We are not asked to do any of this alone or for any one of us to do all of it.
We are asked to do this together as a church, but how do we organise this church?
We can no longer pretend that the core role of the church is the pastoral care of a Christian nation. In our post-Christian society we must become a missionary church or we will continue to fade away.
We need to value each other’s gifts and calling as part of one body held together by God’s love (1 Corinthians 12.12-13.13).
We will not work effectively, however, without co-ordination, mutual support and the sharing of experience, ideas and insight. We will also need oversight to ensure that those who act in the name of the church do so responsibly. So each type of ministry also needs on-going training for resourcing and peer-to- peer support for mutual encouragement.
The ministry of individuals within the Church
So each of us has a personal ministry – things we do because we are the people God has made us and where he has placed us – our care for our families and neighbours, acts of mercy, hospitality, generosity, self-control, our prayers, our worship, the sharing of what God has done for each of us.
These ministries are as various as we are, but are all rooted in our obedience to Christ and fed by our worship. Our inspiration and sustenance for these come from the general run of our prayers and parish life, our walk with other Christians, our membership of charitable and community groups. These personal ministries are the bedrock of our Christian life and any other kind of ministry will be empty without them.
But there will also be people who have a recognised ministry. There will be the person who is always asked to read because their voice is strong, the person you can rely on to pray for you, the one who will not allow anyone to go home without being fed, the one who will sit quietly with you when you wait for bad news, the one who will always give money or time, the one whose smile makes people feel valued. These people need to be appreciated and their gifts used for the good of all. They too need training, support and oversight that can mainly be provided by their parishes but may overspill to a wider area that needs them.
Without personal and recognised ministries the third type, commissioned ministries, are useless. They are the smallest part of the picture but getting them right demands a great deal of attention. To spend this time on them is not to belittle the other types, but to try and make sure that what is done in the name of us all is faithful to the calling of Christ and the needs of the church.
People called to a ministry that is commissioned by the church are given an authority to speak and act on behalf of us all. Because of this they need more formal training, more formalised support and greater oversight to ensure that they are worthy of the trust we all place in them.
There are many kinds of commissioned ministry already in the church, it may be that we need to develop and resource others. These ministries divide into two types, lay and ordained. People who take on these roles make promises before God to faithfully fulfil their offices and accept the Bishop’s authority. They may be licensed by the Bishop. They will be expected to fulfil the appropriate safeguarding obligations. Sometimes the line between recognised and commissioned can be a little fuzzy.
Commissioned Lay Ministry is taken on by people who have often had recognised ministries within a congregation.
There are administrative ministries – church wardens, parish secretaries, parish treasurers.
There are pastoral ministries – pastoral assistant, pastoral Eucharistic assistant.
There are teaching and preaching ministries- Sunday School teachers. Messy Church leaders, evangelists.
There are liturgical ministries- Worship leaders.
There are ministries with particular groups of people- youth ministers, children’s workers, family outreach workers, Mothers’ Union leaders, Men’s fellowship leaders.
There are also licensed ministries that cover many of these areas, most importantly that of a Reader (or licensed lay minister) which will continue to be vital in growing ministry.
Some feel called, or have a calling recognised and affirmed by others, to Ordained Ministry. These people promise their lives to the service of God in the church. They may be paid or unpaid, work in the churches that nurtured them or far from home. Just because they are ordained it does not stop them having personal ministries or having a recognised ministry because of a certain gifting but, because they are ordained to a ministry of service, they may be asked to do the jobs that need to be done and no one else is doing even when they feel poorly equipped to carry out these roles.
There are deacons who have accepted the role of the servants and teachers in the church. There are deacons who are also priests who have accepted, in addition, the role of animating the worshipping life of the church and, by extension, leading and co-ordinating the ministry of others for the sake of the church’s ministry and mission.
There are bishops who are also priests and deacons who accept, in addition, the role of overseeing the church’s work in a diocese, of confirming, commissioning, licensing and ordaining people in and to various ministries.
This combined and corporate ministry of the people of God is how some parishes in the diocese are working now. After much consultation this pattern of Christian life and ministry is commended to every person, parish and deanery in the diocese.
More details about how this fits structurally in the context of Local Ministry Areas, particularly with focal ministry, is available on this website:
Each of us should consider our calling and our ministry, remembering how Paul says that God often chooses those who feel weak and foolish so that God’s power rather than human pride can be shown (1 Corinthians 1.26-31).
So what is your personal ministry? What ministries do you recognise in the people around you? How can you affirm and support them and encourage them to grow into the commissioned ministries our diocese desperately needs? How can we be true to God’s calling to love and serve and make disciples?