drew ditzel is studying to be a pastor in the usa. we've never met but he contacted me to ask me to take part in a connected online conversation about ministers and their role in the church in the new environment. he has blogged about the conversation and links to 5 other bloggers who are addressing the subject. at the time of writing i haven't read any of those posts. there's no reason of course why the conversation should be limited to those he has invited. if you have something to say just blog away and put a comment somewhere with a link to your post or tag it with an emerging profession. his initial e-mail to me summed his concerns as follows...
I have many fears about being an ordained pastor. Really too many to count, but two again and again raise their thought provoking head stimulating my doubts and massaging my insecurities. The first is leading a faith community but not being apart of it. To work at the church picnic but not feel I am sharing a meal. This separation between the ordained, paid staff and the congregants seems to breed inauthentic relationships.
The second fear is leading a congregation that can rest easy in my leadership. I fear that if I stand up to preach and call the congregation to seek justice for the oppressed, to love their enemy, and follow God with all their heart, mind and soul, they will stand and in all sincerity proclaim in half statement half question, "Don't you get paid to do that for us?"
the first thing that springs to mind is the community i am part of grace. this is how it plays out there. i am not for a moment suggesting this is an ideal model or one others should follow but actually i have grown to appreciate it more and more...
1. we don't employ anyone to lead us or to be the minister. we are a group of friends/christians who take responsibility together. this has worked well for 14 years now. we are part of an anglican church, and the simplest way to understand how we connect is that we are a congregation of st marys,ealing - one of four.
2. we have an ethos that has emerged from the community over the years . this can be summed up with four words - creativity, risk, participation and engage. we are currently exploring hospitality and may add it as a fifth word at some point. this ethos functions like a rule or measure and has shaped us more than we thought it would.
3. leadership is shared and dispersed within the community. currently we have a small group of three who facilitate communication, ensure stuff gets talked about that needs to be and that decisions are brought to the group that need to be made. a monthly meeting and discussions via e-mail are the way things get talked about in the community and decisions made. when it comes to leading , whether worship services or activities that engage in the wider community, one person will generally take the initiative and pull together a team to get involved with them in doing that thing. so different people take the lead on different occasions. we have a high value on participation so it's difficult to be part of grace and not participate in something. and there's plenty of opportunity to lead or minister. and if there's something you have a passion for that isn't happening you can raise it with the group, and the chances are you'll be encouraged to go for it and encourage others to get involved with you. i.e. there's a low permission threshold.
so leadership for us is
1. dispersed - done by different people at different times with different gifts
2. about guarding the ethos - we have come to see this as a key role of what the smaller group are entrusted to do
3. environmental - by which i mean that the role of leadership is not doing stuff, but creating the environment whereby stuff happens and people relate to one another easily and participate.
in relation to the tradition we are in (anglican), the one thing we can't do without having someone ordained is lead communion. we have been in the fortunate position over the last few years of having different people at different times who have been ordained and so have brought that gift to the community. currently dean who is a chaplain at the local university and part of grace can fulfil that role and does so really well.
the two fears that drew expresses are not a problem for us. everyone feels and is part of the community and can bring who they are - gifts and struggles - to the table. and no one is a professional or paid. i actually think it's a liberating position for people who are ordained to be in a community that they don't lead. it enables them to feel and be human like everyone else rather than the expert. and overall we are a community where you have to take responsibility for your faith - there's no dependency, which i think can be a real issue in many churches.
i remember a discussion at grace around ordination a while back over coffee and someone said "either we all get ordained or none of us get ordained" which was amusing at the time but does capture the sense that as a community leadership is shared and owned and not something we expect an outside professional to do for us.
so that's the community i'm part of and how we work it out.
more widely the emerging church is forever talking about this issue. some within the emerging church are embracing the opportunities to get trained and ordained to fulfil their sense of calling/vocation. the anglican church has smartly opened up a new pathway for ordination for what it is calling pioneer ministers and quite a lot of people i know are going to get ordained via that route. the thinking is that the current training and so in is really aimed at pastor/teacher sort of gifting. but pioneers might have and need a very different set of skills and approach and training. i think this is a great move and suspect it will end up changing the landscape. the danger is that these pioneers are having to slot into an institution that has older understandings of leadership and doesn't yet know how to rethink or re-imagine them. there are unlikely to be paid jobs for a lot of these pioneers and in my heart i think that's a good thing as they will have to genuinely pioneer new things on the margins, albeit with the blessing of the church, and grow things that are self sustaining. others within the emerging church are really quite anti the whole ordination thing, emphasising the body of christ and its priestly callng in all areas of life. i don't want to rehearse the debate here. but i think it is an important one. i tend to be pragmatic and want both/and. i think we need people inside the structures and denominations with a calling to renew, pioneer and effect change - to be there you have to work with the system. but i also think we need people who are not prepared to play that game and want to do stuff on the edges and margins. if you get renewal flowing in both directions that strikes me as a good thing! that's why i want to encourage people with both approaches.
the church is in transition so struggles about leadership are part of the wider cultural shifting landscape. those at home in the new environment will have the instincts about leadership that are likely to herald the future. but it will take a while to change.