Ecclesiastical Memes IV – Darryl Tempero

Darryl is the Mission Coach for Alpine Presbytery and Minister of Kiwi Church, a new-ish congregation in Christchurch.

We need new words to describe our life together as church, and why we do church. A new language might help us imagine a new future.

This week’s word: Clergy.

It’s an interesting word. Every organisation, industry, institution and so on, has their inner group, the ones who are trained, set apart (ordained?) for special roles. That makes complete sense.  We need people who focus on these areas and are seen by others as someone who has a bit of a clue of what is going on.  The problem is that the movement we are part of is God’s way of doing things, and as soon as we think we have a few clues about what is going on, we risk believing in our own abilities. Those who play the part of ‘Rev’ can easily develop an unhealthy sense of their own importance.

My question around this word, and I wonder if the word ‘ordination’ can also be included here (or does it need a separate blog?), is related to the word ‘ministry’ in Memes III.  In my experience, our use of the title ‘Reverend’ tends to create a ‘who is in and who is out’ of church life.  An ecclesiastical class system, if you like. Who is qualified and who isn’t?  If you dig a little deeper and we find this dynamic in other subtle ways. Not only the fact that you have a degree, but where did you do it? Or, where did you receive your post grad degree?  We can get a bit weird about our academic pedigree, and if we are not careful that can lead to another class system. It is the same with our theological expression, with people in various camps slipping into a ‘we know best’ kind of smugness. The extreme result is we treat each other as objects and not as people and our gatherings risk turning into… Well, you know what I mean!  I have experienced this ‘in and out’ grouping with different styles of worship expression, understandings of how the Holy Spirit works through us, the attitudes towards community projects (and what type), and, what social issues to get involved with.  You can probably add your own experiences of church life where we create a ‘who’s in and who’s out.’

I meet lay people all the time (‘lay’ – now there’s an interesting word which I am looking forward to attending to in Memes V) who are not allowed to do certain things because they are not trained in our life together.  Most ‘lay’ people I know have big hearts and express a philosophical view on the way things are, smile, and then simply get on serving in the way that they feel invited by God to do.  But the use of the term lay pushes my buttons a little. There is one particular activity that I’m allowed to do and ‘lay’ people are not, but I confess that I was actually away the day it was taught at Knox so I missed the training. I now find it odd that I’m allowed to do it and ‘lay’ people are not. (I wonder, if I admit to what that activity is out loud this may be my last blog). [Nudging close Darryl – Ed]

Now please hear me, I am not anti-ordination – although I do question many aspects of it.  I am simply observing that we have people in our life together who feel like second-class Christians because as clergy we risk reinforcing what the institution (for good reasons over the years I’m sure) dictates. And let’s be completely frank – the title ‘Rev’ carries with it significance (and power) which must be carried with extreme care, for, left to our own devices, we know what humanity is capable of when power is misused. Simple institutional processes reinforce this sense of ‘in and out.’ For example, appointing an interim moderator when there is a ‘vacancy’ (boy, there’s another word that needs slaying – maybe someone else wants to have a go at that before I get grumpy!) can risk sending the signals that you as a congregation cannot manage on your own, so you need a minister to be there at the expense of the congregation the minister is part of (but that’s a story for another day). ‘But that is what it means to be Presbyterian,’ I hear you protest.  I wonder if that is how a previous generation expressed the essence of being Presbyterian!  I don’t think it is working any more, I wonder if it is working against us, and we need to find new ways of expressing that Presbyterian essence. A way of that is appropriate to the context we find ourselves in this century.  Let’s reflect theologically about what the essence of the role is, assess what the need is, and then find imaginative ways to meet that need in a way that suits the context.

In an email discussion of this topic with a ‘lay’ friend of mine, she pointed out that people in the congregation have a responsibility as well.  The model we have tends to encourage people to leave it to the experts, which perpetuates a consumer culture where the minister is there to ‘meet my needs.’

So here is a new word that I suggest we could use instead of clergy, or minister.

Player-coach.

A player-coach is a member of the team, and participates in the activity at an equal level as the rest of the participants, but is also recognised by other members as having experience and knowledge in the area that they want to grow in. ‘Team members’ give authority to the player-coach in recognition of experience, gifting, and calling, but as far as playing the game, all participants have equal authority and responsibility for the wellbeing of the team, and the pursuit of team goals. There may be times where decisions are made by the player-coach, however, successful sports teams in New Zealand refer to the leadership group within the team, acknowledging that one player never has all of the responsibility in making decisions. Plus, the decisions are always related to the current context – what is going on at the time that is consistent with the team values, objectives, direction, and do on. This model allows for all of the leadership characteristics needed for a healthy church and the player-coach has the responsibility (with others) to ensure the environment is healthy. The beauty of this model is that anyone in the team can be asked to have the role of the player coach if the team recognises the gifts and abilities in the person.  Another benefit, while not the focus of this article, is that everyone can be on the team and we can foster a sense of inclusion, as opposed to passively sitting and watching the experts up the front do all the important spiritual stuff…  (oops, too cynical again?).

