Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

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reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Essentials  



A Vision for the Anglican Church?


- or, the Main Game and
the Side Show

by Stephen Hale

Stephen Hale was formerly Director of Anglican Youth Ministries in Melbourne and is now the minister at Diamond Creek, Melbourne.

I am torn between two strong feelings: Firstly, "Why even bother with a vision for the Anglican Church of Australia (ACA)"?


So often the Anglican Church in Australia seems entrenched in the 'shoot itself in the foot mode'. We are used to church spokespersons making public statements which bear little relation to Biblical teaching. We are committed to grindingly 'incremental change', at great cost to the individuals involved. We seem almost incapable of or unwilling to address the real issues. Getting an evangelical elected as a bishop in this country is verging on the miraculous. Far more competent and experienced people get overlooked, which is a great discouragement to us. Evangelical Anglicans must represent close to 50% of church attenders in Australia, yet we are treated as a minority group to be tolerated. Sydney Diocese seems set on self destruction as we see evangelicals pre-occupied with internal faction fighting.


Yet secondly, "I am an Anglican".


For the past 8 years I worked in and for the system in Melbourne. I like to think that good things were able to be done. From my experience with Anglican Youth Ministries in Melbourne I was able to see that we can have a future if we are willing to give it a go. I've had the privilege of working in some great Anglican parishes and have seen what is possible. My roots are evangelical Anglican - nurtured through the parish church, youth ministry, Evangelical Union at Sydney Uni, Moore College, CMS etc. As Graham Cole says, "If the Anglican Church goes then there will be no place left for the thinking Christian."


A vision for the ACA? Despite these conflicting feelings, I will give it a go!


1. What is the ACA?


We naturally think of the Hierarchy, Diocese, Bishops, The System etc. However, we need to reverse our thinking. Real church is local congregations. ACA is a fellowship we have chosen to affiliate with.


I like to distinguish between the 'main game' and the 'side show'. The Main Game is growing churches and evangelising Australia and the world. Across Australia the largest and most dynamic Anglican parishes are almost exclusively evangelical or charismatic - whether it is Sydney, Melbourne, Bendigo, Perth etc. In the Diocese of Melbourne in simplistic terms, one third of parishes are growing (90% are evangelical), one third of parishes could grow or decline, and one third are declining and most will not survive the next decade without Diocesan subsidy.


We need to concentrate on the Main Game - the future lies here and this will be increasingly the case in the post denominational era we are living in. The Side Show is the Diocese, the ACA.


From my experience the 'liberal catholics' are committed to two things


i. Running the show - At the end of the day they are committed to maintaining and controlling the system. The important thing isn't getting anything done but running the show. They have run the show for a long period and on the basis of most performance criterion we have not been well led.


ii. A Different Vision of the Church - Some are committed to a radically different view of the church and are unfussed if it causes us offence. Those who stand for Biblical teaching are dismissed as peddlers in 'certainty'.


Our tension is, of course, how much do we give ourselves to it? We have had a generation of 70's clergy who were anti-institutional. That model didn't seem to work too well, as we withdrew and didn't take our rightful place in the life of the church. In my view the ACA will not have a future unless it embraces evangelicals and seeks to use our gifts of leadership and the entrepreneurial flair we offer. I have found that there were always enough people of good will to work with to be able to do good things. One has to play the 'inclusive' game to your advantage.


2. A future for the ACA?


We need to consider at least the following:


i. A Clear Gospel Focus


In an article called The Decay of Evangelists Bishop Gavin Reid argues that we are in danger of losing our Gospel focus because as evangelical Anglicans "we are now a multi agenda movement" which includes a strong social justice push, and a strong charismatic push. Apart from Sydney Diocese we have largely embraced these pushes. In my view we need to be sure we keep a clear focus on the Gospel and evangelism as the controlling agent and motivating force. If we don't we will have a tendency to get side tracked into self indulgence, as many of our churches are; or become so caught up in fighting causes that we forget the biggest cause which is Jesus Christ and his gospel. If we have an overriding Gospel commitment then it keeps these other focuses in perspective. We are not being God's people unless we are mission minded. Our God has a mission heart.


So people with a focus on social justice - are they encouraging and equipping people to proclaim the gospel?


