Saturday, May 22, 2010
Pastoral Ministry in the Small Membership Church
By Robin G. Jordan
A perennial problem of the small membership churches is finding and keeping a pastor. Only a few small membership churches have the financial resources to pay the stipend of a full-time pastor. This task is often complicated by denominational expectations and requirements.
A growing number of small membership churches have a non-stipendiary part-time pastor who supports himself by secular employment. This practice is seen in some denominations more than in others. The pastor may have a seminary or Bible college education. He may be a part-time student at a local seminary or Bible college or enrolled in a distance-learning program of a seminary or Bible college. He may be pursuing a program of independent study. The church may pay him a small stipend but not full support. It may offer him a benefits package, paying him a travel allowance, paying his health insurance premium, and contributing to his retirement plan. The church may also be a new plant and the pastor a bi-vocational church planter. He may receive a small stipend but not full support from a consortium of churches that have recruited him to plant the new church. The pastor may be a retired pastor who is receiving a pension or military retirement pay but is still active in pastoral ministry.
For two years I was involved in a thriving church plant whose pastor operated a janitorial service and cleaned offices at night. His wife worked as a medical receptionist. His night job freed him to meet people in the community and build relationships with them during the day. Both he and his wife tithed to the new church. He is now planting a second new church.
Two or more small membership churches in same geographic area may form a Ministry District and jointly pay the stipend of a full-time pastor who officiates and preaches at each church in the Ministry District at least once every Sunday or once or twice a month, depending on the number of churches in the Ministry District and their proximity. This option is frequently seen in those dioceses of the Anglican Church of Australia that are largely comprised of sparsely populated rural areas.
In Ministry Districts that consists of more than two or three churches and in which the District Pastor officiates and preaches at member churches only once or twice a month a licensed Reader usually officiates and preaches on Sundays that the District Pastor does not officiate and preach. On the one or two Sundays the District Pastor officiates and preaches, he also administers the sacraments—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A Reader is sometimes licensed to administer the sacrament of Baptism as well as to conduct services of public worship and preach sermons.
The role of the District Pastor is in some ways similar to that of a bishop during the period in Church history when bishops began to oversee not only one church but also several outlying churches in the same district. The role of the District Pastor is primarily to preach and to teach and to administer the sacraments. He is the principle equipper of the Ministry District. He pastors the Readers of the Ministry District and has a supervisory role in the selection, training, and commissioning of new Readers. He has a role as the spokesman of the Ministry District to the wider world and otherwise leads the Ministry District in mission. As a senior minister he may be licensed to confirm baptized persons, which is the practice in a number of denominations, including the Church of England in South Africa and the Roman Catholic Church.
In a Ministry District a part of the work of the District Pastor is to identify and cultivate likely persons for ordination as deacons and presbyters. A part of his job is to put himself out of a job. Or to obtain a promotion to bishop of a Mission Area in a denomination with a policy of organizing into Mission Areas with its own bishop the churches of the former Ministry Districts once the participating churches having their own pastor.
One of the drawbacks of a Ministry District is that the District Pastor may single out one church and give it more attention than the others. This may be the church where the District Pastor is based or a church that the District Pastor believes would benefit from his attention. Another drawback is the tendency of some small membership churches to regard their pastor as a chaplain whose role is to ministers to their spiritual needs. The members of these churches see themselves as consumers of a service that the pastor provides. Some pastors are quite willing to fulfill this expectation. This development, however, is neither healthy for the church nor the pastor. It can be a serious obstacle to numerical and spiritual growth of the church. The church members are not only abdicating their responsibility as Christians to care for each other but also to reach beyond their own fellowship and care for the members of their community and the strangers and the sojourners in the community. They are also refusing to recognize their own primary role as gospel co-workers with God, missionaries for Jesus Christ, whether God has placed them. In a Ministry District these churches can be a drain on the other participating churches as well as the District Pastor. Their basic position is one of passive dependency. Due to circumstances they may be able to make a large contribution to the District Pastor’s stipend and in doing so expect the District Pastor to give them a large part of his attention.