It works for me.  Other words could be environmentalist, farmer, or midwife… they all need a bit of unpacking.  But it is in the unpacking that we discover what we mean, and what the essence of the role is. Once we are clear on the essence of the role, we can explore ways of expressing that in our current context.  We need to find the word that helps us do that, and I feel that clergy no longer does that effectively. I wonder what word helps you in your context.

7 thoughts on “Ecclesiastical Memes IV – Darryl Tempero

  1. Hi Darryl, I mostly agree with your post. Where do I struggle? If I am sick and need treatment I go and see my doctor – Dr Bob. Dr Bob is a doctor through his training AND through the recognition of the medical hierarchy in New Zealand. Dr Bob has been bestowed the title of ‘Doctor’ because his sense of ‘call’ to the area of Medicine and Health led him down a course of study, and indeed a lifestyle, that the medical profession require. Require. Require.

    Is it not the same with ordained ministry within the PCANZ? A person believes they are called by God to serve in a fulltime capacity. To this end they study; they devote themselves to a specific lifestyle. The jump through all the hoops that the PCANZ require (require) of them.

    The act of ordination (and I missed that class too) is to set aside those people for that to which they have felt called. With that ordination is the title Reverend. I am fully aware of the potential societal responses to ‘Reverend’ and the status/authority is can carry, but does that mean that it should be done away with?

    I am aware also of the perception that the titles clergy and lay can create, but I wonder who started the idea that lay was second-class?

    I am proud of my training. I do like to think that my theological and biblical training do mean that I have certain knowledge that I can impart to others. Am I not the resident theologian among God’s people in this place? That’s not to say there aren’t other theologians present. I have been called by God and by the Church to bring all I am to role as a minister amongst God’s people in this place. My training has given me much knowledge and experience towards this call.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Gene, thanks for taking to the time to reflect on this. I mostly agree with all of your reflection ☺. I’m not anti ordination, or anti calling, or anti study, or anti training. Some further reflections from me from the points you raise:

      I don’t think the Rev title should be done away with because of societal responses or the status/authority it can carry. It obviously works fine in existing churches – (doesn’t it?), which is roughly 15% of our population. My context (and maybe I should have been more clear about this) is people who are no longer in, or never have been established church. I wonder if our perspective on ordination is a barrier to those not in church, therefore we need to think about this carefully if we are to connect in a relevant way to people outside of the church. These are the people who I am learning from when thinking about imagining a church for the future. And for them the distinction between clergy and lay is no longer relevant, so we need to think through our leadership models for a new day. I have also noticed the clergy centric nature of our churches risks creating dependency in our people, e.g. “we can’t do anything until we get a minister”

      I don’t know who started the idea that lay was second class. What do you think? And how does that influence how we address these issues?

      Another question I have – do people need more knowledge? Again in my context, people seem to have enough knowledge – about God, about the bible, about theology – they want more authentic relationship, with God and with others. Knowledge helps this, but it isn’t the main thing. They want to know from me, “how is this faith, my relationship with God, and my relationship with others relevant to my life?” not if I am good at exegesis.

      You ask “Am I not the resident theologian among God’s people in this place?” I respectfully say no, I don’t think you are. At least I don’t think we can hold onto this role going into the future. I think we are the “lead theologian” and our role is to help coach others to reflect theologically on their context, see where God is active, and join God in that activity. To say we are the resident theologian is to imply that only certain people can do that, whereas I think everyone can do that – and should. Otherwise their faith risks being relegated to their prayer time and not relevant to every day life. We have had the privilege and training to maybe do it more effectively, and I think our role is to then help others do it. Not do it for them. Is that fair do you think?

      Again, really appreciate your reflections – for me, these are vital conversations to have if we are to engage meaningfully with people in our communities. And the ordination class wasn’t the one I was talking about, (sorry for being vague).

      Like

      • Hi Darryl.
        I like your ‘lead theologian’. Everyone who talks, thinks, muses about God is ‘doing’ theology; my role is to keep encouraging them in their journey of ‘practical’ theology which, hopefully, is an outcome of ‘academic’ theology.

