Well the official figures are out and available for statistical analysis. The bottom line is that clergy numbers are down and that the trend is set to continue. The rate of decline matters, from a head office perspective because ‘ambitious plans’ in the R & R programme are, in part, contingent on an increase in ordinations ‘by half by 2020’ ( Church Times – Clergy: fewer on a stipend, and older – 3rd June.)
To be clear I have no issue with a goal to increase clergy numbers. I accept the argument that churches grow where there is ‘focused leadership,’ and, I believe in the magnetic power of the dog collar. I wish the Church would make it far easier to recruit, train and ordain local ministers, I really do.
I do, however, have two worries:
First, what strategies is the church going to use to attract, identify and recruit a new cadre of ‘leaders?’
I do hope that it isn’t, through the use of words like entrepreneurial, strategic and so forth, thereby presenting ministry as ‘sexy,’ and the religious equivalent of ‘secular leadership.’
Sometimes, perhaps often in ministry, all we can do is get down on our knees before rising and simply getting on with the task in hand. The church, perhaps above all else, needs ministers committed to the dirty work of holiness. The dirty work of holiness often comes without manifest results and the feel good factor that can result from a strategy well crafted. Resilience should be one of the most important characteristics the C of E seeks in its ministers (or leaders, if you prefer).
Paradoxically ‘secular leaders’ for all the outward appearance of assurance and confidence are frequently highly insecure and, It is often their very insecurity that compels them to ‘succeed.’ The strange mix of insecurity and success gives rise to the cult and idolatry of the leader and, leadership. Success is in any case frequently transient, fleeting and short lived.
I have a strong sense that when the church starts using terms like entrepreneur it cheapens diaconal, priestly and even episcopal ministry and also the secular use of the term. Unless that is we really are seeking ‘leaders’ who put everything on the line for the sake of the Church, investing any personal assets they might have into their ministry and refusing to take any form of payment before growth is manifest and obvious?
The church needs to be very careful in its marketing of ordained ministry, so that it identifies, recruits and trains the right people. It is conceivable that the C of E manages to meet its ambitious plans for growth in the numbers of ordained ministers whilst, paradoxically, diminishing the aggregate quality of ordained ministry.
So, my second concern, which follows from the first, is that the C of E ordains the right people. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in ‘Not in God’s Name, ‘ (a fantastic read by the way) provides a really exegesis of the sibling rivalries in Genesis, which he concludes with the following observation:
‘Why then Isaac, not Ishmael? Why Jacob, not Esau? Because Ishmael and Esau are strong, resourceful (entrepreneurial and strategic? my addition) people who survive by their own skill and dexterity. The people of the covenant are witnesses in themselves to something beyond themselves. Isaac and Jacob are not strong.’
The C of E in its ‘ambitious plans’ to ordain 50% more ministers must ensure that it doesn’t end up attracting and ordaining the strong, successful, strategic, resourceful, ‘earthly’ and contemporary equivalents of Ishmael and Esau; for this really would be to the detriment of the church and its mission.
The Church must always make sure that its ‘leaders’ point way beyond themselves.