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What is ministry? Two examples

What is ministry? Two examples

By Andrew Symes
https://anglicanmainstream.org/
Sept. 18, 2018

The ReNew conference, a gathering of 470 clergy and senior lay leaders at a hotel in Leeds, has just finished. The emphasis of ReNew is to encourage churches and ministers with conservative evangelical convictions, to continue working together for the evangelisation of the nation, through the 'establishing and securing' of existing healthy Anglican congregations, and pioneering new ones. While leaders and delegates differ in terms of the extent to which the Church of England is and will remain a good vehicle for church development in this way, there is agreement that ministry inside and outside the C of E can continue in parallel.

One of the sessions featured a review of the past five years. Statistics show how the ReNew movement has grown by nearly 30%, although large areas of the country remain with weak or non-existent representation of clearly bible-based churches. A Bishop has been consecrated for conservative evangelicals inside the C of E (Rod Thomas), and also for the emerging group of AMiE congregations outside (Andy Lines). Videos and live interviews gave a flavour of exciting initiatives in church planting and revitalisation, but also the recognition that in many ministry contexts, the work is hard and slow, sometimes visibly unimpressive, and requires much prayer, patience and faith.

For those in the C of E with a pastoral and evangelistic focus, the point was made that lay people need to be taught about wider church politics and the reality of liberal theology, as wardens and PCC's will often be responsible for ensuring the securing of good ministry if a Rector leaves or retires. Those pioneering new Anglican congregations outside the 'official' system can see their work primarily as flexible and entrepreneurial evangelistic 'rescue mission' projects for the vast majority who don't know Christ, but also a potential place of safety for Anglicans in broken fellowship with the Church of England now or in the future. The Gafcon movement was given prominence throughout, and especially highlighted by guest speaker Archbishop Peter Jensen.

The main theme of the 27 hour conference has been the 'priesthood of all believers' and 'mobilising every--member ministry'. Archbishop Jensen, Church Society Director Lee Gatiss and Co-Mission leader Richard Coekin all warned in their addresses that clergy-and-staff-focussed church is not just the preserve of Cathedrals and Catholics. Evangelicals too can over-professionalise ministry, especially large churches with numerous apprentices and salaried ministry leaders. The laity then become consumers, an audience, rather than a royal priesthood, praising God together and being the means by which people in the world can know Christ and become transformative disciples themselves.

The purpose of Bible teaching should be to prepare every member for ministry in terms of serving in church life, and sharing the good news of Christ in the community and workplace. This involves good relationships as well as training and management, so we were reminded that while "books on business leadership can be helpful, love is essential". An excellent plenary session on Tuesday featured a number of lay people sharing their experience of different ministries -- for example evangelism, sharing expertise on national church committees, and training women and young people to lead bible studies.

According to Archbishop Jensen, ministry in church and through it to the world, including that of Bishops and clergy, should not be imposed by detached structures or delegated to professionals, but ideally should arise from among the people of God submitted to Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It will be salt and light in the culture, instead of conforming to it.

The delegates left with a renewed commitment to enabling whole-church responsibility for ministry and the vision behind it, after being reminded that if God is going to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, we must devote more time and energy to prayer, and ask for development of Christlikeness in character as well as gifts and skills.

This understanding of the ministry of the church as comprising mainly the worship of ordinary people and their service into local communities is very different from the idea of senior ecclesiastical figures talking publicly to important people about issues of national life. A number of people, including myself, have commented on the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech last week to the Trades Union Congress at their annual conference (see here for a collection of articles).

While some of the content and its underlying motivation can fairly be criticised, the action of a church leader speaking publicly on political issues should be commended. When every member is gifted and called to fulfil particular tasks, Justin Welby's speech can be seen as just as much part of the ministry of God's people, as the elderly lady who makes the tea after the Sunday service.

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