Saturday, 1 September 2007

thanks for the help, let's keep going

Thanks everyone for all the comments, including a few who sent them directly by email for various good reasons.

Without trying to summarise what is a pretty diverse set of comments and observations, I do think there are certain repeated themes, which I float here.

First, there is a clear distinction between ministry and 'The Ministry' (in the sense of ordination). And we have mixed views on this. Some accept this reality, recognising that their ministry - being evangelistic, outwards or missional - will remain a lay ministry, that they will 'work for a living' rather than receive a stipend, that they are freer than they regard most ordained people to be, and all that is fine. Others clearly feel that the categories of ordained ministry (in function rather than name) need to be broadened to include different sorts of ministry, which are fully stipendiary etc. The 'pastor-teacher' model won't do for everyone, and it shouldn't have to.

Second, is the need for clearer communication about what is possible in terms of ministry/ministries - ordained and lay - in the Church. A greater on-line input would be helpful for some, particularly younger potential candidates. In many cases the need for a knowledgeable accompanist or mentor was a key role and requirement. Perhaps a group of people are needed who know their stuff, and can mix formative and spiritual discerning roles, especially among younger candidates? Would such a group be more potentially important in the future than some other models of regional or district appointed staff?!

Third, our experience of initial training is mixed. This is hardly surprising. What is intriguing is that those who were trained some years ago are generally more critical of that training than those who are in it or have just left it. So are we getting better in our training?

Fourth, even if we are getting better in terms of training for missional ministries today, there is a generally critical view of what awaits you in circuit ministry. This ministry especially tends to frustrate and fatigue those who felt that they were being trained for a different sort of ministry - indeed they feel betrayed. It also seems to constrict those who would try to change it, or lay alongside 'normal' expectations of circuit ministry a further commitment to mission and evangelism etc. The role of stationing, district chairs and superintendents are all key here. Certainly 'circuit ministry' as understood and experienced by our group does not easily facilitate ministry among missing generations. Indeed younger ministers express a chasm between themselves and their congregations in certain cultural and theological ways.

Fifth, the jury is out about age being a barrier to selection for training for ordination. Some feel the structures don't help, others have found no problem. Several contributors feel that there are too many hurdles early on in the process (Local Preacher training for example) which tend to dissuade some from pursuing a potential call. There is a call/need for the interviewing panels to include more young adults.

Sixth, there is some evidence that Methodism as a 'lay movement' is a myth! Several folk commented that either lay people contribute very little other than turning up on Sunday, or what they do is not up to scratch! Fighting talk. But is it true generally? And if so, has our style of ministry - and minister - in recent decades so deskilled or dissuaded laity - especially laity that has been thoroughly 'churched', that is, taught how to be a good laity - from truly taking the part we would now hope of them?

Seventhly is the intriguing suggestion that the Connexion and the Districts particularly, (and some Circuits) are producing and implementing a missional agenda, but that local churches lag behind in this mindset. True? If so, what can be done about it?

Eighth, there are one or two good ideas floating about. The six year contract for young people whereby they do a training course part time, while in situ in a particular mission project seems exciting, and is surely not beyond implementation if the idea passed muster.

My own little theme/scheme, which I am still cogitating and is not novel or new, is what it means to go further and faster down the route of locally ordained people, of different kinds and to several localised ministries. Some recent literature by Roman Catholics I have read suggests some are beginning to take this seriously in their own tradition. In tandem with this would be a rethinking of presbyteral ministry in terms of its historic leadership, itinerant and missional elements rather than (simply) its sacramental and pastoral elements. Diaconal ministry too holds out huge possibilities of truly pastoral ministry in a post-christian society rather than simply existing in a christian enclave.



Sally said...

This is a far reaching post Martyn, thank you for it.

I am currently a pre-ordination candidate training on an ecumenical course for an M.A. in Pastoral Theology, although I would primarily see myself as an Evangelist, specificaly to the New Age Community/ Spiritual Seekers.

I currently work as a Lay Worker, and my reason for Candidating is odly due to my passion for facilitating Lay Ministry.

I would echo your questions as to what ministry is, and how it should be implemented for the 21st Century... a great deal of listening and theological reflection is needed, although in many ways I see Methodist pragmatism as a gift in the present age... to combine the two requires a delicate but necessary balancing act.

As we move forward through prayer and reflection let us not leave behind the experience of John Wesley- that we might know again " our hearts to be strangely warmed"!!!

Anonymous said...

I think I might be the person whose comment got interpreted as 'lay people aren't up to ministry' and I'd really like to clarify my comment. With apologies, I remain anonymous for all the previous reasons.