For this approach to succeed, the agreement between the churches of a Ministry District and the District Pastor must not only unambiguously delineate the role of the District Pastor but also the role of the churches of the Ministry District themselves. The participating churches must understand and accept that all Christians are called to be ministers and the work of ministry is the work of all Christians. It must be clear to the participating churches that their role includes providing pastoral care to their members and performing gospel ministry in their respective communities or districts in which they operate. The role of the District Pastor is to equip and lead them in these areas but not to do these things for them. The members and leaders of the participating churches must receive adequate training in the provision of pastoral care, the performance of gospel ministry and other important areas of church life. This task should not be too difficult as a wealth of training resources is available. One of the things that training does is to build up folks’ confidence to do that for which life may have already equipped them or for which they already show a natural talent or spiritual gift. It helps to reinforce their existing efforts and focus them. It can also offer correctives where and when needed.
A number of small membership churches have opted for a homegrown pastor. A likely person who shows the requisite preaching and teaching gifts is invited to pastor the church. This person may be preparing for pastoral ministry on a part-time basis at a local seminary or Bible college. He may be a mature Christian whom life and independent study has prepared for pastoral ministry. Homegrown pastors are most likely seen in churches with a congregational polity but they are not confined to such churches or to small membership churches. An increasing number of large membership churches and mega churches are recruiting, training and ordaining pastors from within the membership of the church. They find that these pastors are better able to meet their needs than seminary educated ones.
A growing number of denominations are recognizing that, while those actively involved in pastoral ministry might benefit from a two or three year residential training program, it is not always practicable. Training for pastoral ministry must be provided outside a residential setting. A number of seminaries and Bible colleges offer distance-learning courses on the Internet. Several denominations and judicatories have developed non-residential training programs for those active in pastoral ministry but lacking a seminary education. The Moore Theological College Correspondence Courses are a good starting point for Anglicans.
Training also need not be formal. A candidate for ordination may pursue a program of independent study under the supervision of a senior clergyman. This relationship may continue after ordination, with the senior minister mentoring the new pastor and offering encouragement and support.
A number of small membership churches share a pastor with a large membership church. The pastor may be an assistant or associate pastor on the staff of the large membership church. This has become one way that cash-strapped judicatories provide pastoral leadership to small membership churches assisted by the judicatory. A self-supporting large membership church or even a well-endowed middle-sized church that has more than one pastor is asked to share one of its pastors with one or more small membership churches within the region of the judicatory in which it is located. The pastor may be a pastor-church planter that the larger membership church has recruited to plant a new church or new churches in the region and the small-membership church may be a new church plant.
All of these approaches have their strengths and limitations.
We are also seeing in both western and global south Anglican provinces and dioceses a more creative use of the assistant office of Reader not only in providing small-membership churches with pastoral leadership but also in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. In these provinces and dioceses the Reader’s ministry is a preaching and teaching ministry. Readers are preparing and preaching their own sermons, as well as conducting services of the church and assisting at the Holy Communion.
In the Church of England Readers may be paid a small stipend. In Our Modern Services (2002, 2003) of the Anglican Church of Kenya the service for Admitting Lay Readers parallels that of the ordination services for deacons and presbyters.
The candidates for licensing are presented to the Bishop who then asks the congregation if anyone has any objection to the admission to a particular candidate to come forward and make it known. If there are no objections, the Bishop presents the candidates to the people for their acclamation. The Bishop then gives the following charge:
“As a Lay Reader you are called to serve the church by supporting the Parish Priest in reading the word and conducting the service; leading in worship and expounding the scriptures so that people may be nurtured in the truth. You are to work under the Parish Priest, assist him in pastoral duties such as visiting the parishioners, the sick, the lost, praying with them and encouraging them; burying the dead; and offering such help and services as may be required by the Parish Priest from time to time.”
The Bishop then asks the candidates:
“Are you willing and ready to perform these duties faithfully and without being goaded?”
To which the candidates respond, “Yes I am.”
The Bishop then examines the candidates. Among the questions that he asks them are the following two questions:
“Will you by your life and ministry set a good example to unbelievers and to those around you?”
“Will you also endeavour to fulfill the great commission by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ with fervour in season and out of season?”
