The Braidwood Anglican Church, N.S.W. Australia.
The business of Christian ministry is no easy road. Although I must admit, digging a ditch in clay is definitely harder. Christian ministry is a people-centered professions, and as we all know, dealing with people can be both rewarding and tiresome. This paper does not examine the theology of Christian ministry as such, rather it seeks to outline the particular theory and practice of an Evangelical ministry of grace.
The theory and practice of Gospel ministry"The more thoroughly it is treated, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes." Luther on the gospel in Romans.
In 1738 John Wesley attended a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street London. At the meeting Martin Luther's preface to his commentary on Romans was read. At that meeting Wesley came to a full understanding of the Biblical doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Luther himself was lecturing on the Psalms, 1513-15, when he came across this same hidden truth. It was a July afternoon, filled with the lightening of a summer storm. There in Psalm 22 were the words, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" Christ forsaken! "Thou forsaken for me?" Like the brilliance of the lightening, truth leapt from the pages of scripture. "God came on Sinai with terror, but now in forgiveness." Luther had discovered the grace of God in Christ.
"The Great Awakening" that was to follow Wesley's discovery of God's sovereign grace, was not only to change forever the English church, but was to socialize the nation. Neither England, nor the Anglican church, would ever be the same again.
The children of the great awakening tended to take one of two paths. The majority left the Anglican church and formed Wesleyan independent fellowships. They were certainly fired by the free grace of God in Christ, but they tended to be Arminian in theology. They were not convinced that the gospel could proceed unhindered in the Anglican church, corrupt and archaic as it was. So, they chose a path apart from the English national church.
A minority of those touched by the Wesleyan revival remained in the Anglican church. By 1800 they accounted for about 5% of Anglican membership. They were called the Evangelicals, and they stayed in the Anglican church because they believed in the sovereign grace of God. They were Augustinian/Calvinist in theology. For them, the business of gathering and nurturing the lost was a spiritual function of the sovereign grace of God operative through Christ's proclaimed Word. Organization, weather corrupt or archaic, played no part whatsoever in the business of gospel ministry. Since an Anglican clergyman is not hindered from preaching the gospel and is bound by formularies that are truly Biblical, the Reformed "Wesleyans" happily remained in the Anglican church to found the Evangelical party.
This paper seeks to explain the peculiar nature of Evangelical gospel ministry.
The fundamentals of Evangelical ministry
The whole council of God shapes Christian ministry, but there are three particular principles that "constraineth" Evangelicals. They are God's Grace, Providence and Word. These are the truths that move from the head to the heart to the hands and feet. They are the truths that shape Evangelical ministry.
1. Grace centered
I was attending a deanery meeting which commenced with a half hour Bible study. After 25 years of deanery meetings I have concluded that there is no point to them other than the Bible study. After the study, everybody should just go home. A colleague expounded a passage from Galatians, and during the exposition he downloaded a virus into my computer which was to destroy the system.
The idea had to do with Paul's understanding of the Law. Instead of reading "law" in Galatians as cultic, ritual, health regulations, he read "law" as the Torah. For we mere parish clergy, anything that even slightly undermines obedience to the Law of God is an anathema. We suspect that without God's Law we promote anarchy. In fact, one could argue, "let us do evil that good may abound", Rom.3:8. We would normally argue "under the law" means not under the "curse of the law". Indeed, but we are not under the curse because we are no longer under the Torah. The reaction was strong and swift. He was a libertine, or even worse, a perfectionist (the opposite variant of the same heresy).
Over the following months I was in turmoil. Up till then I was proud of my "Evangelical" (more rightly "Puritan") piety, and whenever I sensed that "my righteousness was but filthy rags", I was always able to dissipate my guilt onto the congregation. A good sermon castigating sloth, or one of the other seven deadly sins, always made me feel better. Yet now, the virus did its work. What emerged was what the early Evangelicals used to call, "a full understanding of justification". I came to know the grace of God, and that knowledge was to substantially change the way I ministered as a clergyman.
Working on Galatians and Romans I came to understand that not only was I accounted righteous at my conversion, but as a gift of grace appropriated through faith, I am and will always be righteous in the sight of God. My present imperfection is not even seen by God. The Law served to expose my sin and thus my need for a saviour. Now in Christ, by grace through faith, I stand eternally perfect before my Creator (justified), wholly acceptable to God.
Yet, there was more. My work on Galatians and Romans drove me to realize that God's grace also controlled my Christian walk. Most of my Christian life was spent confirming my salvation, pleasing God, and trying to progress my righteousness through a faithful obedience to the Law. The apostle demolished this thinking with the amazing truth that, as a gift of grace appropriated through faith, the indwelling Spirit progresses his work of renewal apart from the Law (sanctified). I am no longer under Law, but under grace. Once I began to read back Paul's theology of grace into the gospels, the last vestiges of my pious puritanical Christianity was wiped away.
A Bible study on Galatians had placed me with Luther and Wesley. I had discovered the first plank of Evangelical ministry, namely the amazing grace of God, for both my justification and sanctification.
2. Providence centered
I was in a panic over a fall in the number attending our youth fellowship. I spoke to my Rector, Rev. Norman Fox of St.Martin's Killara, about it and he said, "If Christ can't gather them, then nothing can." I have to say it took me a long time to understand what he had actually said to me, although his words always stayed with me. Truth is like that. Eternal truth takes root in the heart.