I was speaking specifically of pastoral visiting / pastoral ministry in a context where there are small churches with elderly membership. The concept of lay pastoral visiting is great until you have a congregation of 15 people where 10 are very elderly. This is when it becomes difficult to find lay pastors. Pastoral visiting is not something everyone can do and if you only have 5 people who are physically able to get about, your options are limited!

In terms of all the wider ministries there in in churches, I most emphatically DO think that lay people are 'up to it' and I'd want to encourage lay people to do as much as possible. On the ground as a new minister, though, I'm honestly not seeing people beating down my door to do things and I'm trying to be as encouraging as possible. It's discouraging to try to be encouraging and feel like you're not getting anywhere!

Like many people - and even though I'm at the higher end of middle-aged - I think that the church 'should be' missional as well as pastoral. I think that we 'should be' offering options for families and attracting them. We do need to decide what are ministers for. To me at the moment as a new minister, it looks like the church thinks ministers are primarily for visiting the elderly. I think that's our 'dirty secret' and why it's difficult to offer a mission to either the young or the unchurched in our context.

Dave Faulkner said...


Thanks for entertaining the fundamental questions here, and being willing to take the debate further. It's great to have a safe space to explore this, without risk of suggesting that we're being funny about Methodist doctrine. I've been banging away occasionally on themes like this at my blog, and it's encouraging to see the conversation given 'official' sanction.

As one of those who wants to see the concept of ordination broadened, I think it's interesting to reflect on what people in our churches often want from a minister. To add up their various expectations is sometimes to come close at times to the four/fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors/teachers. The standard reply is to say that no one minister can have all these gifts, and that is true, but the discussion can't stop there. The church needs all these gifts in leadership, and that - I think - means two things. Firstly, it means team leadership of some sort. Secondly, while that team can be ordained and lay (I hate that latter word), it still means a greater vision for ordination, especially if we are to recover the essentially missional/incarnational nature of the Church.

Revdrange said...

Hi Martyn,
I think that as long as the Church continues to discriminate with regard to the training of its 'ministers' there will always be a problem with how lay ministry is seen and valued. In general, if you want to work full or part time for the Church as a lay person, you have to pay for your own training, whether as a preacher, youth worker, evangelist, etc.. but if you want to do these same things as an ordained minister - the Connexion will pay you to learn how.
As a result, lay ministry is seen as second class - not worth the investment of the church.
I would personally like to see fewer ministers, and for each circuit to be challenged with the question 'What do you want this minister to do which you are not willing or able to do for yourselves?'

Lee said...


I think the idea of localised ministries is a sound one and appropriate for today's society. Itinerancy has it's pluys points but it has a number of drawbacks both for the minister and churches. No sooner have you established yourself in one place and a church has come to trust your leadership then you are moving on.

Also, most books I read on mission state that churches that are doing well have constant leadership. I certainly wouldn't want to go the whole way down the line of 'protecting my pulpits', as I think it is important for congregations to hear diverse views but there is something to be said for consistent team leadership.

Finally, localised ministry has it's advantages particularly if the minister is familiar with the locality. It can take an age to become aware of local attitudes and thinking but if we were to be stationed in areas where we know what is important to people and how they think this, in my humble opinion, saves a lot of time and aids us in ministering effectively. For example, I would be next to useless in London but better in Yorkshire.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martyn

I would like to comment briefly on your point about Methodism as a lay movement being a myth. I think that in my own experience this is, to a certain extent, justified.

Personally I do not feel that the problem lies with whether people are 'up to scratch' or not as in my experience those who do undertake lay work in the Methodist Church are generally very competent and hard working (myself included, I hope).

I feel the problem lies more with finding more people who are willing to take an active part instead of just filling the pews. I come from a reasonably sized congregation (about 300 on an average Sunday) and I know one lady who is a Local Preacher, Door Steward, Church Sound System Operator and has some sort of Network position. I myself am a Local Preacher On Trial, on the Sunday School Staff and am a Church Sound System Operator. I used to do more but dropped some thinfs to concentrate on the Faith & Worship course. These two examples are the norm for active unpaid lay people in our congregation.

I don't think we have deskilled the laity as such, more that we find it easier to ask those who are already doing something to do more, rather than ask somebody new to take up a particular role or ministry.


Olive Morgan said...

I just want to thank you, Martyn and Ruby, for joining the band of Methodist bloggers and so keeping us well up-to-date with your travels and experiences and your thoughts arising from them. Be assured that many Methodists are supporting you in youe hectic schedule by our regular prayers.

Miriam said...

I'd like to see the idea of "itinerant within district" or "itinerant nationally" as options, rather than purely local ministry.

How about getting the District Vocations Sec to advertise on facebook for people to go on panels?