Saturday, January 21, 2017

'Setting God's People Free' - ministry on the other 6 days of the week, and who does it

A great opportunity lies before us. It is the same opportunity that has presented itself to the Church in every decade for the last 100 years. It is an opportunity that arguably has not been fully grasped since the days of Wesley. 

Will we determine to empower, liberate and disciple the 98% of the Church of England who are not ordained and therefore set them free for fruitful, faithful mission and ministry, influence, leadership and, most importantly, vibrant relationship with Jesus in all of life? And will we do so not only in church-based ministry on a Sunday but in work and school, in gym and shop, in field and factory, Monday to Saturday?

A new report 'Setting God's People Free', has just been published by the CofE in advance of next months General Synod. It tackles head on the need to equip all the members of the church, not just clergy, for full-time ministry:

According to a survey of 2859 respondents conducted in 2009 (82% had been Christians for over 10 years, 67% in some kind of leadership role in the Church, 1204 were Anglicans):
- 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.
-  47% said they did not have a story to tell about how God has worked in their lives (Note 82% had been Christians for over 10 years). 
-  59% (of Anglicans surveyed) said that their church does not equip people well for life in today’s world at home, work, or elsewhere.

This is shocking, but at last its being noticed and taken seriously by the whole church, not just by a few voices in the wilderness like the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, whose insights are a key part of this report.

A couple of stories from the report, to illustrate the kind of ground it covers:
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

Curt is a policeman in his 40s. At an evening for 15 Christian men they are all asked, “What are you good at in the Lord at work?” No one says anything – Southern reserve perhaps. So the leader asks them to 14 write something down on a post-it note. “Well, now you have done that, you might as well read it out.” Curt goes first. He speaks hesitantly, “I work at No 10 as part of the Diplomatic Protection Group. It’s a pretty macho team.” The people in the room don’t find it hard to imagine why. These are men and women wearing Kevlar and toting submachine guns and Glock pistols, people who are prepared to shoot to kill and put their lives on the line for others. Curt continues, “Over the years there’s been quite a bit of conflict in the team but I’ve found I’m quite good at bringing people back together.” That’s all he says. And he looks a bit embarrassed and looks down at the coffee table. And then someone says, “You’ve got a ministry of reconciliation.” And Curt breaks into a smile the width of the Thames. And then someone else says, “You’re a peacemaker”. Blessed are the peacemakers. Here’s a Christian teaching people to forgive one another, teaching other police the ways of Jesus at No 10 Downing Street. But Curt hadn’t been able to read his own life through the lens of the Biblical and so he hadn’t realised how God had been working through him. Lay people don’t just need theological resources to grasp the range of ways they can be fruitful for Christ in the world, they need the theological imagination to see the ways they already have been. 

I've not managed to read it yet in full, but its excellent stuff if the CofE can actually get to grips with it. With the track record of the current leadership, I have no doubt it will - one key culture change in the CofE is that it no longer thinks that you change things by producing a report. Releasing all Gods people in ministry, all the time, will mean a big change in the way that clergy and the employed leadership of the church operate, what we prioritise, how we preach, and how we see ministry. Good. Bring it on.


  1. I agree. . . and would like to see the GS join up the dots by recognising that the Distinctive Diaconate may be in just the right place to help this to happen, 'for such a time as this' . . . as bridge builders between clergy and laity; between'gathered' and 'sent' church; as ambassadors of mission in the world; as listeners and a voice for those on the edge or marginalised by church structures. We hear the disillusioned voices of the laity, see the gifts in the church and the needs of the world . . .we long to see the people of God released to their full potential. . clergy and laity . . Acts 6 models this for us . . the setting apart of deacons released the priest to their primary calling and the marginalised to hear the gospel in their own language. . . . and the church grew! Together we are stronger!! (Rev) Alison Handcock

  2. Back in the 1960s I was in an Anglican parish that had that kind of vision, of "every-mwember ministry" even before that phrase was coined. The rector left, and the bishop sent a new one, saying that "He won't be a dictator" (implying that the old one was).

    But the new rector did turn out to be a dictator. The parish council hauled him over the coals for having a private baptism without telling anyone -- outside the regular services, whyen everyone else had gone home. The council said a person is baptised into the church, and the rector is not the church, the people are the church.

    The rector then complained that it was a dead parish, no body did any work for the church. It turned out he meant things like arranging flowers and polishing brass. But they said that this one goes to feed the hungry, this oen teaches literacy classes, But he did not recognise those as ministry, because they were outside the church building and the church grounds.