In the early years of my ministry I put great store in getting the levers right. The "how" I did church was an essential element in both the gathering of the lost and the building up of God's people. An interesting feature in all this lay in my doctrinaire acceptance of Calvinism. There I was, Calvinist to the core, behaving as if I was a pure Arminian.
As a young Anglican clergyman I concluded that the gospel was not going to work effectively within a compromised and archaic organization such as the Anglican church. Things had to change, and I was prepared to make the changes. Luckily for the Anglican church my bishop was committed to the notion of uniformity and so I soon found myself carpeted for my rebellion. It was suggested to me that if I didn't think the Prayer Book was either a godly or effective way to do church then I should think of finding another church that more rightly met my high standards. I have to say, the thought of being unemployed did help me reconsider my youthful enthusiasm.
I am far less committed to doctrinaire Calvinism these days than when I first entered the ministry, but I am totally committed to the providence of God. Organizations and institutions, methodologies and styles, and all the stuff of human devising, play no part whatsoever in both the gathering and the nurturing of the lost. I am finally free from the burden of method. How I do church plays no part whatsoever in God's sovereign work of gathering a people to himself. Christ gathers his people, and this through the preaching and teaching of his Word. The "gospel is the power of God unto salvation", not technique.
The notion of God's providence happily allows me to function in what is truly a compromised and archaic organization, although one squarely founded on Biblical truth. I use the Anglican Prayer Book, wear my robes, do it as received, without any concern that somehow the kingdom of God is inhibited by such trivialities. Christ's kingdom is "not of this world", it is built, "not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord God Almighty." God's providence has set me free, and it is for freedom that "Christ has set us free." I am free of the absurd notion that the kingdom of God is somehow realized by the way we do church, as if style, form and the like has any influence in the spiritual domain.
So then, the Biblical truth of the sovereign grace of God is the second building block of Evangelical ministry. Evangelical Anglicans rest on "reformed" theology, and as such are unconcerned by the compromised and archaic nature of the Anglican church.
3. Word centered
With a high pitched squeal the engine ground to a halt, seized forever. My beloved ex Government bus had got the kids over the last hill before home, but now she was dead. We rolled down the hill to the church, parked in the back yard, and went our separate ways. The Transport Officer had got us home, safe and sound, but then he never did promise to protect us from mechanical failure.
Youth ministry is a wonderful game to play while you have the energy. I ran out of puff when I reached 45, but there are some who go longer. Looking back on 20 years of ministry with young people, I suspect my greatest battle lay with a reliance on the Word of God. The temptation was to incorporate young people into "churchie" youth fellowship groups which assured a constant supply of "scalps". Any sociology student would tell us that we were really only socializing young people into a "religious" pier group and that most would move on when they matured (other than the socially inept).
Thankfully, the faithful witness of my Evangelical piers moved me from system to the Word. A good part of my youth work focused on one task only, shaping an easily understood (contextualized) "hot drop". All my effort went into youth clubs and the like, which were cultural extensions of the kids own lives rather than extensions of the life of the church. I learnt to let the Word do its work. It is a message which is self authenticating and self empowering, so we don't need to "work" kids into the kingdom.
The business of ministry inevitably comes down to the allocation of time - prioritizing. I have one priority in ministry now, and that is the ministry of the Word. In substance, Evangelical ministry is driven by a realization that God's sovereign power is operative through his Word. We take the truths of our Lord Jesus, wrestle with them in our own mind, heart and life, and then bring these truths to the community we are privileged to serve. We communicate the gospel to the lost, and we teach the gathered flock. Through this struggle the kingdom is realized in our midst.
I realize I am paid to administer an organization, and this takes time. I am bound to perform certain public duties, again this takes time. Yet, as a minister of the Word I now fully accept the charge to which I am called. We are called "to be messengers, watchman and stewards of the Lord; to teach and forewarn, to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep who are scattered abroad, and for his children who are surrounded by temptation in this world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever", (The Ordering of Priests, the Prayer Book).
The need I once felt to "access" people is now replaced by a far less complex obligation. The lost are saved when they seek the living God through Christ. My task is to communicate the simple message of salvation in Christ to my fellow Australian "seekers", and this I do through the media (local paper, letter-box drop....), and through the many opportunities that come my way as an Anglican clergyman. To those who have found God in Christ and have chosen to meet in their local Anglican church, my task is to teach them the truths of the gospel, encourage them to apply those truths in their lives, that they may be shaped and prepared for their reign with Christ in eternity - "become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ", Eph.4:11-13.
God's powerful Word achieves its intended end, and we are privileged to minister that Word to his people. So, the third plank of Evangelical ministry is that God's sovereign grace is active through His Word.
Grace, Providence and Word, are the three fundamental planks of Evangelical ministry. My compromised and weak ministry is lived out under God's complete and gracious approval of those who have faith in Christ, his sovereign work of gathering and building a people to himself, and his completion of this work through the preaching and teaching of his Word.
So much for the planks of ministry, the big question is, am I called to minister?
The call to Evangelical ministry
If my own entrance into full-time Parish ministry is in some sense normal, then I suspect every person, prior to ordination, gives themselves grey hairs while they test their vocation.
