Emerging Issues

Our Manifesto for Taking Lay Ministry Seriously calls for a radical change of perspective on lay ministry. This inevitably raises issues affecting other areas of church life.

Our correspondents have begun to identify a number of these issues – see below.

If you would like to comment on these or to raise other issues in the light of the Manifesto, please email manifesto@parishandpeople.org.uk.

1  Leadership

Bishop Colin Buchanan asks whether the Manifesto says enough about leadership. He comments:

I was left wondering about an almost invisible element. In your denunciations of 'control' and 'management', I wonder what place you are giving to leadership (sensible, sensitive, non-hierarchical, Spirit-filled (!) leadership) lay or ordained. The term comes in the title of 6 (where leaders have to 'let go'), and in 7 (f) where it appears briefly as a healthy practice, and in 8 (d) noted above where it is unhelpful. Otherwise it is, as I say, invisible.

Trying still to stand back, I think your vision of the ministry of the whole church actually requires skilled leadership (and I think it is in fact a quality sought, inter alia, in candidates at Selection conferences), and I found myself musing about its near-eclipse in your statement. Surely it should be well visible? We might be in need of prophets (persuasive godly ones) too....

Our response: ‘Leadership’ may be a misleading concept. Too widely it is assumed a) that strong leadership is highly directive, even manipulative, and b) that leadership in the Church is the prerogative of the ordained. The leadership that Bishop Colin characterises in his first paragraph is something different – and is a gift available to lay and ordained.

Two Parish & People publications:

Jimmy Hamilton-Brown, in 'Leadership and Vision' (2004), explores how the role of parish clergy is changing and must continue to change as lay people are set free to fulfil their baptismal vocation.

     Download it now    

John Cole's new leaflet, 'Leadership in the Local Church' (2013) - subtitled 'the Blessings of Powerlessness' - discovers some important insights as a result of a fresh look at leaders and leadership in the New Testament.

     Download it now     

2  Clergy shortage

Bishop John Saxbee raises the issue of the ‘shortage of clergy’:

....the worst of all scenarios is what we currently have in many Dioceses i.e. groups of six/ten parishes with parishioners in each of those parishes still looking upon the stipendiary Priest as "their" Vicar with concomitant expectations - and stipendiary Clergy who are inclined to collude with those expectations and so continue to try to be the traditional Vicar in each community. However, if as has been experimented in Lincoln, a stipendiary is made Priest in Charge of, say, twenty Parishes no one in their right mind thinks that such a person is Vicar of each of those parishes in the traditional way. Rather, the stipendiary becomes an episcopal-type Priest with oversight of a range of voluntary ministers be they NSM, OLM, Readers, LLMs or whatever.

So that homes in on the essence of your eight propositions i.e. the development of voluntary ministry. The problem of such development up until now has been a sense that voluntary ministers are mini versions of the real thing. This has happened because we have tended to see NSM, OLM etc. as devolved from the traditional role of the Stipendiary Incumbent. But why not turn the whole thing on its head, and begin with the historical reality of voluntary lay ministers in significant leadership roles such as that of Churchwarden, Sacristan, Treasurer etc. If we start that way round, then other forms of voluntary ministry are seen as evolutions from established lay roles rather than devolutions from traditional clerical ones.

Our response: The phrase ‘voluntary ministry’ is unattractive as it suggests that ministry covers a limited number of essentially church-based roles for which individuals can volunteer. Instead our argument is that ministry, inside and outside the institution of the Church, is best understood as the practical outworking of discipleship. It is what every mature disciple of Jesus Christ will be engaged in.

However we agree with Bishop John that we need to upend our thinking about what is expected of clergy and lay. The various Christian traditions differ quite markedly in their mutual expectations of clergy and lay. This is one issue where we should listen to each other, as suggested in recommendation 8 (c) in the Manifesto.

3  Is it all still too ‘churchy’?

Jeremy Martineau, formerly the Churches’ Rural officer, asks whether the Manifesto and its associated case studies are still too ‘churchy’:

The five case studies at the end of “Opening a Debate” reveal a narrowness in what the ministry of lay people already encompasses. It could have been much wider – local government, economic affairs, climate change issues, international justice etc etc. The harder edge of mission.

Our response: Sadly this is absolutely true. More challenging examples of lay ministry that reveal the Gospel in daily life are urgently needed. We look forward to including your stories on this web site.

4  Catholicity

Another comment from Bishop John Saxbee warns of the danger that, by prioritising lay ministry, it could seem that we are implying that ordained ministry is somehow redundant and that we are only interested in a local (or worse still ‘congregation’) church:

If..... we are going to start with the historic realities of lay discipleship as the basis for evolving lay ministry, then we need to ensure that it is the development of discipleship which is given priority - all else follows from that.

Ordination is the servant rather than the master of our mission, but I still think that Ordination is key to our identity as Anglicans. It is something to do with being "catholic" and, of course, that also relates to the balance between localness and universality. So whilst all my sympathies are with you when it comes to such phrases as "the local is all important" we must ensure that such an emphasis does not compromise catholicity.

Our response: One of the huge benefits of starting with lay ministry as the practical outworking of discipleship is that it brings more clearly into focus how the three traditional ‘orders’ of ministry are distinctive and how they contribute to the ministry of the whole people of God.

The Manifesto is very far from being an attack on catholicity – but it does require that we look beyond false expectations and become much clearer about what deacons, priests and bishops contribute alongside the contributions of the rest of Christ’s body, so that the whole people of God are engaged together in the service of God’s mission. Two quotations from Archbishop Rowan Williams seem relevant:

"There is no church without the clergy equipping and enabling, serving the laity, whose task it is to fulfil the mission of the church."

"If you don’t know what the clergy are for, you won’t have real laity."

5  Re-imagining the Congregation

John Cole, formerly the Church of England’s National Adviser (Unity-in-Mission) and a member of the Parish & People team, questions the persistent assumption that the parish congregation is the basic unit of mission within the Church.

In ‘Thirsty for God’, John shows how effective missionary engagement is happening through a whole variety of much smaller groups and communities, most of which are not the product of formal congregational initiatives.

It might be a great relief if we discovered that congregations are best understood not as gatherings of individuals – who are to be encouraged to be as like-minded as possible! – but as places where members of a whole range of smaller Christian communities are able to come together to celebrate what God is already doing in their diverse settings.

     Download it now