        Personally I don’t know when the lay/clergy split actually happened. It would most likely have been through the age of Christendom where the holier-than-thous lorded it over those who weren’t. And of course the holier-than-thous were the ones mixed with the state/government of the day trying their best to keep the peasants/pagans in their rightful place. Probably no too much different to the government of today absent of any kind of decent theology.

        I hold on to my title of ‘Rev’ loosely. It can cause people to put me on a pedestal, which history clearly shows I have ability to balance on. I like to be authentic with people; this usually means I get some raised eye-brows from those more holy than I. But some of this is my calling and the other my nurture/nature.

        Contemplating on Roger Wiig’s response, the church today is asking for their minister(s) to be far more involved in leadership. The older notion of Minister being solely the ‘moderator’ without opinion or influence has long gone. The Book of Order has two very little known clauses that give weight to the opinion of the minister among his or her peers on the Session/Church Council. One must be careful to not undermine the strengths/talents/gifts/knowledge that a minister brings with him or her to a parish.

        People today are seeking authentic relationships without the hierarchy or status symbols. I like that. People are also very willing to acknowledge, “You know about this stuff Gene, what do yo think?” It is a good place to be.

        Here’s a question: are ministers called/paid/supported to ‘better’ Christians than those around them?

        Blessings

        Gene

        Like

    • Hi Gene, thanks for taking to the time to reflect on this. I mostly agree with all of your reflection ☺. I’m not anti ordination, or anti calling, or anti study, or anti training. Some further reflections from me from the points you raise:

      I don’t think the Rev title should be done away with because of societal responses or the status/authority it can carry. It obviously works fine in existing churches – (doesn’t it?), which is roughly 15% of our population. My context (and maybe I should have been more clear about this) is people who are no longer in, or never have been established church. I wonder if our perspective on ordination is a barrier to those not in church, therefore we need to think about this carefully if we are to connect in a relevant way to people outside of the church. These are the people who I am learning from when thinking about imagining a church for the future. And for them the distinction between clergy and lay it no longer is relevant, so we need to think through our leadership models for a new day. I have also noticed the clergy centric nature of our churches risks creating dependency in our people, e.g. “we can’t do anything until we get a minister”

      I don’t know who started the idea that lay was second class. What do you think? And how does that influence how we address these issues?

      Another question I have – do people need more knowledge? Again in my context, people seem to have enough knowledge – about God, about the bible, about theology – they want more authentic relationship, with God and with others. Knowledge helps this, but it isn’t the main thing. They want to know from me, “how is this faith relevant to my life?” not if I am good at exegesis.

      You ask “Am I not the resident theologian among God’s people in this place?” I respectfully say no, I don’t think you are. At least I don’t think we can hold onto this role going into the future. I think we are the “lead theologian” and our role is to help coach others to reflect theologically on their context, see where God is active, and join God in that activity. To say we are the resident theologian is to imply that only certain people can do that, whereas I think everyone can do that – and should. Otherwise their faith risks being relegated to their prayer time and not relevant to every day life. We have had the privilege and training to maybe do it more effectively, and I think our role is to then help others do it. Not do it for them. Is that fair do you think?

      Again, really appreciate your reflections – for me, these are vital conversations to have if we are to engage meaningfully with people in our communities. And the ordination class wasn’t the one I was talking about, (sorry for being vague).

      Like

  2. Very thought provoking. While the player- coach thing doesn’t really strike a chord, I see where you are headed, and agree.
    We are living in a changing landscape where the funds aren’t there to do Church like we did it in the day, but I suspect as the traditional model of Church leadership begins to creak and groan, God’s Word will still be there hitting the streets with our ‘non-Reved’ sisters and brothers. In the good old days it was called mission evangelism but someone will probably be paid handsomely to create another, trendier name for it. That’s progress!
    Lee

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Player Coach? In the Kirk Session the minister was the Teaching Elder. All other elders were the Ruling Elders. That keeps the minister in her/his place and limits the task of the minister.
    Cheers

    Like

    • With respect, Roger, we have the same problem because people are divided into groups and given labels. Surely it is not only the “Teaching Elder” who teaches? And not only Elders who “Rule”? If we all take our part in God’s mission then the way that plays out in a congregation is much more flexible than this language indicates.
      The other observation that this evokes is that “teaching” and “ruling” denote something done TO others, presumably by someone further up on a heiararchy. This very much buys into the perception held by many that it is the minister’s job to do mission/ministry and theirs simply to turn up for the Sunday service.
      I don’t much like the “player/coach” alternative, but the thoughts behind it are a beginning …

      Like

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