I was one of those rather strange blokes who actually had a definable call to ministry. Mind you, it didn't make the journey any easier. When I was about 18, doing nothing more than floating along as a nominal Anglican fellowshipper, I sensed that Jesus was calling me to a prophetic (in a secondary sense) ministry. He was calling me into a Word ministry. The more I considered this "call" the less I felt inclined to give it a place in my life. So I ran, but of course I couldn't get away from this rather "stupid" nagging idea. After my marriage I set a course for university, but then came the crunch, I was brought square on to Jesus through a baptismal interview. The next week I presented myself to the principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney, Dr. Knox. The interview was going along quite well until he asked that inevitable question, "When were you converted?" Unashamedly I announced "last week." As you would expect, he wouldn't let me in. In fact, he wouldn't let me in for two years. He finally allowed me to attend theological college and what a wonderful four years they were.
I suspect I was affected by the Four Spiritual Laws, a gospel tract that did the rounds in the late 60's. "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." So his plan for me was full-time ministry, or was it? There's the rub! Was I really called to a Word ministry, or was all this just some crazy idea from my youth? Many of the other ordinans were just as troubled as I was. We settled the issue by deciding to go for it and take the consequences. If it didn't work out then obviously we weren't "called" - what one might call a blind leap of faith.
Luckily my Curacy was enjoyable, for had it been otherwise then I would have seen it as "closed doors." Given that the "kingdom's of the world and their splendor" is Satan's to dole out, it's rather unwise to read frustration, trouble and the like as if it is Jesus telling us we are on the wrong path. Probably wiser to read frustration and trouble as a sign we are on the right path. Next time we sing "He's got the whole world in his hand", we should remember that Satan once said to Jesus, "All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me." So much for signs.
So then, how do we work out if we are "called" to full-time gospel ministry? We may actually be more in line with the Bible if we set aside the notion of a "special call." It is true that the Old Testament prophets were specially called to serve God in the business of forth-telling, but an "is" is not an "ought"; a description is not a prescription. We are better off drawing out the propositional principles of ministry found particularly in the epistles and using them to guide our ordination decision-making.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, every believer is a minister. We are to work "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Eph.4:12-13. As a human body has many parts so the fellowship of believers is made up of a range of people with different abilities which, when used together, serve to build up the whole, 1Cor.12. Each believer needs to examine themselves, assessing their "gifts" - "Think of yourself with sober judgement in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given us", Rom.12:3-6. We need to assess our abilities and use them to build up the body of Christ.
There are many "gifts", obviously more than are listed in the New Testament. Of all the gifts, the ministries of the Word are given preeminence. "God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers,....." 1Cor.12:28. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers." Eph.4:11. "Sober judgement" is what is required when assessing if we can perform a Word ministry.
The ordained ministry is primarily a Word ministry - prophet, evangelist, pastor/teacher. "The office to which we are called" involves serving as "messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord." "If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith", Rom.12:6. Do we rest firmly on the Word? Do we understand it, are we able to interpret it, love it, want to communicate it and are able to communicate it? The answer may be "not quite yet, but give me a few years at theological college and I'll be ready willing and able." If this is the case, then we are probably truly called.
It's true that the ordained ministry involves other skills such as leadership, management......, but these are by no means essential qualities for the ordained ministry. The ordained ministry is for lovers of the evangel.
So then, we are all called to minister, some with appropriate gifts are called to minister the Word, and some will see the ordained ministry as an effective way to apply a Word ministry. If we are determined to see the "call" to full-time gospel ministry as a divine tap on the shoulder, then we are best to consider the possibility that we have all received the tap. If we have the appropriate gifts then we aught to give it a go. Feel inadequate? Remember the Lord's word, "my power is made perfect in weakness", 2Cor.12:9.
Evangelical ministry in the Anglican church
There are countless approaches to Christian ministry, but the two that follow are particular to the Evangelical Party. Evangelical ministry rests on the notion that organized Christianity is not the kingdom of God, for the kingdom is not of this world. The institutional church is but a frame within which we may work to build the kingdom.
i] An Evangelical is loyal to denominational order
I served my first curacy under Rev. Fred Camroux. He was in his last year at Cronulla and I will never forget his kindness. He was a gentle boss. While there, he gave me a book, a stuffy old book, but one that was to shape my role as a clergyman. It was "A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England", by Balleine. Heavens, it was published in 1908 and there are far better studies around on the Evangelical party, but it served a good end. It gave me an insight into the workings of Evangelical ministry.
When most of the children of the Great Awakening were leaving the Church of England to form the Methodist church, a small group, who relied on the sovereign grace of God, happily stayed in the national church, even though archaic to its core. This small group were called Evangelicals. They knew well that Christ's kingdom was something other than institutional church, and its spiritual reality was realized, not by method, purity of ritual, social activism, etc. but by the proclamation of the Word of God.
Evangelicals have a low view of the church. We have a high view of the heavenly assembly, but a low view of denominational institution. The Anglican church is but a human organization, unique, traditional, interesting even, a bit of an old maid, yes true to scripture, but in the end, a human structure.
After a diocesan meeting one day, a friend noted, "somewhere in there is the kingdom of God". My response was, "I sometimes wonder." The kingdom of God is not the institutional church, for the kingdom is "not of this world". It's a spiritual entity built and preserved in the providence of God. Christ gathers and builds his people through his Spirit empowered Word, a gospel that "is the power of God unto salvation". He builds his church on the confession of the true faith such that the powers of darkness cannot touch it. The reigning Christ gathers and nurtures the lost, and whether we participate in his providential reign within structure or outside of structure, his kingdom comes. So organization, institution, structure..... is but dust, nice dust, but dust.
