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Church seeks to clarify 21st century mission and ministry

A hui of 40 ordained ministers and lay leaders from all the geographical and ethnic divisions of the Methodist Church will take place in Auckland the first weekend in March.

The hui aims to explore models of ministry needed in contemporary New Zealand. Organisers hope it will help develop a contextual theology of ministry and explore models that will serve the current mission of the Church.

In an effort to examine some of the issues related to 21st century ministry, Touchstone approached people from different sectors of the church and asked their thoughts on the issue.

Rev Mary Caygill, principal Trinity Theological College

The Church needs to carry out a sustained dialogue about the theological and practical aspects of ministry so it can carry out its mission, Mary believes.

“It isn’t possible to separate ministry and mission. Mission is about living the good news of the Gospel in word and deed, and this has to be done in particular contexts. Our ministry has to be flexible enough that we can respond in the local context of Aotearoa New Zealand, in Oceania, and in the wider world.

“We understand ministry as all the behaviour members of the Church take part in. Our ordained presbyters and deacons have specific tasks to lead others in ministry. We need to find creative, new ways to resource and train skilled people to be leaders.”

Mary is in good heart about the status of ministry training but the increasingly multi-cultural nature of our society creates challenges. There are no shortages of candidates but when those candidates come from Te Taha Maori, the Pacific nations, and even Asia no one single model of training will fit all.

Despite these cultural differences, she thinks there is a core essence of ministry and Methodists can offer their particular understanding of it to the ecumenical movement and the global interfaith dialogue.

Rev Nigel Hanscamp, superintendent MCNZ Evangelical Network.

The concept of a minister as someone who looks after a congregation has to change, Nigel says. Rather a minister is someone who leads and guides a spiritual community that has Jesus Christ as its focus.

“The Church is a community with a sense of something to offer the world, and we actually get out and do it. The job of ministers or presbyters is to use their skills to enable that to happen.

“Some presbyters have tried to offer community-facing ministry but the parishes’ wishes for traditional ministry have prevailed. We need to look at ourselves, our future and our past to find ways we can change this attitude so we can grow in future.

Nigel believes the Church is now less hung up on distinctions between evangelical and liberal approaches to the Gospel. We can take a radical social stance but also evangelise because of the relationships we have with each other, he says.

Rev Tavake Manu, Gisborne Methodist Church

Tavake is in a unique position because he ministers to three congregations at his church, one Samoan, one Tongan, and one English-speaking. In his view, lay preachers hold the Pacific congregations together while the English-speaking congregation is more dependent on the minister.

“When I came to Gisborne the Tongan congregation had seven lay preachers. I have qualified four and three more are in training, so lay ministry is alive and well.”

Tavake observes the English-speaking and Tongan sections of the church are moving in opposite directions. The English-speaking parishes are finding the need to develop more lay ministry teams while there is pressure on Tongan congregations to become parishes with stipendiary presbyters.

He hopes the Pacific parishes don’t lose their strong lay preacher traditions in the process.

Thelma Efford, lay minister, Greymouth Uniting Parish

Lay ministry teams lead many of the congregations on the West Coast, including Westport, Reefton and Greymouth. Thelma believes the reason for their success is that they have worked closely with ordained ministers to train people and develop resources.

“We have had to do things for ourselves and we have become stronger for it. Lay ministry teams need to work together toward shared goals.”

It is important lay people work with the national bodies, Thelma says, and it is essential they work as one unit to strengthen their own parish. To achieve growth lay people have to work with ordained ministers and vice versa.

“There are lots of skills out there and we have to finds ways to lead people to contribute them to our worship.”

Rev Alan Webster, Taranaki

Alan says ministry in the church traditionally assumed three things: knowledge of God, authority vested in institution, and power to ordain. This institutional definition is rapidly losing recognition. Ministry is increasingly recognized as faith expressed in action for God’s domain, i.e., ‘heaven’, here and now.

“Such mission is inescapably a politico-religion or a religio-politics. Jesus and Paul made this inevitable by their radical confrontation of normal civil society. But they did not declare programmatic intentions. Their faith was the knowledge of being in God.

“People who can help make that vision real are ministers. If there are to be ministers on such terms a radical transformation of ministerial curriculum will be needed. Yet such is the hope. The ‘Kingdom of God’ may be nearer than we think. But we are learning that it is about earth and society on ‘God terms’ with justice, equality, grace, freedom and life.”

Nicola Grundy, superintendent, Dunedin Methodist Mission

We need to ask what the church is in order to decide what ministry it needs, Nicola says. Many congregations cling to the chaplaincy model of ministry but to move into the future church needs a community-facing model.

“The nature of the church is different than it was 10 or even five years ago. We have to ask how we can hold together the imperative for personal transformation with the imperative for social transformation.

“How does this fit with the mission of lay and ordained members of the church? Mission is more than looking after the people in the congregation. It is about how we interact with the community. The church is part of the community whether we like it or not.”