Each candidate kneels before the Bishop who shakes their hand as he presents each with the license saying:
“N, I admit you to serve the Church as a Lay Reader in the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Bishop presents the candidate with the New Testament saying:
“Preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in season and out of season. Amen.”
The candidate is then presented with a blue scarf. After all have been licensed, they stand in a line and the Bishop prays:
“Almighty and everliving God, who sent your only Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us and thus reconcile us to our maker, we thank you for calling these people to be partakers in the great commission in which your Son Jesus Christ commanded that we preach the gospel at home and abroad, till everyone on earth has heard it. We thank you for the confidence their respective congregations have in them, to serve the church not expecting any monetary remuneration, except for the sheer joy of serving the Church of Christ.”
He stretches his right arm towards them and continues:
“May God our Father, look with favour upon you. May he equip you with the power of the Holy Spirit that you may be fully prepared for the services ahead, to the end that your work will glorify God and edify his Church. May the Lord bless your going out and your coming in, from this day and forever more Amen.”
After this the congregation greets the new Lay Readers with ululations, songs, and other gestures of praise. If the service is used in the context of Holy Communion, it continues as Holy Communion beginning with Prayer for the Church.
In the Anglican Church of the Province of Uganda Parishes may be divided in Sub-Parishes. Each Sub-Parish is headed by a Lay Reader and has its own Sub-Parish Council. The Sub-Parish is run in the same manner as a Parish. Sub-Parishes are created by Parish Councils with the approval of the Area Archdeacon. A Parish based in a regional town may have a number of Sub-Parishes in the surrounding villages.
One major obstacle not only to the more creative use of the assistant office of Reader in the North American Anglican Church but also to the growth of that Church has been the central place that the North American Anglican Church gives to the service of Holy Communion on Sunday morning. This is attributable to the influence of the ecumenical and liturgical renewal movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the use of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and the 1985 Book of Alternative Services. They not only promoted the idea of the Holy Communion as the central act of Christian worship but the ex opere operato view of the efficacy of the sacraments, a more realist view of the eucharistic presence and the doctrine of the eucharistic sacrifice that theorizes that Christ’s sacrifice is more than his once-for-all death on Calvary and somehow continues in the present and that through the Church’s union with Christ Christians are incorporated into Christ’s present sacrificing activity. They participate in Christ’s sacrifice. This doctrine gave new life to the medieval view that presbyters are more than pastors and teachers as the classical Anglican Ordinal sees them. They are sacrificing priests. They may no longer re-offer the sacrifice of Christ’s body under the forms of bread and wine as the medieval Church taught. They are, however, the Church’s representatives through whom Christians take part in Christ’s sacrifice.
These developments emphasized the importance of the priest and the sacraments to the neglect of the preaching of God’s Word. The spread of modernism and liberalism further undermined the place of the Bible in the hearts and minds of North American Anglicans. Among the consequences was the craving for more immediate spiritual experiences—in traditionalist Anglo-Catholic eucharistic piety, manifestations of the Holy Spirit, mysticism, labyrinth walking, and, as pluralism became more acceptable, forms of non-Christian spirituality and practices of other world religions.
In some churches the role of the presbyter continued its movement away from the role of minister of the Word as envisioned by the classical Anglican Ordinal in the direction of the medieval sacrificing priest and intermediary between man and God; in other churches that role moved in the direction of master of ceremonies and spiritual adviser and guide. The ancient office of Reader as an assistant minister of the Word was abolished and replaced by a host of lay ministries, which emphasized the centrality of the Holy Communion. In either case an ordained clergyperson who was well versed in the correct ideology and committed to its views was required to preside over the worship celebration and to give any talk that might be a part of the celebration.
Whatever else happened in the worship celebration the people came to expect communion. For many it was the principal reason they went to church. The nineteenth century Tractarian belief that communion was the most important part of the service as Christ was the most present in the communion elements than he was in any other part of the service become widespread. At least one Anglo-Catholic priest of my acquaintance believes that if folks are baptized, regularly receive communion, and live decent moral lives they will go to heaven. He is not alone in his belief.
