Exploring understandings of ministry
“Christ has many services to be done:some are easy, others are difficult…some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests,others are contrary to both…Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.”
These words, part of the service in which, once a year, Methodists renew their covenant relationship with God, are a reminder of the immense range of ways in which Christians are called to respond to God’s love and grace, inside and outside the walls of their local church. These patterns of response to God’s generous love might be described as ‘ministry.’
Pause for thought – what does the word ‘ministry’ suggest to you? Take a moment to write down your thoughts and, if you are in a group, compare them with those of the people around you.
In light of a number of different questions and conversations in the life of the Methodist Church in Britain, the Methodist Conference in 2014 initiated a piece of work on the “theology and nature of lay and ordained ministry in the Methodist Church.”
This far-reaching piece of work led to a report to the 2018 Conference, which includes a general report and introduction to the work (Part A), a draft Statement on Ministry in the Methodist Church, presented for consideration as a draft Conference Statement (Part B) and some further reflections and areas highlighted for consideration (Part C).
Just as importantly, this piece of work highlighted the need for more opportunities in local churches, circuits and districts for Methodists to talk about ministry and to celebrate the many and varied patterns of response to God’s love and grace. In particular, it highlighted that although the Methodist Church has agreed that the ministry of the whole people of God in the world is the primary and normative ministry of the Church, those people who are called to ministry outside the walls of the church – those who exercise ministry every day in offices, homes, hospitals, shops and schools – often feel overlooked and under-resourced by the Church. There is a significant gap between what we say about ministry and the priorities that our actions, as a Church, seem to suggest. These resources aim to help us, together, to begin to bridge that gap.
Want to know more? See The Ministry of the People of God in the World, 1990 Conference Agenda, p. 539.
There will be a formal consultation process around the draft Statement on Ministry in the Methodist Church to which Districts, Circuits and Local Churches are invited to respond. Comments can be sent to the Secretary of the Faith and Order Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 1 February 2020. However, the resources on these pages are designed to enable individuals and groups to engage in creative and far-reaching conversations about the ministry of the whole people of God in today’s changed and changing contexts. They are designed for everyone, lay and ordained, involved in the life of the Methodist Church today.
How to use the resources
In these pages, you will find a menu of resources for use by individuals and/or groups – please use and adapt them as you see fit. They are being made available primarily as an online resource because the need has been identified to help the Methodist Church to ‘remember’ what it has said in the past in relation to ministry (as well as rearticulating and re-visioning some elements of our understanding in light of our changed and changing contexts). Much of the material in these pages contains hyperlinks to the full versions of important reports and Statements – you are encouraged to follow these links wherever possible and to share in this process of ‘remembering’ what we believe.
As you read, ask yourself – what is it important that the Methodist Church ‘remembers’ about its understanding of ministry? What do you feel might need to be rearticulated or re-visioned in light of our 21st century contexts?
A word about words…
This piece of work has also revealed that many of the words the Methodist Church has traditionally used to talk about ministry (including the word ‘ministry’ itself) often provoke very strong reactions. It is also clear that each of us reads these words differently, depending on our personal experience and our church background. This is explored further in paragraphs 1.6 and 1.7 of Part B of the report. We have not attempted to provide a glossary here, as words such as ‘ministry,’ ‘priesthood’ and ‘vocation’ refer to theological concepts that you are invited to explore. Those using the resources will approach these words with their own ideas and associations, and the shared wisdom and insights of the Methodist Church are contained within various reports on ministry. We invite you to approach such language with an open mind, and an awareness that your own understanding will differ from that of the person next to you. Perhaps most importantly, these resources are based on the assumption that ‘ministry’ is the calling of all Christians, and something in which we all share – not just those who are called to ordination!
The Church of Christ, in every age
beset by change but Spirit-led,
must claim and test its heritage
and keep on rising from the dead.
We have no mission but to serve
in full obedience to our Lord:
to care for all, without reserve,
and spread his liberating Word.
Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000)