As an Evangelical, I sit easily with the Anglican church. Rev. Roy Grey, my second boss, used to say, "the Anglican church is the best fishing boat", and I agree. Evangelicals see the Anglican church as both a platform for evangelism and a canopy for nurture. It's a good fishing boat, as well as a good sheep fold. It is a useful structure within which to build the kingdom of God. I like to think of Christ's church as a tree orchid nestled in the branches of organized religion. It sits there, beyond sight, unconfined, undefined. It is the orchid we Evangelicals are in the business of nurturing.
Although an Evangelical works to build a spiritual reality within the institutional frame, we none-the-less function loyally within that frame. In fact, although we see the frame in non substantial terms, Evangelicals are traditionally very loyal to Anglican polity. We are not driven to "innovate all things." As a young clergyman, I was always very aware of the loyalty the older men had toward the Prayer Book. While other segments of the Anglican church busied themselves with "Roman" innovations, the old Evangelicals stuck with the book.
This then is the first plank of Evangelical ministry in the Anglican church, a methodology learnt from the great ones of the past. We are loyal to institutional structure, while at the same time, we preach our hearts out.
ii] An Evangelicals fits in with parish tradition
I took a sabbatical at Braidwood, and during a change of ministers at the local Anglican church, a priest from the Brisbane diocese, Rev. Herb Roby, did a locum in the church. The church is Anglocatholic in tradition and Herb appeared dressed like Elvis Presley. He read the service with sensitive conviction, and when he preached, it was a classic gospel-centred message. Herb was an old Sydney boy, a true Evangelical. He sat easily within the Anglican frame while allowing the Word of God to do its work.
When I was ordained in the Anglican church there were only three particular traditions, each with a clear theological base:
There was High Church Anglocatholic. This tradition was driven by sacramental theology, the notion that the sacraments of "Holy Mother Church" convey God's grace. High church is always colorful - candles, incense, vestments.....
Then there was Middle Church. This tradition tended to be liberal in theology, with a slight reduction in "bells and smells".
Finally there was Low Church, which in my experience was always conservative Evangelical. The tradition was a no-frills 1662, cassock and surplice service, with big singing and big preaching.
The situation today is much more diverse:
High Church still tends to be sacramentalist, but there are now some "Biblical" (possibly best viewed as conservative Evangelical) clergy working within parishes with an Anglocatholic tradition. The Charismatic movement has also touched a number of High Church parishes. They tend to retain their ritual, but inject enthusiasm.
Middle Church is now quite constricted, still mainly liberal in theology, but again with some "Biblical" clergy working within the tradition. Middle Church tends now to be called High Church, as distinct from Anglocatholic (sacramentalist).
Some Low Church/Evangelical parishes have retained their conservative/traditional Anglican form, but most have moved and developed a range of diverse traditions:
a) "Anglican" or Prayer Book churches. The worship style in these churches has moved toward High Church to fit in with the overall style of the Anglican communion. Most are a product of the liturgical renewal movement and work at developing, what may be called, Anglican spirituality.
b) "Puritan". Here the style is austere, similar to Presbyterian Reformed. Music is limited and preaching stressed. Anglican form is greatly reduced and often viewed with suspicion.
c) Church Growth. Here the worship style is "entertainment" driven. The music is popular in style, preaching topical, and liturgy virtually non existent, all done to "access" unchurched people into the worship experience.
d) Charismatic. A Pentecostal form of worship driven by second blessing theology. Very few Evangelical churches have become Charismatic, although many have adopted elements of Pentecostal worship technology.
e) Discipleship. These churches grew out of the radical life-style movement of the 70's. Community in simplicity is stressed, exhibiting a worship style that is sensitive and reflective. "Body-life" is the business of such a church.
f) New Evangelical. There are a small number of Evangelical parishes which reflect the social justice influence of the political left. The theological imperative of this movement rests on the notion that although this age is apart from the kingdom and will one day be no more, the believer is none-the-less expected to work and align this age to the kingdom.
It is essential for a professional clergyman taking up a new position within any of the above styles, to first understand the style he is entering, and then to sensitively work within it. Parish life is no longer simple, and parish traditions quite diverse. The principle of "fit in" is truer today than it ever was. Traditionally, Evangelicals have always fitted in.
I am sad to say I have witnessed numerous disasters where young, and often not so young clergy, have walked into a new parish as if they were stomping though a tulip patch with hognail boots. Totally oblivious to the parish tradition, they have set about imposing their own version of church life, forgetting that the church doesn't belong to them, but rather to the people. We are employed as the pastor and teacher, not the dictator. Male territorial urges do drive us to make our mark on our parish, but we are able to fit in with the given when we remember that the kingdom of God is something other than system.
An Evangelical grace ministry possesses no particular style, or structure. Today, such ministries are found in virtually every Christian denomination. Today, traditional Evangelical ministry rests on God's grace, providence and Word, and respects both denominational form and the existing parish ethos.
The practicalities of Evangelical ministry
Given the diverse nature of Anglican parish traditions it is not enough to be willing to "fit in", we have to know how. The following is a list of practical observations which will hopefully serve to enhance the effectiveness of an Evangelical grace ministry.
