Discussion starters

Here are some suggestions for exploring and debating how you can take seriously your own and other people's lay ministry.

We'll be delighted to include other discussion starters. Email manifesto@parishandpeople.org.uk

Steve Kinnersly suggests this 'thought experiment':

A 'thought experiment' can be a good way of getting to the bottom of a problem. So here's one about the church.

Imagine you wake up one Sunday morning to find that all the clergy from all denominations have disappeared. Would God's church still exist? Why?

Now imagine that instead of all the clergy having disappeared, all lay Christians had disappeared, leaving just the clergy. Would God's church now still exist? Why? 

The answers seem to me to have some relevance to the issues tackled by the Manifesto.

Some revealing questions

These four questions were first addressed to a Diocesan Synod. They were subsequently asked at a Methodist District Synod and in several other contexts. The results were amazingly similar in all cases. Try this exercise in your local church.

1. In your individual capacity and outside the context of the church service on Sunday, hands up all of you who are involved in some kind of activity which brings hope to others. Not surprisingly, almost everyone put up their hand.
2. Hands up if you are doing it because your local church planned it or organises it. Rather more surprisingly, very few hands were raised.
3. Hands up if you are doing it with colleagues. Roughly half of those present raised their hand.
4. Among those colleagues, hands up if the people you are doing it with include people from other Christian traditions. Almost all these hands remained in the air.

Here was evidence that around 50% of our most institutionally active church people (lay and ordained) were happily engaged with others in the ministry of the whole People of God – outside what was being organised and planned by the local church.

A fifth question might have revealed how much this ministry was also shared with others of goodwill - people touched by God whether they knew it or not.

God is at work through communities of Christians exercising ministry without needing to be sponsored or supervised by denominational authorities. We ignore what God is doing at our peril!

Thirsty for God

John Cole's recent booklet, published by Parish & People, asks where people - inside and outside the church - find their spiritual wells.

Over the years he has almost invariably been told of contexts other than the Sunday worship of the congregation.

Many people described their most spiritually enriching experience linked to being part of a small group doing something worthwhile in the wider community.

As yourself the question first, and compare your own response with that of two correspondents - who analysed their own shared experience like this:

We wondered whether we could identify communities or groups in which we have been (or continue to be) members? The answer was encouraging – we could indeed identify such groups; at least six of them over recent years. We then spent some time trying to see if there were common characteristics. 

Each of ‘our’ groups/communities has (or had) members who:

(i)            are Christians representing more than one denomination and/or tradition;

(ii)           are highly committed to a clear and well-defined aim related to an aspect(s) of living in communion with God, with one another, and with the whole of the created order. The aim of the ‘group’ also related to a current and significant human need.

(iii)          share times of prayer, meals and time-out together to develop fellowship and a sense of community;

(iv)         are willing and able to allocate time to the work of the group;

(v)          are supported by funds from ‘outside’ the group and/or from members’ own resources

(vi)         live either fairly close to one other and visit ‘the group’ frequently or live many miles apart and who attend ‘regular residentials’ at an appropriately resourced venue;   

(vii)        play their part in co-ordinating ‘the group’;

(viii)       maintain live and, when appropriate, e-mail/letter/telephone communication with each other 

The ‘group or community’ is also

(a)          a community which provides its own worship sessions or one whose members belong to a church separate from ‘the group’. 

(b)          well led by a committed person (or more frequently by more than one person) who has the time and is well informed of the issues involved; 

(c)           a community of learners seeking to be part of the mission Dei;

(d)          composed of women and men and has a spread of age groups;

(e)          committed to bringing about appropriate change;

(f)           committed to writing articles and/or books and/or reports and/or notes of meetings and, where appropriate, attempting to publish them. 

Perhaps the most important characteristic is that we do not feel ‘alone’ when participating in one of’ ‘our’ groups. When working in such a group we feel that we are involved in a vision which has its roots in God, in scripture, in published literature and in experience.

Probably the only distinctive feature on this list, revealing the special gifts and concerns of our correspondents, is the commitment to write up and publish the group's work.  

How many of the other characteristics can you recognise in the contexts where you find your own spiritual wells?