Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Enabling Is Not Enough

One of the questions which I seem to be constantly facing, though from a variety of angles, is that of what ministers are for.  My church tradition believes firmly in the 'priesthood of all believers' and so is properly convinced that all Christians are called to ministry.  Indeed, increasingly, the release into ministry (if I can put it that way) is seen as coming not through ordination, but through baptism.  In the community of the baptised all those who have been through baptism are thus commissioned to ministry.  (I recognise that this doesn't quite work in the same way for Baptist, Salvation Army, Quaker and some other colleagues, but suggest that though the baptism link doesn't quite work, the principle of 'every member ministry' would be recognised.)

This then raises the question as to the purpose of ordained Ministers of Word and Sacraments. Inevitably, all sorts of things could be said about that, but I consider the essence of the task to be getting the whole congregation engaged in ministry.  So we have often talked about enabling and facilitating.

But is that enough?  Don't we need to do more than that?  I am currently reading William Willimon's book "Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life", and was struck by one particular comment: "There was a time when I thought the image of the pastor as empathetic "enabler" was a good image for ministry - the democratic enabler, standing in the wings, not on stage, humbly prompting the laity in their ministry.  Yet I observed, in my visits to congregations, that strong leaders tend to evoke strong congregations.  The pastor must do more than merely "enable".  The pastor must model, embody, demonstrate, and thereby evoke the ministry of the laity."

Enabling is important, and it is something that we need to do, and perhaps the problem is not so much with the enabling per se, but with the notion of empathetic enabling.  Empathetic enabling is great when it is what is needed, but, depending on specific, people in congregations need challenging, inspiring, encouraging, and a whole range of other things.  Surely the task is to get the church to be the church - whatever it takes.

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