So people with a focus on renewal - are they outward focused and seeking to reach the unchurched or are they inward looking and self preoccupied?


So Sydney Anglicans - are they just talking about what Gospel orthodoxy is without seeking to creatively reach people with the Gospel?


ii. Leadership


It is my firm conviction that lay people are sick of going to churches that are run by non leaders or leaders who refuse to lead. We have had a whole generation of consultative leaders who will wear their people out waiting for the people to make the decisions and who are unwilling to lead themselves. We need a new style of team leader who is willing to set a direction but seeks to engage people in the process of going forward together.


As more medium size to large churches emerge we need to be nurturing capable team leaders who can overseer paid staff as well as multiple groupings of volunteers. In this respect we need to radically alter our perceptions concerning career paths for clergy and lay workers.


The growing churches of today and the future have much more specific staffing needs. The model of minister and curate is no longer economically or strategically viable in most parts of Australia. People who want a 'full time job' in a parish in the future will need to consider three types of options.


a. Team Leaders


People who are apt to teach, but who also are proven team players. People who have personal and organisational skills or if they don't are sensible enough to find people to undertake some of those roles for them. They will have to attend to the critical leadership challenges that Peter Corney (Reinventing the Church) has identified: - the ability to be a change agent; communication skills; the ability to envision, enthuse, mobilise and train other people; and the skills to be a community builder.


People in this category are in very short supply and we need to be more intentional in identifying them and training them. It may be that if we promote this model more, then many of our more younger capable lay people may see training for ministry as a more attractive proposition than the 'one person, one patch model.'


b. Specialists/Congregational Leaders


As churches grow they often have several areas they need to try and staff at once. Inevitably one additional full time person is very expensive and only covers a few of their needs. The model that I see emerging is that churches will have a team leader and a variety of full or part time specialist workers. As churches grow they multiply congregations. These congregations will be overseen by a staff member, who works as part of the team. Those who want to have full time jobs will need to be able to overseer a congregation and have a specialist contribution to make to the churches life.


Specialist ministries will include: youth/student ministry, children's and families ministries, evangelists/outreach workers, small groups, pastoral workers, music ministers, sports ministry, administrators, cross cultural workers.


c. Small Church Ministers


There will still be lots of positions for clergy who want to work on their own in small parishes. In my view this will be an increasingly less attractive option. I have become convinced that one of the key reasons so many clergy struggle and become disillusioned is because they work on their own in contexts that are difficult and seemingly unproductive. We need to form stronger networks between clergy in these sorts of parishes, so that they can fire off each other to find ways to go forward. We have good models of people who have turned dying churches around. We need to hear from them and they need to network with each other.


People entering Theological College need to be brutally realistic about where they will be able to gain employment in the church of the future. This applies equally to clergy and workers. Clergy who go down the path of working in teams will be forging a new direction but it will be in tune with where the church is going, rather than where the church was in the past. Those who choose ordination candidates need to see that not all will want to become a Vicar. Those who work in teams will need more than teaching and pastoral gifts. To gain a full time job they will need to have a specialist contribution to make. People who go down this path will have no difficulty in getting a job, at a time when clergy unemployment is a growing reality.


iii. Parishes


Evangelicals Anglicans need to be taking the lead to embrace change. As was concluded at a General Synod Think Tank on the Future of the Church "we need to be willing to do whatever is necessary for the sake of Christ and the extension of his Kingdom".


People often complain about the restrictions the system imposes upon them. However it has been my experience that the system can only ever slow you down, they can't actually stop you. My policy has been to be never take 'no' as the final answer!


When it comes to the crunch if local groups of churches decide to act and it is lay led then the system can't stand in your way. In Melbourne three Anglican parishes in Glen Waverley decided to sell up shop and combine to form one new larger unit. This was a grass roots initiative and was supported by the Bishop etc. In my view there needs to be more of this adventurous initiative taking and my observation is that evangelicals are the only ones who have the gospel motivation for doing it. Local churches need to take the initiative to shape their own future rather than waiting for someone to impose change. These days fortune smiles on the brave.


We are much more likely to reach significantly larger numbers of young people and young families at the larger Community church than at the Corner store church. These are the groups who are least represented in our churches and the ones that are an absolute priority if we are to have a future.


