘moral authority.’

The structure that is most likely to work in an or­ganization founded on mutual trust and respect is one that naturally emerges from the grass roots. God always raises up leaders, and they are usually recognized by the people they are commissioned to lead —just look at Moses, Joshua and Gideon.

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