1. The new boy on the block
There is an oft stated rule for a new clergyman, "never change anything in the first year." This is a good rule, but it probably doesn't go far enough. We often can't stop ourselves working to cover the scent of the previous bloke (an excellent case for women priests. They don't possess this male drive). If we are strong enough to resist the temptation to repaint everything in our own colors in the first year, we nearly always set out on the "drip by drip" gentle (and hopefully unnoticed) subversion of the existing pattern of church life. This is always helped along by a carefully directed (concocted) conference on church directions, and with occasional pointed sermons on the necessity for change. A "vision" is another well-worn tool of change.
Today's rule that "there is no growth without change" is a management principle which may apply to organizations, but not to the kingdom of God. A new minister is best advised to leave things as they are and get on with the real business of preaching and teaching.
build on the existing tradition.
2. Getting to know the people
While a Catechist under Rev Bill Osborne-Brown at Narrabeen (affectionately known as "Prayer Book Bill"), I received a piece of invaluable advice. The first task of any clergyman is to get to know his congregation. "Whistle stops", this was Bill's advice. During the first months it is necessary to call in on every member of the congregation. Extended visits would be impossible, so a 5 minute chat at the door in the first month or two, followed up by an extended visit within a year or two, is the way to get to know the members. People have to trust their pastor, and trust can only develop out of personal contact. The kingdom is about community, unity, fellowship, love.... and so building relationships must come before building empires.
Know your people.
I remember at college being warned that I would be tempted to let my reading slip. Slip it did, along with my Greek. A minister of the Word must constantly wrestle with theology to distill Biblical truth. General reading, along with sound theology, particularly journals, keeps the ideas flowing. Biblical exegesis via commentaries ties the whole together. So, two days in the study is the rule of thumb.
Read, or dry out.
The big move today is toward topical, easy-listening, feeling-centered, need-centered sermons. The trouble is we are in the business of communicating life-changing Biblical truth and this is best achieved through expository (and some theological) preaching. The systematic exposition of scripture will end up covering all that is necessary for Christian maturity. Topical sermons are more likely to reflect our own priorities than God's priorities. It is for this reason that we do well to apply ourselves to the lectionary. Only at special outreach services (eg. Christmas, Family Services) should we move away from the expository sermon. On these occasions a simple gospel message is all that is required.
Printed sermon notes with exegetical notes and sermon summary, gives the listener an extra resource for further study. The sermon itself should focus on a single truth, rather than multiple ideas. Most Biblical passages only have one central point, one truth to communicate. This truth should be explained and applied.
Minister the Word.
People management is no easy business and will always involve tension. We need to remember 10% will love us (we do nothing wrong), 10% will hate us (we do everything wrong), and 80% will appreciate us (we get it right most of the time). Beware of particular management systems. They constantly change, so pick and choose. eg. Management by objectives is still a viable approach, but the objectives need to be person centred and Biblically focused. Also, beware of the funnel approach (everything must be approved by the Rector, therefore everything depends on the size of his collar). A benevolent dictatorship often works quite well. Yet, a lay team of Wardens and Parish Councillors, wrestling with, and resolving issues at Parish Council and then sharing the responsibility of implementation, is a far more upbuilding exercise for the Christian fellowship.
Lead a team.
6. Creative individuality
Father Ian at Braidwood had a daily main-street ministry. When he walked down the street to get his morning paper he greeted shoppers and shop keepers alike in a big warm friendly voice. You could hear him coming from one end of the street to the other. Only Ian could do it, pure theatre, dressed in his cassock, with his big red friendly face fixed under his clerical hat. Everyone in the town knew Ian, who he was and what he was about.
In a secular society it is difficult to promote the presence of the church, but this was certainly one of the most successful methods I have ever seen. Given the nature of the man and the size of the main street, it worked at Braidwood. Everyone knew the Anglican church was alive and well.
So, Ian took his personality traits, tied them to the Anglican frame, using it as a platform to reach out to his unchurched local community. In the business of "accessing" he was a genius, and he did it dressed in the garb of a medieval priest. It just goes to show that relevance has more to do with who you are and what you say, than with what you wear.
Be real and resourceful
7. Aims and objectives
Any organization wanting to grow must know who it is, where it has come from and where it is going. It takes time for the new boy on the block to understand the subtleties of a group, but once understood, the leader needs to reinforce group identity and seek an inclusive understanding of direction.
The difficulty we face today in the Anglican church is that every Bishop, regional and diocesan, and virtually every local parish, has a particular set of aims and objectives. Diversity rather than uniformity is the name of the game. We can save ourselves quite a bit of pain by just working with the agenda already outlined in the Prayer Book. Just be an Anglican church, a Prayer Book church, and focus on the agenda of the Kingdom - gathering and nurturing the lost. Sadly, such simplicity is probably no longer an option, given that most Evangelical parishes have long abandoned Anglican polity. So, the best approach is to build on the existing shape of the church. Define and refine existing directions.
Know where you are going.
I have struck some very disorganized clergy in my time. They have never ordered their routine or set priorities, and so they just move from one crisis to another. Setting a plan for ministry is essential. For example, this is how I see my ministry programme, from which I prioritize and develop my routines:
A) Nurturing the flock
Sunday worship - planning, preparation and execution.
Small groups - Bible study
Personal - visitation
ii] Social - Monthly activities
iii] Practical - Building and grounds maintenance etc.
B) Gathering the lost
Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals - interviews etc
Parish Paper, Newspaper articles....