In the North American Anglican Church the expectation of communion at all worship celebrations changed the entire landscape. The planting of a new church required someone to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion. When Morning Prayer was a regular service of public worship in the 1950s, a new church plant needed only a deacon or a Lay Reader to conduct the services of the church and to preach. By 2002 a home fellowship organized as the first step in a new church plant needed a priest to administer the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the 1950s a priest working in concert with a team of Lay Readers could plant and grow several churches in the same region. By 2002 it took an Episcopal deacon, two Episcopal priests, and the bishop of Continuing Anglican Church to get one new church plant off the ground. Folks were no longer satisfied to take nourishment from God’s Word once a week and quicken and strengthen their faith with the observance of the Lord’s Supper once or twice a month. The priest could give a talk on anything that he fancied as long as he consecrated bread and wine and distributed it to those present. This was a main reason that folks came to the home fellowship meetings, communion and the singing of praise songs, prayer, the laying-on-of-hands and anointing with oil, and the enjoyment of each other’s company.
The expectation of frequent and regular communion had a similar impact upon small-membership Anglican churches. The pastoring of a small-membership church would likewise require a priest. The pastor of a small-membership church could no longer be a minister of the Word, a deacon or a Lay Reader. He had to be a minister of the sacraments. A deacon or a Lay Reader might support himself by secular employment. The services of a priest, however, mean the payment of a stipend, which, in turn, means, finding the money for the stipend. While the seminary education of a priest has often been used to justify the choice of a priest over a deacon or a Lay Reader, the bottom-line is the expectation of weekly communion.
Generations of Anglicans communicated only three times a year and even though they communicated infrequently, their spiritual lives were unaffected. They were faithful to God and his written Word and they evidenced the fruits of the Spirit in their lives. On the other hand the at-least-weekly reception of communion has been a regular practice in the Episcopal Church since the late 1960s. Yet a substantial number of Episcopalians do not appear to have gained any benefit from this practice. On the contrary, they no longer believe in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and have fallen into apostasy. While frequent communion may be desirable, it is not absolutely essential to the spiritual health and well being of a Christian. As the rubrics of the Communion of the Sick in the classic Anglican Prayer Book teach, those who truly repent of their sins and steadfastly believe that Jesus has suffered death upon the cross for them and shed his blood for their redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits they have by Christ’s blood shedding, and giving Christ heart-felt thanks for these benefits, do eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Savior Christ profitably to their souls’ health, although they do not receive the sacrament of the Holy Communion with their mouths. As Saint Augustine said, “Believe and ye have eaten.”
The North American Anglican Church needs to re-evaluate and re-think the place of Holy Communion in Christian worship. It is important but it should not be allowed to overshadow God’s Word. Faith is the means by which Christians receive and eat the Body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (Article XXVIII), and “faith,” the apostle Paul tell us, “comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The development of a more balanced view of the sacrament of Holy Communion giving a larger place to the reading and preaching of God’s Word in the worship of the Church would permit the more creative use of deacons and Lay Readers in the planting of new churches and the pastoring of small-membership churches in the North American Anglican Church. The visible church is a gathering of believing people in which the pure Word of God is preached and the sacraments are ministered with due order and discipline as Christ ordained (Article XIX). To be the visible church does not require weekly communion.
Shifts in demographics and changes in attitude toward organized religion and church attendance are among the challenges facing the North American Anglican Church today. Historically the Anglican Church has seen itself as a church to all people—of all ages and in all walks of life, not to one segment of the population. In our changing world the Anglican Church needs to be more adaptable and more flexible to achieve this vision. At the same time the Anglican Church needs to be uncompromising in preaching the gospel message. Any strategy to reach North America with the gospel of Jesus Christ will require churches of all sizes.
The North American Anglican Church must not turn it back on those who live in places that are less than ideal for planting or growing an Anglican church. New strategies are needed to start new congregations or support the witness of existing ones in such places. We are called to be Christ’s witnesses not just in the church-attending Southern Bible belt but also in Butte, Montana, Fairbanks, Alaska, “and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As the Anglican Church of Kenya’s service for Admitting Lay Readers reminds us, Christ has commissioned to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). How did the disciples respond to this commission? “They went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20).
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 11:39 AM