Waiapu Diocesan Theologian

August 2, 2009

What’s Missing?

Filed under: Starting Points — howardpilgrim @ 10:07 pm

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Most of us subscribe to that commonsense maxim, so why on earth does Waiapu need a diocesan theologian? Is something missing in our common life? Obviously both Bishop David Rice and I share the view that something is seriously out of order, which is why I got this job: it is not just an honorific title acknowledging my worth as they ease me out to pasture.

A Little History is in order

About two decades ago Anglican dioceses throughout New Zealand began to promote a new way of providing for parish ministries: known variously as “The Nevada Model“, “Total Ministry” or “Local Shared Ministry“, it promised a way forward for parishes unable to sustain the costs of supporting full-time stipendiary vicars. Rather than being promoted as a matter of expediency, a last resort for parishes in trouble (although often experienced as that by those on the receiving end of diocesan visitations), this model of parish structure was held to be more life-giving for all parishes than the more traditional model in which the ministry of the vicar dominated most aspects of parish life. It made strong connections with the New Testament metaphor of the Body of Christ in which every member has a distinctive gift to bring to the common life, and new ministry gifts are constantly given birth by the Holy Spirit.  It appealed to our natural congregational affiliations by asserting that every ministry needed by each parish was already present among the people, or just about to walk through the door.  Acknowledging that theological literacy and pastoral expertise were widespread throughout our Anglican laity, some advocates for this new system adopted a revolutionary slogan, “Ministry is a calling, not a profession”.

Having recently completed a professional, theological education as my preparation for ordination, I must say this got me alarmed, no matter how much I could assent to key parts of the new rationale. It seemed that my church, to which I had returned largely because of its commitment to theological literacy among its clergy, was suddenly abandoning the values that had inspired my calling. Now a significant number of deacons and priests would be ordained as part of team ministries in which the traditional functions of clergy were shared within a team. On this basis, it would no longer be necessary for clergy to invest in the years of theological study formerly required before ordination. More to the point, the church at large was relieving itself of the responsibility of financing that study. What I had struggled to undertake largely at my own expense, many others receiving a call to ordination would find impossible, and it would not be encouraged, let alone required.  Theological study was set to move from the heart of ordained ministry into the category of personal hobby. The accumulated social capital of shared theological knowledge would be enjoyed by my church while it lasted with little institutional commitment to its replenishment.

Nothing I have written above should be read as a criticism of our Local Shared Ministry clergy. They give their devotion, time and energy without any financial reward to meet the needs of the parishioners entrusted to their care.  If they lack theological education, whose fault is this? In many cases their call to holy orders came with promises of ongoing training that were never properly carried through by the church leadership. This is our shared problem as a church, and it is time we did a lot more to make up the deficit. In my conversations with LSM clergy, they are generally the first to say they need more training, resources and  opportunities for theological study.

But don’t we have plenty of fully trained clergy?

Yes, we do still have some ordination candidates undertaking a full theological education, but no there are not very many of them, and not many are young adults. I wonder why … Could it have anything to do with our devaluation of ministry as a profession for life?

“Fully trained”, now let’s think about what that means. In most professions t doesn’t just mean an initial period of study, but includes ongoing study to keep that knowledge current.  Nowadays there is something my wife calls CPD (“continuing professional development”) that is required if she is to maintain membership of her professional association, as in many others.  I have not run into this idea inside the church (or at least not until I was talking to our new bishop). Why not? Are we afraid to talk about our fully trained clergy keeping their qualifications current when they are surrounded by colleagues who haven’t been required to undertake any of that initial training? Oh right – we are a calling, not a profession.  We don’t actually have any standards of theological training for our clergy.

What difference has this made to the standing of our church within our social context in which the professions have increasing status? And what difference has it made as we compete for credibility with every pastor and his wife who set up their own church and present themselves as the new face of Christianity?  We may assure ourselves that we have a better connection with the 2000 year Christian tradition than some of these upstarts, but is our pride justified? How much effort do we actually put into studying that tradition with all its rich heritage of wisdom, reflection, and inspired proclamation?  What steps are we taking to ensure that our children and grandchildren have access to this heritage?  And how will they even know it is their birthright unless they see that we are passionate about appropriating it for ourselves?

In Summary…

Something is definitely broken, and we must find a way of fixing it, together.



