Several years ago I began a chapter in a book about the state of the Church of Scotland with these words, “This isn’t working!”. I was talking then in particular about how as adults we don’t take learning very seriously in the church, but I think the statement applies more widely to the general malaise we find ourselves in.
And that bothers me.
Because it’s not the case everywhere… but we seem to be plunging headlong into policies that will make things worse, not better.
Multi-church pastorates or hubs or groups or whatever you want to call them are only about spreading a resource (ministers) more thinly. There is NO evidence that they stimulate church growth.
2, 3, 4, 5 or even 6 sets of everything.
No room for relationship.
No space or time for innovation.
Just spinning the every more wobbly plates of what is.
The Church of Scotland wants every parish to have a fresh expression of church by 2020. The URC is promoting fresh expressions with great enthusiasm. Brilliant. Except the timescale shows that there is no real understanding of what a fresh expression is or how developing one works. A truly new expression of church is a community that gathers and grows to a point that they might want to create their own culturally appropriate version of church.
There are two parts of that which are vital; creating community and innovation. Those take time, lots and lots of it, and space. (And coffee)
So, I’m now a minister. I’m not about to complain that I’m too busy. If I am then that’s my fault. But I work with just one church. Just one set of meetings, one building, one set of organisations and one place to be on a Sunday. And I could spend as much time as I have just keeping that all working.
Throw in another church and all space for creating community goes out the window. Throw in any more and innovation goes too.
Of course we should involve people in helping lead worship. Most Sundays I announce the hymns and preach. Other people do almost everything else. But the preaching part is the bit I’m trained for. Not that others can’t do it. They can. Of course they can. But what’s the point of me if not to do that. I’m a minister of word and sacrament after all.
Perhaps it comes down to this…
Spreading a limited resource ever more thinly has never been the solution to anything.
Should we deploy some ministers to one church and have others to maintain the rest? Like a midwife and palliative care model?
Should we hold our hands up and admit that training people as theologians with skills in Greek and Hebrew but no community work training or serious input on work with children and young people might not be the best model of training, important though those things are?
Should ministers be facilitators? Has the one person show de-skilled and debilitated our churches to a point where we are so stuck we are paralysed?
The answer to all this lies somewhere in our experience. I wrote a series of posts a few years ago where I wondered if the church was similar to someone living with the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Interestingly people who had experienced those thought I was onto something while those who had not thought I was completely wrong. I mention this because recovery almost always begins with a decision to get well. To change. To take control. Without that decision things often stay the same. Often that is helped by talking to people who what already made the same journey.
So, are we ready for recovery?
What do you think?