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.
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.