Public School Scripture
9. The workspace
When Bishop Donald Robinson was the deputy at Moore College before his election to Archbishop, he had to take a wedding in the parish church where I was a catechist. Afterward, at college, he drew me aside. "Tell your Rector to clean up his vestry." The vestry was indeed a pigsty, but then the church and grounds were no better. A clean, ordered, well cared for workspace is a loved workspace. Not only does it lift our spirits and that of the congregation, but it sends a message to those who look in on us. A well cared for workspace says we love it and love what goes on in it. A weedy messy church site says we don't care.
Keep it clean and ordered.
When Apple Macintosh hit the market all those years ago, it was like a dream come true. It was finally possible to publish a decent church news sheet, sermon notes, parish paper..... produce overhead transparencies, power-point presentations, with quality and ease. For a person who spent years struggling with spirit and ink duplicators, it was indeed heaven. A computer is the best tool a clergyman can own.
Publish or perish
11. Moving on
Spike Milligan often concluded his skits with the phrase "what are we going to do now?" Blokes are never settled, never satisfied. A parish is a bit like a marriage. All clergy get the seven year itch. There is no formula for long or short ministries, even though "long-term ministry" is presently in vogue. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." The important element is not when we move on, but how. When moving on and moving in, the maintenance of caring relationships must be our utmost aim. While respecting the territory of the new minister, it is essential to maintain the 10%+ of special relationships that developed during our term. Walking away from loving relationships marks clergy as untrustworthy (their love was just part of the job). The new bloke must also let the previous blokes "fan club" retain their devotion. Their love doesn't undermine the new man.
Let love be
12. Personal practicalities
These are the obvious, but often ignored essentials:
i] Take a day off a week, and a month off a year
ii] Spend time with the family
iii] Have an outside interest or hobby
iv] Buy an investment renting property for retirement - negative gear.
v] Build up superannuation for early retirement.
vi] Be fully insured.
Protect your back.
13. Teaching scripture in school
As a Curate I was once allocated 14 Public school Scripture classes - 12 Primary and 4 High. The load was far too large, given all the other duties I had to perform. Still, it was worthwhile, a great learning experience and a valuable gospel opportunity. Few young people have any contact with the Christian faith. Only a small number ever link in with a church youth fellowship and it is certainly no longer part of normal family life. So, Scripture is an amazing gospel privilege. In a small parish, where the minister can be fully involved in Scripture, it is best to take the classes denominationally, ie. Catholic, Anglican, and OPD (Other Protestant Denominations). In this way we are able to link up with nominal Anglican families and promote any church outreach activities we may have planned. We also have a ready source of young people for our youth clubs and a pool of names and addresses for Confirmation classes (if going down the "catholic" line).
Use the privilege of Scripture.
14. Nurture and Evangelism
For some reason or other we are constantly tempted to intertwine the separate tasks of nurture and evangelism. Keeping bums on seats is probably one motivator, the other is the rather dated method of Evangelical meeting-technology. We love to get people along to a meeting so we can evangelize them. These days, church is about the last place we can get people along for a meeting.
Traditional Anglican worship is anything but a popularist evangelical outreach occasion, but it does work well as a tool for nurture. The central focus of the Prayer Book is the reading and exposition of Scripture. Worship (in the sense of adoration) involves confession, praise, thanksgiving, prayer and the hearing of Christ, and an Anglican service works well in this department.
The more informal worship service (semi-Charismatic) is now far more popular with generation X and is increasingly becoming the style used at the main 9/9.30am Sunday morning service. The temptation is to shape it toward outreach, but the danger of socialization must be recognized.
Evangelism is best performed beyond the Sunday worship service. Anglican parish ministry provides numerous opportunities for evangelism. It is an effective platform from which to enlighten a local community:
i] Occasional services.
Baptism. An open policy is best. For nominal Anglicans, a service following the Sunday morning services for each individual family group (half hour slots), provides a wonderful opportunity to explain the Christian faith. As for the Baptism itself, it is probably best to speak in terms of setting a spiritual goal for the child, and of the family praying to that end.
Confirmation. It is only a useful tool for evangelism in a diocese where it is possible to rope in 6th class children. Where we have to stick with a minimum age of 14 years there is now little chance of pulling in unchurched kids.
Wedding. Gospel impact is not easily achieved at a wedding. Contact with the Christian church is about all that is achieved. The funds are helped along and the minister gets something toward a Chinese meal.
Funeral. A sensitive declaration of eternal truth can powerfully touch a group of mourners. The family visit is also an extremely valuable occasion. Clergy need also to resist the trend toward the use of funeral "chaplains".
ii] Special Services. Family services still work where the children of Sunday School, youth clubs, uniformed groups...., are gathered with the parents for a "church parade". A simple gospel presentation for the kids has touched many a hardened adult.
iii] Visitation. Clergy are generally welcome, but lay visitation programmes often end up insulting people and barring further visits.
iv] Media. A Parish Paper is still the most useful tool for mass evangelism. Placed in the letter box of every home in the parish once a year, it serves as the best "tract" available in that it will be read by the majority of households. A 10,000 run 16 page A5 format can be produced for around ten cents a copy. A local paper column/advert is also another useful tool. Banners ("the wayside pulpit"), are probably a bit overdone.
v] Public School Scripture.
vi] Presence. The building, congregation and minister.
Use the institution as both a sheep-fold and a fishing-boat.
