Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Deconstructing ministry

A side thought from the previous post: one part of 'changing lives' is a paper called 'Models for Ministry', which is all about setting up 'local ministry groups' and encouraging the ministry of the baptised - i.e. the whole church, not just vicars.

It struck me this morning, and I was surprised it hadn't struck me before, that the paper isn't radical enough. There seems to be no questioning of the ministries that the church should offer - preaching, leading the eucharist, leading worship, etc. as if everything that we're doing at the moment is fine, we just need to recruit more people to do it.

But what if the problem, or part of the problem, is not failure to involve lay people (don't really like that term, but it'll do for now), but in what we are doing in the first place? What if we need to radically critique the ministry we offer, before we try to recruit people to it?

For example: every church has a Sunday school, or would like to have a Sunday school. It's taken for granted that a church firing on all cylinders would have one. But why? My sketchy understanding is that Sunday schools were first set up to educate children in the community, and were part of the outreach of the church. Yet now they are predominantly for the children of church families, and an expected part of church life. But what if the best context for children learning about their faith is the home, rather than hiving them off into their own little groups on a Sunday morning? If that's so, then more of our energy should go into helping parents become disciplers of their children, rather than encouraging the client/provider mentality of Sunday school - that the church will do this for us and our children and do it to a certain quality.

Another example: communion. At it's simplest it is 3 instructions and 6 words: eat bread, drink wine, remember Jesus. How did it get so complex?

All of this may be complete cobblers, but it strikes me that we have built an edifice that we can't sustain without massive effort and financial sacrifice, not just our buildings, but our ways of doing worship, teaching, fellowship, the ordering of church life etc. If mission is the reason for the church's existence, it can't be right that mission comes in at no 8 on the agenda after we've fixed the building, paid the bills, put up the no smoking signs, agreed the rotas, etc. etc. Could it be that we have got it massively wrong? Could it be that we shouldn't recruit lay people into ministry before we've critiqued what that ministry is and should be - which in turn requires a critique of the church and how we operate, and what exactly we think we're doing.

In 3 new housing estates around Yeovil we're thinking together as local churches about the possibility of a missionary Christian presence on each estate. Part of preparation for that will be 'detoxing' the folk who join the mission teams, so they don't go in thinking that their job is to duplicate the church they've just come from. Rather, any structural stuff (meetings, sermons, childrens work, finance and resources management, buildings) should emerge as a byproduct of mission, and only if it's really necessary. It would be interesting to see what kind of church emerges if that is the basis on which it is started. That itself might help the rest of us in more established churches to critique what we're doing, and how much of it is necessary.

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