We have to ask whether it is the case that many of our evangelical parishes are just as committed to their buildings as our neighbouring liberal catholic parishes. This is in spite of the teaching we have given about the nature of the church.


It is also true to say that many of our churches are being propped up and allowed to stagger on because we don't want a cleric to lose their job. This is an understandable attitude of compassion, but we run the risk that at the end of the day there will be nothing left - neither jobs for clerics nor parishes to work in. Fruitfulness needs to added to faithfulness as a criterion for assessing clergy performance.


We need to be more adventurous in pursing new possibilities rather than seeking to wear people out trying to maintain the unworkable.


Related to all of this parishes need to become much more aggressive in setting the agenda in what they need in service delivery from the Diocese. Dioceses are increasingly dependent on assessments for their income. Those who pay the assessments should be setting the agenda not just those who spend it. Incentives need to be built into the assessment system for those churches which grow.


iv. Theological Education


People always put the boot into Theological Colleges in these sorts of talks. In my experience I'm glad that I had the privilege of studying at a College which was full time and residential. I believe I had a significant seminary experience which was formative theologically and personally. It worries me that so many people now enter the ministry having chipped away at their theological degree. In my view people should be required to undergo at least two years which are full time.


Theological Colleges that want to survive in what is now a savagely competitive market need to embrace the need for specialist ministry development as a core part of their business. This is to go alongside rigorous study of the Bible, Theology, Church History and Ethics.


To service the needs of growing churches Theological Colleges need to train people to work in them. At Ridley here in Melbourne we now have 15 Youth Ministry students at a Degree or Diploma level. Who is training people in the other specialist areas? Who is going to train specialists for rural ministry?


You don't have to be a prophet to see that in the next decade many of the Denominational Colleges set up to train ordinands will not survive. Those who do will be the ones that are attuned to training people who are Biblically and Theologically rigorous but who have specialist skills and qualifications. As evangelicals I believe we should throw our wait behind building up Ridley College as a National Training College to rival Moore College, but with a focus on ministry development. We need some bigger theological institutions if we are going to train the workers the emerging church requires.


v. Organisations


Sooner rather than later some sort of shake out is going to occur amongst the para church and missionary agencies that we support and work for. Put simply, we can no longer financially sustain the number of bodies and groups that currently are fighting for our time and effort. Each of them has had a wonderful contribution to make and many of us owe them a great debt. But we have too small a base to sustain them. Again we need adventurous leadership to face this challenge. If it isn't faced then it will happen by a slow grinding and painful process.


How much longer can we sustain Federal/State structures for CMS, SAMS, BCA and ABM? Most of my friends involved in these groups find the time demands of the agencies to be overwhelming.


How much longer can we sustain what we are trying to do locally and a multiplicity of para church youth agencies?


vi. Dioceses


We need a radical culture shift in the Hierarchy. We need a new breed of pro-active leaders who are committed to building not just presiding. Dioceses exist to serve their members and not just to self perpetuate themselves. We don't have a service culture.


Any Diocese that is serious about the future will need to radically reshape themselves or risk becoming irrelevant. How much longer can we sustain 24 independent Diocese, many of whom struggle to pay their Bishop let alone do much else.


vii. Women


Women in leadership is now a reality. We need to put special effort into encouraging godly and Biblically based women into leadership. Capable evangelical women who are trained for ministry are in short supply and in strong demand. If we don't then the positions that inevitably go to women will be filled by women who have a range of other agendas other than the Gospel.




We can have an exciting future, but to get there won't be easy. We need to build stronger networks to support each other. In my view EFAC needs to more specifically see itself as a fellowship of those who are evangelical in non evangelical Dioceses. We need the support of Sydney Diocese but their capacity to offer leadership will be limited, as their world is so different to ours.


We need to be setting the agenda rather than being caught in a reactive position all the time. We need to demand more recognition, given our numerical size and vitality. We need to clarify and put forward a coherent set of items we want the denomination to deal with in the next decade. At the same time we need to keep our eye on the main game where the real action is taking place.




The Decay of Evangelists, Gavin Reid, Anvil, Vol. 13, No.1,1996, page 52.


Reinventing the Church, Peter Corney, Lausanne Emerging Leaders Conference, 1994, page 9.


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