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What We Mean By Shared Ministry - Shared Ministry Network

What we mean

by 'Shared Ministry'

1. Collaborative Working

Collaborative working puts an emphasis upon the discipleship, the call to follow Christ, of the whole people of God. Those who take on a specific task of ministry with a capital M, ordained and lay, are recognising that, from the beginning of the exploration of calling, the role is to work with others collaboratively, enabling the development of discipleship and building a shared vision that values different approaches, different ideas, personalities and gifts. Collaborative working takes power in relationships seriously. It is not about delegation, coercion or submission but honouring one another as God’s agents, created in God’s image and interdependent as the church enabling the building of the Kingdom. The Biblical and theological principles and precedents for this are clear. In the NT we have the key image of the body of Christ (especially 1 Cor. 12) and the living stones image in 1 Peter 2. In these images of church responsibility is shared and diversity is a gift to be celebrated. Robin Greenwood in Transforming Church argues for the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation as doctrinal resources for thinking about Collaborative ministry. The most sustained theological reflection on collaborative ministry so far comes from Stephen Pickard. In his book, Theological Foundations for Collaborative Ministry, Pickard is concerned that our patterns of working in the church are not instinctively, habitually collaborative, “Teamwork isn’t something invented by management gurus. It is the way community flourishes even amidst the pain and conflict. It is no easy street, but it is the street upon which the church has to travel with Christ.” (Theological Foundations p.229).

2. Contextual Mission

Shared Ministry has sometimes been called Local Ministry. The word ‘local’ tried to illustrate the importance of place. Churches and congregations minister within and to a huge diversity of social and economic situations. Each church must discern for itself where and how God is working within the congregation and, for Anglican churches particularly, in the wider neighbourhood or parish so that it might respond to God’s Spirit at work in the world. Essential to Shared Ministry is a commitment to those outside the immediate church congregation. SM should not just be about evaluating the church’s activities and church development. SM needs to be primarily about mission, examining the place of the church within its neighbourhood and communities, how it is perceived by non-church goers, the partnerships it has or could develop with those groups within the community discerned by the church as working for the kingdom. One thing that is common to most contexts however, is change. If we are to be a responsive, mission focused church then it is helpful to recognise that change is inevitable and develop approaches to ministry that can help us to cope with change rather than seek to control it. A Shared Ministry Team ideally offers a place to reflect and respond to rapid and discontinuous change as it gives a space for issues to be discussed collectively and somewhere the reactions to change can be evaluated and responded to.

3. Shared Learning

Shared Ministry challenges the assumption that congregation members are blank sheets of paper who turn up on a Sunday to receive whatever is offered and then disappear until the next week. In a congregation where there are few learning opportunities learning can start with a SM team. For example, new teams may be appointed a mentor to foster a self-aware and self-reflexive team culture to try and prevent the team becoming another committee where business is done. As members of the team grow in confidence they seek to encourage others to offer their skills and experiences or take on new responsibilities. Shared Ministry attempts to focus on the discipleship of its members Monday to Saturday. Learning presupposes setbacks, blocks and even failures, the SM process seeks to make our churches places where people can take risks and sometimes get things wrong. The process is often (always?) one of learning for clergy, not just laity, as roles and responsibilities of lay and ordained can be discussed in a parish, sometimes for the first time. There is a need to also carefully distinguish between learning and training. As a congregation explores shared ministry they might identify roles that can be taken on by laity such as intercessions, pastoral work, youth work etc. and training can be offered for these roles but this is only a part of the aim to encourage the whole congregation to become involved in the learning and growth required of us as disciples. – Rachel Wood, 2015

A personal retrospect on the journey so far…

By way of introduction, I’d like to begin with a couple of autobiographical paragraphs, to provide some context. In 1991 I moved from a parish post in Staffordshire to a new joint post in Shropshire: the post involved being priest-in-charge of a group of parishes and also being half-time Local Ministry Advisor (ALMA) for the Shrewsbury Area (ie North Shropshire) of Lichfield Diocese. The latter was a new post, and the brief was to encourage any form of lay ministry and leadership in parish churches and also collaborative working between the lay and ordained.

In 1999 I moved on to be Director of Local Ministry for Lichfield Diocese, a post which covered three main areas – leading the diocesan team of ALMAs, now grown to six, in developing a wide range of Local Ministry across the diocese; providing Adult Education across the diocese, particularly the Bishop’s Certificate course; being Principal of the Local Ministry Training Course, which provided training for OLMs, Readers and a range of other Lay Local Ministers. In 2005, I moved to a post with the West of England Ministerial Training Course, preparing candidates for lay and ordained ministries from Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester Dioceses, and in late 2014 I returned to Lichfield Diocese as Rector of St Giles’, Newcastle-under-Lyme and St Thomas’, Butterton.

The energy and vision for developing Local Ministry from, roughly, the 1980s seems to have come from two main sources: the Church of England’s rediscovery of ministerial gifts among lay people after centuries of paternalistic clericalism, and the initiative to encourage dioceses to set up their own OLM training schemes. The distinctiveness of OLM as an expression of ordained ministry lay in the candidate’s being called into ministry by their local congregation; by their vocation to be a priest in one particular context; and by their commitment to collaborative working.

The overall vision of local Ministry was twofold: to discern and encourage the gifts of ministry/service that God has given to all his people, and to equip people to offer their ministry collaboratively. At its best, the Local Ministry vision has reached beyond the ecclesial context and sought to equip Christians to use their ministerial gifts in every aspect of their discipleship. The theology supporting Local Ministry tended to draw either upon the Pauline vision of ministerial gifts being given to the whole people of God (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4) or from a complementary conviction that baptism is the primary authorisation for ministry.

With the inherited paradigm of ministry increasingly being perceived to be inadequate for the church of the late 20th century, Local Ministry was invested in substantially by dioceses, including the establishment of over twenty diocesan OLM schemes. In the first decade of the 21st century, much of this investment was switched to resourcing mission and over the same period Ministry Division increasingly encouraged OLM Schemes to merge with larger regional training institutions.

The current situation sees institutional investment in Local Ministry at a relatively low level compared to fifteen years ago, although the traditional paradigm of ministry is continuing to struggle. It is hard to see any realistic future model of ministry for the local church that is not rooted in the theology and practice of Local Ministry, even if the institutional church finds itself driven in this direction by necessity rather than by vision.

The challenge for those committed to Local Ministry will be to find compelling ways to renew the vision and to encourage the institutional church to resource local churches in growing their own ministry and leadership.

– Robert Daborn, 2015

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