Last week I attended session run by our Synod Training Office on how we might make the groups/teams pattern of ministerial deployment, which it is Synod policy to make standard, work for us. This pattern, in which a team of several stipendiary ministers serve a group of churches, is unfamiliar to most of us and many are sceptical about it, a scepticism reinforced by a recent Church of England report that appears to show that churches whose ministry is organised in this way are less likely to grow (although the report is careful to stress that it has not demonstrated any kind of causal link).
I went into the session with a certain wariness but actually found it both interesting and encouraging. It seems to me that the transition to the new model presents, as changes so often do, both threats and opportunities. The groups and teams can be a context within which to identify needs and resources across a wider population and match them appropriately or it can amount simply to a mechanism for managing decline. Which it is will depend greatly on how effectively the leaders of the churches (both ordained and not) can work together to facilitate and guide a discernment of the Spirit’s guidance to us all.
I am convinced that each and every congregation can find ways to serve the kingdom of God and to be fruitful in that service. I am also convinced that this will often involve doing new and unexpected things and stopping doing things that have long been part of their corporate lives. We all need to review what we do and in every aspect ask ourselves things exist and also what we are being offered by God in the form of new ways to witness to his love.
Some congregations will be at different points in that process of discernment and I find it easy to imagine that across a group there will be times when some churches have exciting ideas and projects and others are in a period of reflection and prayer with no immediate sign of something fruitful and interesting to do. This represents a great opportunity. Congregations whose life is not marked by initiative could be encouraged to observe and perhaps assist with the projects being undertaken elsewhere, if only for a short time. This would serve both to inform and enliven their own discernment and support and nurture the work being undertaken elsewhere.I don’t have in mind any form of compulsion but rather than forums be brought into existence which have as their purpose sharing of missional ideas and activities.
Similarly among the stipendiary ministers it makes sense for those grouped into a team to explore together their various strengths and weaknesses and their differing vocations. These could be considered in deciding what kinds of work the ministers concerned should undertake. That we differ is obvious and group/team working could be an opportunity to make these differences a really positive thing. Thus, for example, churches of different sizes and at different points in their life cycle clearly require different kinds of ministerial support. Equally clearly ministers will be better suited to providing different things. We currently have few ways to recognise this. Groups and teams might well offer one.
These two aspects of the opportunity (allowing individuals within congregations the chance to participate to whatever degree in things their own churches do not currently do and matching needs to capabilities in ministry) would require of us that we be willing to do things in unfamiliar ways and to be honest about ourselves and our situations and also that we be open to the prompting of the Spirit as it comes to us in other people. I wonder if we’re daring enough to shake things up to that degree.