These are just some of the practicalities of Evangelical ministry. There are many more. Observe and apply.
No matter how well we apply the practicalities of ministry, there are times when disputes arise in the life of a church. We need to identify carefully the factors that promote disputes within a congregation, and quickly learn the art of patience, inclusion and conciliation.
1. Church order disputes
In serious disputes between an Anglican minister and a segment of his congregation, the resolution of the dispute is actually quite simple. Unlike most protestant churches, the Anglican church is constitutionally controlled by rules which balance the rights of both the congregation and the minister. As long as both parties stick by the rules, a resolution will result.
In the Anglican tradition the clergyman functions as the "rector" or ruler of the congregation. His Biblical role is that of a teaching elder, which means he functions as the chief elder in the congregation. The Wardens and Parish Council tend to exercise a subordinate eldership role. Yet, the minister is not all powerful. He is bound to function according to the ritual and order of the Anglican church, defined primarily in the authorized Prayer Books of the church, and further defined by the ordinances of the church. His ordination promises bind him to these rules, and if he breaks them the church wardens, after first bringing the matter to his attention, Matt.18:15-17, are duty bound to report him to the Bishop, who is similarly duty bound to take action against any infringements of ritual or order.
Often disputes flare between a minister and a segment of the congregation, because neither parties in the dispute are properly aware of their rights and responsibilities. Being aware of them will most often nip the problem in the bud.
In a particular instance a clergyman removed the choir stalls from the church to allow the placement of a band at the evening service. Church members charged him, and the diocesan tribunal ordered him to replace the pews. A failure to do that would have resulted in his removal from the parish. Church furnishings can only be removed through a "faculty" sought by a majority of parishioners at a vestry meeting. Checks and balances, democracy.
Serious disputes in an Anglican church are easily avoided. The minister need only fulfill his ordination promises and the congregation (wardens in particular) fulfill their responsibilities and follow due process when ritual and order is broken.
2. Dispute factors
i] Ministerial identification. In any change of ministry it is difficult for all members of a congregation to be 100% for the new man. As one friend told me of his congregation, there were three parties all focused on three former ministers. "Oh well" I said, "now there will be four (if you play your cards right)". There needs to be a willingness to strive toward identification, but also a willingness to accept those who are struggling in that task. Patience and affirmation is what is required, making "every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace", Eph.4:1-3.
ii] Allegiance. Recently a member of my congregation told a church meeting of how she met the former minister and how they had coffee together. "It was family" she said. Of course I was a little uneasy. She apologized afterward, but I reminded her that he had been present with her when her husband died. What love and identification. It was right for her to feel the way she did. My territorial fear was but a passing feeling. It is right for us to affirm those who have ministered beside us. Love should not be feared but rather affirmed. 1Cor.3:5-9.
iii] Change. Most Sydney Anglican churches are changing the way they do church from a reflective by-the-book devotional service toward a celebratory relevant Bullock/Hendrick flexible outreach service. What is clear is that managing change like this is extremely difficult because it is hard to take everyone along with it. Compelled change, even though little-by-little, will inevitably cause division in the body of Christ. Moving the furniture around only serves to disorientate the congregation. What is required is not patience, but rather an affirmation of community. Love calls us to move when all can move, particularly when moving "counts for nothing", 1Cor.7:17-19.
iv] Ideology. In a perfect world strongly held contra views can build a fellowship, extending intellect. Yet, often the human condition takes over and so matters of theology or church polity become areas of contention. People become fearful, defensive, opposed, and fellowship dies where there is a failure to respect contra ideas. "Speaking the truth in love" must be our aim, Eph.4:15-16.
v] Judgement. When communication breaks down, judging begins. "Speck" removal causes great offence and drives us apart. All those in a conflict situation must restrain from passing moral judgements on the opinions of their opponents, Matt.7:1-5.
vi] Confrontation. Conflicts will often become win/lose affairs. In such a battle the whole can lose. Once a conflict reaches flash-point it is essential to provide a cooling off period. Both parties need space to seek a peaceful resolution. Demanding acceptance of an imposed solution says "like it or lump it", "shape up or ship out". All is lost once a conflict reaches this point. We are called to peace not confrontation, Col.3:15
vii] Offence. Hurtful statements, scenarios etc. destroy fellowship. Long and fruitful friendships are devastated when people's motives and actions are called into question on the basis of little more than an assumption. We must remember that to assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME, Jam.1:26.
viii] Communication. An "I don't want to talk about it" jam, only further isolates the combatants in a dispute, forcing people to take sides. There can be no conflict resolution, no conciliation, where there is no communication, Matt.5:25-26.
ix] Fear. Male clergy tend to be very territorial and therefore fear the influence of former clergy, or neighboring clergy. Great damage is done when a minister sets about the eradication of the former minister's "smell", especially if that involves moves to isolate the former minister's "fan club" (herd). The truth is, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", so it is far better to build on the ministry of others rather than try to eradicate their work, 1Cor.3.
3. The management factor
Disputes are best seen as people management problems. Although the minister is not trained to be a people management person, the job necessitates that role. In the end, the minister is a paid professional, and this ultimately means that unresolved conflicts and their consequences are his responsibility. There is little point shifting blame, and in any case, the high profile role of the minister usually means he is right in the centre of the dispute anyway. Resolving it is his responsibility. If we have driven our car into a telegraph pole there is little point excusing ourselves to the police by blaming the misbehavior of the children in the back seat. The police are not likely to book the children. The driver is responsible, and it is the driver who gets booked.