  1. Well thinking of the last paragraph, with respect to the post as a whole, I imagine part of the image/ideal of the new wave/alpha type church is there fresh new approach, and therefore by definition not having had an old-school indoctrination, means they are not more of the same old-school ‘thinking’.

    Also given that they may not have education means with the lack of solid knowledge, to feel comfortable in the leadership role they are more likely to be very charismatic people, adding to the new fresh appeal verse the old-school educated/scholarly type who is statistically more of an introverted type person.

    Maybe a metaphor may shed a new light on the problem, what if religion is compared to tv, and the new-wave is the glamour shows, very shiny, but little substance, verse the discovery channel/bbc, where there is much treasure, you just have to want to access it. Now just because the discovery channel does not get the same ratings, or revenue, do you change it to be more like MTV, chasing the money, or do you remain true to your style, focus on what you do best, and make sure people know that’s what you are/do?

    Is it just there is more choice now, and the younger (sub 50) group don’t want to be doing the same thing their parents did as that was the old way.

    Or do people not know the true questioning way, or they do and are scared of having to question things and just want a charismatic pastor to tell them how to be good sheep?

    Comment by Simeon — August 13, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

  2. Some very good points there, Simeon. I particularly like the TV channels metaphor. In that respect, we Anglicans are definitely the Discovery Channel, or like to think we are. My question for our own people is whether we are kidding ourselves about our “substance”. What we all know deep down is that our knowledge may not be all it should be if we want to present ourselves as the ones who really know stuff. Ongoing learning is required to maintain our credibility, and we need to be more organized about making sure it happens at every level. And you are right about not wanting to switch our brand to something flashier in order to compete … just as long as when others come to check us out there is plenty for them to “discover”.

    As for why a younger generation might be attracted to newer brands, all your reasons are true in part – breaking away from parental models, not wanting to face some of the scarier questions life brings up, and seeking easy assurance from charismatic authority figures who invite them to switch off their minds – all of these motivate some of the people, but how long will it last? And will we be ready to provide something better if they come our way? That’s the challenge I am facing as I wonder about the future of my own church, and I am ready to put some more time and energy into improving our prospects.

    Comment by howardpilgrim — August 13, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  3. I’ve just stumbled across your blog, and hope you don’t mind me butting in on the conversation.

    I’ve recently come back to New Zealand from the UK, and was a bit startled at the way some of the NZ churches seemed to be giving up on theological education for their clergy. I have no pastoral experience myself — though I do teach Church History — so feel unqualified to comment on the wisdom or otherwise of the new model. But I must say it worries me a bit.

    Historically it hasn’t always been the case that the clergy were expected to be the theological experts — especially the priests. I think I’m right in saying that the Orthodox churches have quite a long-standing tradition of lay theologians, and certainly, in the western churches, whether Protestant or Catholic, theological training wasn’t the norm for clergy until at least the 17th century.

    On the other hand, one of the reasons for the Reformation was that the 15th century laity started getting very interested in religion, and in the cities they were sometimes far better educated than the clergy that served them. This exacerbated existing tensions between the people and the clergy, and ultimately contributed to the deep divisions in the western church.

    This was one of the reasons that the Catholic church established seminaries in the 16th century, and the Protestant churches expected their clergy to have a university degree. There were some drawbacks to this new approach. Better educated clergy were often not as in touch with their people as the older clergy who’d learnt the clerical “trade” by a kind of apprenticeship.

    I hope that it will be possible to find some ways of ensuring that the old forms of ministerial training continue to flourish, while new, complementary models are explored and developed. However, I’d almost guarantee that, if the older denominations wither or splinter as a result of poor theological education, the new “pastor and his wife” churches will be setting theological institutes to train their pastors about thirty years down the line.

    Comment by Nick — August 19, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  4. Hi Nick … Yours is the sort of stumbling I want to see much more of, so welcome to my blog and thanks for your insightful comments.

    I would add one thing in reply. In the first couple of centuries presbyters had a key role in preserving the received tradition against heretics, at least according to the documents handed down which are largely concerned with that challenge. That does not mean that this should now be a prime responsibility of priests, as the role has evolved and is still doing so. But as you say, someone has to be responsible for the teaching role, and when the ordained roles and their functions become more diffused the learning needed can fall by the wayside.

    When the pastor and his wife set up their bible school down the track, as they will for sure, where will they turn for the tradition? Will we still be carrying it?

    Comment by howardpilgrim — August 20, 2009 @ 8:22 am

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