Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Role of the Bishop in the Mission-Shaped Diocese

Raise your eyes and look at the fields, for they are white for harvest. John 4:35

By Robin G. Jordan

Only a bishop who upholds and maintains biblical teaching in the churches of his diocese and leads the churches of the diocese in reaching and engaging the lightly churched and the unchurched, discipling them, and enfolding them into new churches can be rightly considered a successor of the apostles. He may belong to a line of bishops stretching back to the beginning of the Middle Ages or earlier. He may have been consecrated by three or more bishops in that line of bishops with the laying on of hands and the anointing of his forehead with oil. These things, however, do not make him a successor to the apostles. He becomes a successor to the apostles only when he undertakes the work of an apostle.

The work of an apostle does not exclusively belong to the office of bishop. Bishops share this ministry with other pastors and servants of the gospel. He does, however, play a key role in ensuring that this ministry is not neglected in the diocese; that all whom Christ has charged with this ministry, clergy and laity, are doing their part; that they are properly equipped for the work; and that the resources of the diocese are fully mobilized in support of the work. A major part of his role is keeping the network of clergy and congregations that form the diocese focused upon the work, which is the rai·son d'ê·tre for the diocese’s existence.

A bishop performs a number of roles. But if he does not fulfill this key role, he negates the most important purpose for the existence of his office and for the existence of the diocese. In such case he should resign from the office of bishop and the diocese itself should be dissolved. A new network of clergy and congregations should be formed and its first step should be to organize itself and to choose a bishop who will fulfill this key role.

While dissolution of the diocese may at first glance seem a drastic action to take, if it is not taken, the clergy and congregations forming the diocese will be hampered by the culture of the diocese, which developed under his leadership. (In older dioceses the diocese's culture may have developed under one of bishop's predecessors and each successive bishop has contributed to its continuance.)  Dioceses can and do outlive their usefulness.

In order to have a fresh start, these clergy and congregations not only need new leadership and new vision, they also need a new culture—one that is focused upon upholding and maintaining the Christian faith given in the Holy Bible and taught in the Anglican Formularies and upon fulfilling the Great Commission. This is no different from replanting a church when it becomes clear that the church has gotten off to a bad start. It is consistent with the recognition that a diocese as a para-church organization serves the clergy and congregations forming it and not the other way around.

In a diocese the level of interest in evangelism and church multiplication in the clergy and congregations forming the diocese is greatly influenced by the level of interest of the bishop of the diocese. If the bishop shows little interest, his lack of interest can have a dampening effect upon the whole diocese. It can become a part of the culture of the diocese. In such cases both the bishop and the diocese are on the wrong track and drastic action is indeed warranted.

In a few cases a possible solution may be the forced resignation or removal of the bishop. This solution is one that a diocese might adopt if most of the clergy and congregations in the diocese are biblically orthodox, have a high level of interest in evangelism and church multiplication and recognize that the bishop is not carrying out the principal role for which he was chosen and under his leadership the diocese is developing an unhealthy culture.

It is incumbent upon the clergy and congregations of a diocese as its primary stakeholders to not let the diocese reach the stage where its bishop must be forced to resign or removed from office and the diocese itself dissolved. They can employ several mechanisms to prevent these developments from happening.

One mechanism is term limits. Like the pastor of a church, a bishop’s term of office needs to be long enough to benefit the diocese. However, a bishop should not serve until he becomes too mentally or physically incapacitated to effectively discharge his office. If a bishop is promoting unbiblical and unsound doctrine and related practices or losing his edge in leading the diocese in evangelism and church multiplication, it is time for him to go. Term limits simplify the process of replacing the bishop.

A second mechanism is to extend a bishop’s term of office only after a review of his performance in office, especially with attention to his fulfillment of the key role discussed earlier in this article. The diocesan synod would conduct the review and approve any extension of the bishop’s term of office.

A third mechanism is to discontinue the practice of electing or appointing suffragan bishops and coadjutor bishops, which is too often used to keep a bishop in office who should step down. A better practice is to elect or appoint area bishops who would be responsible for providing episcopal oversight to a particular subdivision of the diocese—a particular cluster of congregations and their clergy. Area bishops are responsible for leading this grouping of churches in evangelism and church multiplication as the diocesan bishop is responsible for the entire diocese. Their term of office, like the diocesan bishop, should be tied to their performance in office.

A fourth mechanism which relates to the bishop’s upholding and maintenance of biblical teaching is to require all church leaders, clergy and lay, including bishops to sign at an agreement at the time that they assume office, in which they agree to resign within specified time period should they conclude that they can no longer uphold and maintain in good conscience the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of the Anglican Formularies.

In the selection of diocesan and area bishops the diocesan nominations committee and the diocesan electoral synod or diocesan electoral board need to ask the following questions in considering each candidate:

1. Does the candidate have past experience in reaching and engaging the lightly churched and unchurched, discipling them, and enfolding them in new churches? How effective was he?

2. Does the candidate have past experience in leading a church or network of churches in evangelism and church multiplication? How effective was he?

3.Does the candidate evidence the leadership skills needed to effectively lead the diocese or area in evangelism and church multiplication?

4. Will leading the diocese or area in evangelism and church multiplication be beyond his leadership capacity? This last question recognizes that a candidate while effective at leading a church may not be effective at leading a network of churches.

If the diocesan bishop appoints the area bishops, he needs to ask the same questions.

A bishop who lacks the capacity to lead the churches of his diocese in evangelism and church multiplication should not be a bishop any more than a bishop who promotes false teaching. Whatever other gifts, skills, and talents he may possess, he is the wrong person to serve as the lead pastor of a diocese or one of its subdivisions.

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