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
- 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
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.