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Setting God’s People Free

February 2, 2017

rarBooks like ‘God’s Frozen People’ by Mark Gibb,

All are Called: Towards a Theology of the Laity – General Synod Board of Education 1985 and Set My People Free – Ruth Etchels, to say nothing of Lumen Gentium  have gone largely unheeded as more and more people assume that lay ministry has something to do with helping the vicar on Sundays (with the clergy shortage, this could grow).

This report on lay leadership in the Church of England set sout to “empower, liberate and disciple” the laity — not in churches, but in schools, work­places, gyms, shops, fields, and factories.

It was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council, and prepared by the members of the Lay Leader­ship Task Group, as part of the Re­newal and Reform vision to increase vocations. It was approved by the Ministry Council in November.

A spokesman said that the crux of the report would identify “the need for two shifts in culture and practice” that were deemed by the Archbishops’ Council to be “critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisation of the nation”

The focus was as much about growing discipleship — sharing the faith ­as lay ministry, one member of the Task Group, the Bishop currently of Burnley (elect of Sheffield), the Rt Revd Philip North, said.

It urges the Church ‘not to devise lay alternatives to clergy”, nor to use its current lay leaders to “fix” weak structures and “institute a top-down approach” in its churches. Rather, the report calls for a reform of liturgy, resources, communications, and the selection, training, and development of clerics, better to appreciate and support the laity, and to ensure that “healthy relationships” exist between lay and ordained leaders across its parishes.

The Lay Leadership Task Group has also requested that the Arch­bishops’ Council set out a detailed implementation plan — separate from its report, but including its recommendations.

These recommendations include the “national championing” of the proposed cultural shift by means of a designated Episcopal Champion; the support of the Archbishops; and communication to the wider public. The latter would involve the crea­tion of a “national portal” offering advice, support, discussion, and commissioned resources to all C of E members; and the establishment of five “pilot dioceses” to promote these resources. The final recom­mendation is to conduct a review of the selection and training criteria for the clergy, with a “strong emphasis” on lay discipleship.

The laity’ make up about 98 per cent of the C of E. Although “the laity” means “the people of God”, it is usually used in a narrower sense to refer to all Christians who have not been ordained. “Yet”, the report states, “as an institution, we know remarkably little about them, their role and influence, patterns of discipleship, their spiritual needs in the whole of life, their current contribution, their perspective.”

These proposals are aimed at giving confidence to the “weak lay voice”, it says. “The needs and per­spectives of lay people are not well heard, listened to, understood, or acted on. As a result, the C of E is nowhere near as effective as it might be in equipping lay people effective­ly for mission in the whole of life.”


affirm and enable the complementary roles and vocations of clergy and of lay people, grounded in our common baptism –not to blur or undermine these distinctions

‘Towards the Conversion of England’ produced by the Church of England Commission on Evangelism, established by Archbishop William Temple and chaired by the Bishop of Rochester, put it as follows:

“We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.” [p. 58 paragraph 130]

“This being so, the Christian laity should be recognised as the priesthood of the Church in the working world, and as the Church militant in action in the mission fields of politics, industry and commerce.” [p. 61 paragraph 138]

“The member of Parliament, the town councillor, the employer of labour, the trades’ union official, the clerk the artisan, the farmer and the labourer, should be called on to address Church gatherings on “my job” as naturally as are missionaries on furlough.” [p. 62 paragraph 138]

59% of those in working age said that the most challenging context to be a disciple of Christ was the workplace.

62% of those in full-time paid employment experienced little, not much, or no help/preparation from the life and ministries of church to deal with the issues they faced at work.

Clergy need to be honest and self-aware about the ‘power’ (real or imagined) that ordination may bestow on them in the eyes of the laity, and be careful about how they use it. Equally, lay people must not collude in passive-aggressive resentment of real or imagined clericalism. Our task as adults (whether lay or ordained) is to face up to our mutualresponsibilities and the fact that -wherever we are called -our ultimate authority rests in Christ.

I teach Sunday school 45 minutes a week and they haul me up to the front of the church to pray for me. I teach in a school 45 hours a week and the church has never prayed for me.”-Comment from a teacher

Within four days I met three people with a great deal in common who were exploring Ordination. All were around the age of 50, all were playing key leadership roles in their local Churches, all had senior jobs and spoke of the confidence with which they lived out their faith in the workplace. I could not help feeling a sense of sorrow that three such competent lay leaders felt the need to explore Ordination so I pushed them quite hard. One woman told me that she felt that being Ordained was the only way to ‘get her voice heard in the Church.’ All three spoke about ‘wanting to do more for Jesus.’ I tried to explain to them that Ordination was not ‘doing more’ but ‘doing something completely different.’ It was not the next stage in a Christian journey,but was about putting an end to a significant lay ministry in order to start afresh with something wholly different. I am not sure to what extent I got through. The episode made me realise how little we honour lay leadership despite years of trying. It has caused us to rethink the way our vocations team explore a candidate’s sense of call, and especially to probe that expression, ‘I want to do more.’”

“Kate has 4 school aged children and has been exploring ordination. About 3 years ago, her homegroup used the ‘Fruitfulness on the Frontline’ study material, and Kate realised that she had an important ministry at the school gate. She organised to meet regularly with 2 other mums from homegroup who were also at the school gate, to pray for the families they met every day. They invited some of the other mums and toddlers for coffee about twice a term, and had some gentle conversations about faith. After about a year of praying and coffees, one of the Mums they had been praying for became very unwell with cancer, and as well as praying they were able to co-ordinate support for this family through the network that had started -meals, lifts to after school activities, laundry, babysitting etc. Very sadly the lady died of her cancer, but the prayer group met more often to pray for the grieving family and community, and continued to co-ordinate and organise practical care for the husband and children. Kate is still exploring ordination but now sees that her ministry at the school gate and in her community is no less important to God, and she sees how God used her and her praying friends in this particular situation.”

The motivation for Christian leadership must arise not from a slightly greater willingness to ‘do jobs’ but from a compelling and positive vision of the redeeming work of Christ for all people. It is when people become aware of the great things that Christ has done for them and wake up to the gifts that the Holy Spirit has bestowed on them that a joyful and willing leadership emerges, for it is out of communities of disciples that cadres of leaders will appear.

The primary action of the church in the world is the action of its members in their daily work. Lesslie Newbigin

Until, together, we find a way to form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

Until laity and clergy are convinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will never form Christian communities that can evangelise the nation.

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