There are a number of classic management errors made by clergy which both promote conflicts and leave conflicts unresolved:
i] Patience. A change in ministry is a stressful time for both minister and congregation. The rule of thumb for a new minister is simple: make no changes; build relationships.
In one particular situation, I destroyed a congregation by acting rashly without properly understanding the group. It was an evening youth congregation. There would have been no problem had I just left things the way they were and concentrated on getting to know the young people. But instead of that I rushed headlong in and caused irreparable damage. The sad truth is, if we trip and fall in the first act it is nearly impossible to rescue the performance.
A Baptist minister took up a position in America and on the first Sunday the Deacons told him they would take up the offertory before the sermon. He said to them, "don't bother, do it after the sermon". That was the end of it. In that particular church they had taken up the offertory before the sermon since the revolutionary wars, and here was this upstart Australian about to impose his way of doing things on them. He should have left things exactly as they were and worked at gaining the trust of the congregation.
ii] Inclusion. As a young curate I attempted to push a project through which, in my enthusiasm, I did not manage very well. Sir Frank McDowell, of the once famous McDowell department stores, took me aside and gave me my first, and most important, management lesson. He told me that before pushing ahead with any particular project or initiative, it was essential to take the people with me. I had to sell my idea, and they would need to believe it and be willing to support it, before I could push ahead with it. "Get the troops on side".
Sadly, clergy are bedeviled with the notion that they have a direct access into the mind of Christ as it relates to the life of their Christian congregation. We believe that we, and only we, know how the congregation should function in every minute detail. We forget that Christ speaks through us to his people who are then responsible to shape and apply that Word. Rather, we often function as little dictators. The methodology of control is disturbing:
Moral blackmail. "I am your minister under the Lord".
Change by stealth. Little by little we impose our will.
Conflicts are avoided where the leader manages the situation by taking the whole group along with the change. Imposed initiatives spell disaster. Change necessitates inclusion.
iii] Conciliation. The classic rule is conciliation rather than confrontation. Clergy are bedeviled by the superiority of their own intelligence. This leads to the assumption that lay people could not possibly know what is best for their church, even though they may have been in it most of their life. With such thinking, it is very difficult for clergyman to abandon the "superiority of their own position", and attempt to view the conflict through the eyes of others. An "I am right" approach involves imposed solutions which inevitably produce confrontation. Conciliation is the art of aiding both sides in a conflict to view the issue from the other's point of view, and then negotiating a compromise solution agreeable to both. The person who will find this process most difficult will be the clergyman himself, for he tends to think he knows the solution already.
Given the human condition, we struggle through life trying to maintain as much dignity as possible. May we learn to respect the dignity of others.
Understanding grace allows us to be generous when those around fall. We are not driven to get into "speck" removal. This allows us to give more time to removing the "logs" from our own lives.
I am sad to say many of us have been taken out of the game by sin. I can't say whether temptation is greater in ministry than secular life, but I often feel that the loneliness of ministry and the deceptiveness of our professional "goodness", leaves us open to powerful temptations.
I can think of no better list of temptations than the Seven Deadly Sins. These temptations were identified by the monastic orders and were first grouped together by St.Gregory in the 6th century:
i] Pride. Oh dear; "I'm the Rector and I know what's best". "The Lord has appointed me to this Parish and you are bound to accept my authority." This then is the horror of vainglory.
ii] Greed. I remember one of the old clergy warning me that greed was a constant temptation for blokes who had given up lucrative careers for the paltry stipend of a Parish clergyman.
iii] Lust. It's not that sexual misconduct is a more prevalent sin, it's probably just that getting caught-out is fairly inevitable. Sooner or later someone spills the beans. loneliness easily gets us into the arms of another and for some reason or other, once the collar gets around the neck, even the "most unattractive man" becomes desirable. There is nothing more desirable than being desired.
iv] Envy. It's all about getting the plumb Parish or position and when someone else gets it, then the knives are out, even though I am a humble man and not at all interested in advancement!
v] Drunkenness. The Rector often reminded us that it was his years of service in the Hunter valley that was his downfall. It was probably a lot of things actually, and although the grape gave him temporary relief, it was now slowly strangling him.
vi] Anger. Bitterness, resentment, payback........ all qualities often used to deal with the unruly members of a congregation.
vii] Sloth. I was in Cronulla Plaza sipping on my Cappuccino with some other clergy, and discussing how hard was our lot. The only trouble is, as a young bloke I had worked in a factory, even worse, I had worked at Eucalyptus cutting out of Braidwood. Now that was hard work!
"The Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
In the face of the erosion of institutional Christianity due to the pressure of secularization, along with the rapid pace of social and technological change, the business of Christian ministry is now a highly complex and stressful profession. A successful Evangelical ministry demands a reliance upon God's grace, providence and Word, a confidence in our call to ministry, a willingness to remain loyal to both denominational and parish order, a desire to develop the art of conciliation and a resolve to resist the whisper of the evil one.
c. 1995, Cronulla.
Getting a grip on grace. Understanding the workings of God's grace
Evangelical methodology in disarray. Examining the present trend to abandon traditional Evangelical ministry.
Maintaining parish ministry. The advantages of maintaining the trad. "small is beautiful" parish structure.
Evangelical Anglicans: Published articles
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons