Challenge to the Church

Context

1. The Equipping the Saints report called on the Church to explore new patterns of ministry and service within the Church to enable and equip the people of God to be a creative and effective force in their communities. It particularly looked for imagination and flexibility in the best use of ministers of the Word and Sacraments, and for development and extension to build on the successful experiments and effective forms of local church leadership to create a flexible framework for the pastoral care of local congregations.

2. The Catch the Vision process has encouraged the councils of the Church at all levels to take seriously that God has a future purpose for the United Reformed Church, and that obedient discipleship involves a deepening of our spirituality, radical changes in the patterns of our life, witness and worship, and the exploration of how to bring the treasures of our Reformed heritage to bear on the current national and community scene in order to make a difference.

3. Mission Council has given Ministries committee the task of overseeing the process whereby minister numbers are made to track the movement of membership numbers. The current presumption is that this means a reduction of approximately 3% per annum on the current number base which was accepted uncritically in 1998.

3.1. It is anticipated that, in the course of the next 10 years, the number of ministers will actually decline at a faster rate than that. This will be particularly affected by a larger-than-normal number of expected retirements in 2012 and 2013.

3.2. Therefore, in order to maintain the life and operation of the Church as currently perceived, there will be the need for some strenuous recruitment. Encouragement of vocations undertaken in the course of 2007 will not start to deliver people into ministry much before 2013. So the committee has already agreed to offer a number of certificates of eligibility whereby ministers of other Churches are admitted to the roll of ministers of the United Reformed Church.

4. The Ministries committee believes that there is an inconsistency between the imaginative thinking involved in Equipping the Saints and Catch the Vision on the one hand and the task with which it has been entrusted. The committee does not wish to oversee the management of decline. We prefer to challenge the United Reformed Church to develop new patterns of ministry in order to enable and deliver a vision of God’s tomorrow in line with the challenge and opportunities offered by Vision4Life. Reflection

5.1. We have drawn on research that suggests that congregations which are creative and growing tend to have something of a mix of the following four factors in common:

  • quality of worship and depth of spirituality;
  • a small group culture that nurtures members and helps develop skills of individual leadership and mutual care;
  • clarity of purpose;
  • strong local leadership, often where the church is the sole responsibility of one person.

5.2. Our listening to synod moderators and the Catch the Vision task group indicates that churches want effective local ministry, usually identified as a need for a minister.

5.3 We have shared the anxiety of many in the Church about the pressure on fulltime stipendiary ministers to manage ever-larger pastorates. Too often this means that ministers do not have the time and space to think and reflect, to dig deep into the treasures of theology and biblical studies. Consequently their ability to enable and challenge members of their congregations to plumb the depths of faith and spirituality is significantly reduced.

5.4 We have heard something of the rich experience of ministry teams where ordained ministers work in collaboration with local church leaders, lay preachers and those who lead local congregational worship groups. Such teams are a particular feature of some sister Reformed Churches in other parts of the world where they are the source of energy for development and growth.

A challenge to the Church

6. We are looking for a strategy within the Church that would:

i) support, encourage and develop local churches that are currently vibrant and growing;

ii) create fresh patterns of Christian presence both by recasting the life and work of less lively churches, and by establishing new groups or networks of people. In each case this would require provision of ministry that equips and enables the congregation or group:

a) to support and nurture each other through worship, prayer, study and care;

b) to present a corporate witness and service to the place where they are set;

c) to make a difference as the dispersed church where each member exercises a Christian presence in the workplace, leisure place, community involvement or neighbourhood.

7.1 Therefore we propose that there should be provision of appropriate local church leadership in each congregation or group which is the focus of Christian presence, on the basis of a strategy created by the synod for identifying the needs and opportunity for the provision of such leadership. This leadership would be rooted in the shared responsibility on ministers and elders, especially recognising the renewed commitment and enthusiasm for affirming and developing the role of elder made by General Assembly in 2007. Within this we feel the need for the recognition of an individual who would have a pastoral and teaching role, would be the first point of contact in the event of pastoral need, would provide continuity of worship and nurture, and would be the focus of the Christian presence in the wider community. Depending on the identified degree of need in each place, the local church leader might be a stipendiary or self-supporting minister, an elder or lay preacher drawn from within the congregation or among neighbouring churches, or a specifically identified local church leader following on from the thinking and work that started in some synods from 1998.

7.2. We think that such provision might best be delivered in team pastorates with a flexibility of leadership patterns. This would involve team working of full-time and parttime ministers, local church leaders, lay preachers and worship groups. Such a team would plan the worship and nurture programme of the pastorate, along with the training and equipping of the church members, utilising the mix of gifts, skills and experience the team comprised. The creation of the team would usually involve a deployment pattern which would enable one member of the team to provide oversight ministry to the team members and the pastorate churches.

7.3. There should be a challenge for calling and recruitment of i) people to offer as local church leaders to serve congregations in worship, nurture, witness and service; and ii) for ministers who would provide pastoral and oversight ministry towards a grouping of congregations and groups and local leaders from a well-based skill set of theology, biblical studies, training and leadership abilities.

8.1. Synods will encourage the development of team pastorates of local churches and other recognised mission opportunities. They will establish the criteria for scoping and identification of the level of ministerial input appropriate for each local situation and for the appointment of team pastorate ministers.

8.2. Synods will arrange for a process of regular review as part of the ministerial development of all ministers and local church leaders serving team pastorates or local churches or projects.

Further Work

9. If General Assembly gives approval for these outline proposals, there will be a number of pieces of work to help them to work.

9.1. The Assessment Board and the Ministries committee will prepare criteria for the recruitment and assessment of candidates for training for the range of ministries in the Church.

9.2. The Ministries committee would work together with the Education and Learning committee to identify appropriate forms of such training.

9.3. Papers will be produced to assist in the promotion of the proposals. These would probably include possible models or scenarios, and Bible studies to help develop the thinking and change the culture in local congregations.

Timescale

July 08 General Assembly consideration.

October 08 Synods report on their assessment of needs regarding:

i) the numbers of stipendiary ministers required for service as team pastorate ministers, and to serve in local pastorates;

ii) the number of part-time stipendiary posts required;

iii) the number of local church leaders required.

Nov 08 Ministries committee will establish the base number of full-time equivalent stipendiary ministers of Word and Sacraments required to provide appropriate leadership in team and local pastorates.

Jan 09 Deployment consultation between Ministries committee, synod moderators and other representatives of synods to confirm the base number and agree appropriate sharing of ministerial numbers between synods. Launch of recruitment programme for candidates for self supporting ministry, part-time stipendiary ministry and local church leaders.

March 09 Report to Mission Council on the nature of the process and progress to date.

Jan 10 All plans for the recruitment and calling of ministers should be within the context of team ministry within team pastorates as described in the proposals.

July 10 Report to General Assembly of nature of the process and progress to date.

Resolution

General Assembly:

i) believes that each congregation and mission group has a need of its own local leader to work in partnership with the elders’ meeting to challenge, enable and equip the saints and be a focus of Christian presence in the local community; and

ii) affirms the value of team pastorates in providing pastoral support, encouragement and training for those in local leadership;

iii) therefore requests synods

a) to identify and quantify the leadership needs of each local situation,

b) make arrangements for the recruitment, training, calling and support of local leaders, and

c) to encourage the development of team pastorates to provide pastoral support, encouragement and training.