We had an interesting discussion at the ministers' gathering yesterday. Sparked by me I have to say before anyone looks for someone else to blame! The question I wanted to raise comes out of a continuing desire to see the church blossom and flourish as a missional community in partnership with God. It does not arise from any personal agenda beyond a conviction that we are not all that we could be. That there is an adventure of faith that we are yet to experience and enjoy.
I just needed to say that before anyone gets upset or worried about the question I raised and the analysis I offered.
My question was this: Is full-time ministry as we deploy it in today's churches the very reason the church is not flourishing? In other words, are we as minister the problem?
The reason for the question is probably rooted in a concern that the primarily management model of ministry into which we have fallen has removed the pioneering, church planting pattern of the early church. We have as they say, moved from mission to maintenance, and we need to move back again.
But there is more. This shift has produced a professionalisation of ministry to the point where I think it is in danger of being detrimental to the spiritual growth and ministry involvement of the majority of the church. We defer to the minister as the one trained to do what biblically we are all called to do. We look to our ordained leaders as omni-competent, able to fulfil all the required roles of the leadership of the church. This is not good. I don't believe any one person can fulfil the role of apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher and evangelist, and neither does anyone else as far as I can tell. But we act like it's true. We say the days of the one-man band are over, but we carry on doing things in the same way. Perhaps, if we didn't have so-called full-time minister, we might see more leadership talent released and more ministry happen as we all share from a similar position busyness. Who knows.
A second danger is the reenforcement of the sacred-secular divide. Ministry is what the pros do in the scared places at sacred times. Everything else falls outside of this and is therefore secular. Any meaningful engagement in ministry for the non-ordained specialist is limited to occasional involvement on a Sunday or in a mid-week group. How unhelpful is that?
I recently attended a meeting at LICC where Mark Greene did a great job launching a new initiative aimed at supporting Christians in their workplaces and challenging the churches along the way about how they empower them to be effective whole-life disciples.
All of this makes me wonder if we don't need a radical reimagining of leadership and ministry in order to make the shift to a more fully engaged and involved community of faith. If the five-fold pattern of Ephesians is a workable model of leadership then most churches cannot afford to pay for that, so it would mean a flatter, less professionalised understanding of ministry and leadership.
Still much to reflect upon.