God is not finished with inherited churches yet. He is still calling, equipping, and sending but it may be time for the young to teach the old. A radical review of candidating, training, and deployment is necessary if the United Reformed Church/ Methodist Church is to position itself to ride the wave of God’s Spirit.
Current processes developed in a settled era of church history, they are modelled on the three-fold ministry of the Pastoral Epistles with moderators/chairs, ministers/presbyters, and church related community workers/ deacons.
Roles and Candidating
These models met the needs of an established church, however, they fail to meet the needs of a church within a changing paradigm- ok some will argue that the earlier five/four-fold ministry found in Ephesians (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers) is reflected within the breadth of our current lay and ordained posts. However, this seems to be incidental rather than by design.
It is perhaps worth considering these roles in the light of the Everett Roger’s diffusion theory, which creates five categories of people from innovators to laggards. It seems that our candidating process militates against ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ whose character traits are most likely to correspond with apostles, prophets, or evangelists. It is likely that these individuals are likely to be seen as dangerous risk takers, or aggressive reformers and therefore a challenge to the established way of doing things.
I have known early adopters to drop out of the candidating process before reaching the training process, this may occur when a candidate no longer feels confident in the training being offered. In these situations, the candidate tends to take issue with the model of training offered; education for intellectual theoretical pastors/teachers, rather than training for vocational practical prophets/evangelists.
I think we should note the high input into initial college based teaching and low investment in ongoing church based training. In a rapidly changing culture, indeed paradigm, high input lower ongoing training means many ministers are unequipped for ministry in our post-modern world. Related research carried out by Christian Schwartz suggests formal theological training has a negative impact upon church growth, what is it about our theological colleges has this effect?
In terms of deployment there are less problems, although more could be done to place innovative apostles/ prophets/ evangelists in churches/circuits in which will best release their potential. Ideally, the ministers would be involved in conversations with churches seeking to negotiate a shared appointment. However, there are many ministers, who may consider themselves innovators or early adopters, apostles or prophets who are not capable of filling these roles. It is therefore necessary to have a process of mutual discernment, open to scripture, tradition, reason, and experience exercised prayerfully in the power of the Holy Spirit.
All in All
In the midst of these thoughts, criticisms, and ideas about candidating, training, and deployment one truth can get lost: God remains faithful and for that we should all remain thankful.