Hand and Foot

Unsplash – Luis Quintero

“…because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body?

1 Corinthians 12

In a recent post I noted that the current General Assembly approach to strategic planning may have the unintended effect of seriously demoralising ministers.

Kenny Borthwick expressed it recently in a more visceral and insightful way, “I do feel though it is violent thuggery and assault with no missional rationale or vision and will only result in stress, distress and further disillusionment and decline

The GA approach is risky because we have gambled on sufficient ministers remaining after the ‘cull’ and the retirement chasm. For that gamble to pay off, enough incumbent ministers will have to stick around to operate in the new paradigm: a paradigm which anticipates that financial efficiencies will result in cultural transformation.

At least some of the current disillusionment may also have arisen because, in discussion of culture change, some of us have been guilty of undervaluing pastor-teachers. It’s true that previously we valued this ministry above all others. But little is gained, by making essentially the same mistake, by speaking of pioneering ministries as if they were the only required role.

The truth is we need all of the different ministries. Their relative importance may vary with context. But to each a different gift is given and neither can consider the other unnecessary.

We do need more pioneering people. And as a denomination we dropped the ball in relation to enabling and nurturing such roles. But a reduction of parish ministries will, in itself, have little or no impact on this. Because there is not yet a significant, coordinated move towards the formation of pioneers, missionaries, evangelists etc. In fact quite the opposite, the onus is now on individual presbyteries to form local pioneer roles while central funding reduces.

Similarly our usual training routes are not prepared or necessarily capable of forming pioneers, ordained or otherwise. In fact according to Liam Jerrold Fraser, as of 2019, we had no internal ‘lay’ training route.

But even if we did have hundreds of pioneering people. We would still need pastor teachers. Because each performs a different role in the growth and formation of God’s people. We should not take the pragmatism of church ‘mission’ planning as an indication of the theological reality. The Kirk’s financial needs do not equate to the needs of the Kingdom. The Kirk needs to reduce expenditure. The Kingdom needs more, not less, workers of every kind.

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the problem the Kirk faces is not primarily one of finance, recruitment, or churches in the wrong place but rather we have culture problem. And when it comes to changing church culture, pastor-teachers have an important role. They are embedded, and often respected, in Christian communities where pioneers rightly remain on the fringes.

The questions then remains, what cultural changes are required in the CofS. And my answer is, I’m not sure. But with regard to ministries I wonder if the following would help.

  • How do we imbue a wider concern for evangelism and disciple-making? Is reticence in these activities due to a lack of confidence in faith sharing or a lack of confidence in Christian faith? How do we equip, encourage and release the whole church in these activities?
  • Can we stop pitting different types of ministry against each other eg MDS vs parish minister, pioneer vs parish minister and especially ‘lay’ vs ‘professional’. God has called us to different ministries, all of which have their part to play.
  • Can we remove both hierarchical and anti-hierarchical attitudes. Despite our Presbyterianism there are judgements made about the value of different roles. Parish ministers can be given too much power. But at the same time there seems to be a growing inverse snobbery towards paid ministers and parish ministers.
  • How can we enable bi-vocational ministries? Can we release funding to allow more local churches to pay local members for ministry? What if we provided business loans for missionally minded local businesses to enable more ‘tent-making’?
  • Is it now time for a seminary or church college that sits alongside university education? Do we need a space where ministers can supplement university study? Do we also need somewhere that can provide training to those who will not become ‘professional’ ministers? This is not to preclude or replace study in university but it would allow us to target more specifically the real needs of practitioners. Of course this kind of establishment might not attract current academics but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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