Just noted from another blog (see entry for 3rd August) that some thoughts on whether or not people should work full time for churches have stirred some opposition… and a request for further debate.
Let me set out my concerns.
I feel that the model of the single paid ‘vicar’ being in charge of a church is one that has evolved for no particularly scriptural reason. It might be able to be supported by scripture – but so can many other models, and thus it should not be given any exalted status. We therefore need to look at the merits of it against other models.
Briefly, I think that the problems associated with this model are as follows:
• It ends up discouraging wider participation, as people in the congregation tend to default to the professional.
• In the Anglican version, it virtually legislates against locally grown leaders taking charge. People are sent away to theological college, and then sent somewhere else, rather than back into the communities that sent them.
• It leads to pooling of knowledge/experience in one person.
• Because so much responsibility and leadership is centred on one person, when they leave, a huge amount leaves with them. This can include the whole ‘charisma’ and ‘feel’ of a place that they have developed… and can’t be replaced easily. I’ve seen this happen many times – a leader leaves, and immediately people also start leaving as they don’t think the church will be as good without them.
I strongly believe that a more distributed leadership model will help to avoid these pitfalls, and that it naturally lends itself to a group of leaders working part time. To share out the knowledge and responsibility means that things are not centred on one ‘guru’ – thus reducing the risk of the church being led astray, and meaning that the organisation is far more sustainable as one person leaving will not lead to a crisis. To have a team made up of at least some locally based people can only help continuity within the church and community. And such a model seems to be backed up by the new testament ideology of every-member ministry, with everyone encouraged to take part and take responsibility.
Trouble is, there seems to be an industry, and thus a pseudo-theology grown up around this model, and a lot of people have a huge vested interest in seeing it sustained. My dad is one of them. When discussing this in the moors this week, he asked me if I felt his 23 years in parish ministry were a complete waste of time… Answers on a post(card) please.
I seriously think that if the Emerging Church is to be a sustainable movement that is not led by a small group of full-time leaders that we all look to, we must look at more distributed models that encourage a totally different way of looking at ‘being’ church.