Those among you who have heard a lot of sermons will have looked at my title and noticed that it has three words and therefore thought: “Aha – it’ll be a three point sermon with each point based on one of the words.” But then you’ll notice that the middle word is “As” and think “No – maybe not after all.” But actually, you were right first time. Which now has you wondering how on earth I’m going to get a whole point out of one little word.
Anyway. There are two obvious ways of tackling “Ministry as Partnership” one word at a time: top-down, and bottom-up: coincidentally the two main ways of tackling a problem mathematically, but today is not a day for maths so we’ll do it differently (as the Parish of the Divine Compassion likes to do things differently, after all) and go for reverse alphabetic order. That means the first word we’ve got to look at is “Partnership”.
And then there’s me. I like football. I also like music. I can play football on my own – but it’s not much fun. Although I’d probably win more often. I can (and do) play music on my own. But I’d far rather play in a band. I’d much rather be part of a team. There’s mutual encouragement, there’s the sharing of the load, responsibility and stress; and there’s going somewhere you didn’t expect, because they see it differently to you. It also helps to get the balance right, as different things are important to different people.
I like teamwork and I tend to think of myself as a team of talents and abilities. However, every thing I do – and think I do well – I know someone who does it better. And I’m not just talking “Bradley Wiggins is a better cyclist than me” but people I actually know personally. Nigel is a better preacher than me, Geoff is a better footballer, Robin is a better guitarist, Sandhya is a better programmer. But it’s the blend of those things that makes me who I am. I don’t have to be the best footballer God’s got as he’s got lots of them. I don’t have to be the best guitarist God’s got – he’s got loads of them. I don’t have to be the best preacher God’s got – he’s overflowing with those. But I do have to be the best Paul Ganney God’s got. Because he’s only got one of those.
Biblically, we have great examples of partnerships. Of Elijah and Elisha (the master and apprentice), of Paul and Barnabas (the blending of talents – and its worth noting that Paul never went out on one of his missionary tours alone) and of course, Jesus Himself. Jesus chose 12 disciples to work closely with him: he could have done all the work himself. He was certainly capable. When you’re God you can do anything. But he chose not to. Because teamwork is the best way to achieve things. When he sent the disciples out, it was in pairs: partnership. He also told us that He did only what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19) and then later Paul tells us to do what we saw him doing (1 Corinthians 11:1 : “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (NIV, often remembered as “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” NRSV, and you can ask Rachel why that’s a more accurate translation)).
As a final thought on this: have you ever eaten flour? It's horrible. But put it together with eggs, butter, milk and sugar... Cake! Now you’re talking…
There are two types of ministry, and therefore two types of minister, that affect our daily lives. A minister of state, and a minister of religion.
We’re concerned today, of course, with the second of these. But even then, it’s not as simple as it might at first appear. We tend to think of the church minister as someone who runs church services, visits the sick, runs committees in the church and the community, assists in youth work, cleans the church, provides a spiritual lead to the community and so on and only works one day a week.
For years, in order to minister in the Church of England you had three choices: become an ordained cleric (such as Pat, Rachel and Philip), become a Lay Reader (such as myself) or get on with it and hope that no-one noticed you weren’t supposed to. The Transforming Ministry initiative taking place in Chelmsford Diocese and across a lot of the rest of the Church of England is changing that.
In doing this Chelmsford have recognised three key things: 1. Everyone is called to minister 2. Ministry requires supporting 3. Not everyone needs to learn everything
The “Transforming Ministry” programme therefore breaks down lay ministerial roles into several strands: “Authorised Local Preacher”, “Pastoral Assistant”, “Evangelist”, “Children’s Ministry” and “Mission Shaped Ministry” are the ones listed on the web site, but I’m sure they’re not exclusive.
Are you called to get involved in pastoral visiting but not to preach? There’s a strand for you. Are you called to preach but not to do children’s work? There’s a strand for you. Are you called to do the lot? There’s a strand for you, too.
“As” is a joining word and the choice of joining word changes the meaning of the sentence: “Ministry Through Partnership”, “Ministry Becoming Partnership”, “Ministry Over Partnership” all have different meanings to “Ministry As Partnership”. “As” implies an equivalence. For example “Gascoigne is regarded as the most gifted footballer of his generation”. It also acts as a link: “Ministry As Partnership” says they happen at the same time, for example “I left the house as it started raining”. “As” is a joining word – and this sermon is all about joining in.
If you Google “Ministry as Partnership” you get a link to a financial investment firm. But all the other 9 results on the first page are to Christian Ministry and the number 1 result is to the Diocese of Chelmsford’s web site. So “Ministry as Partnership” isn’t just something we’re doing here – it’s happening all over the Diocese and in lots of other Diocese as well, albeit under different names.
The Diocesan web site says this: “Ministry as Partnership is the title of a Diocese of Chelmsford resource developed to affirm and encourage the calling of the whole people of God. It is about identifying and releasing all the gifts that God has given us to be more effectively his church in our local contexts.
Within our changing world and culture, parishes are delivering ministry in many different ways. No one way is appropriate for all, but where the God-given gifts of all baptised members of the local church are being identified and used, there is growing confidence and a greater sense of moving forward.”
It then links to a 62-page document that I won’t read to you. But it sounds good, doesn’t it? One of the key points with it is that it isn’t just for those who hold Bishop’s licences. It’s for every baptised believer. It’s also not about creating a new structure for us to fit into: it expects local expression and it expects that every locality will develop something that is relevant to their area so every Ministry As Partnership initiative is likely to be different. Of course, that means that we have to do it. We can’t wait for Chelmsford to tell us what to do. There will only be Ministry As Partnership here if we decide to get on with it.
And we have. The PCC have set up a working group and have done some work on gathering issues from across the Parish – you may recall helping to draw these up at a Unite Service in St Phillips – for the group to consider. Top of the list was “Improvements in music – encouraging young talented people to participate.” But your PCC reps can provide you with a full list if you’d like one, I’m sure. It’s very timely, though. Ministry As Partnership is designed to respond to a changing world and we have some big changes coming up in this parish over the next year or two: a new Parish Warden, a new Team Rector (he doesn’t look old enough to be retiring, does he?) and an increasing desire for more lay involvement in ministry.
The challenge, then, is clear: what do you see God doing that you could join in with? What do you see Jesus doing, that you could join in with? What do you see ministers doing (and remember that list of types of minister I described), that you could join in with? Don’t think there’s nothing you can do. God only has one of you. It’s time to work out where you fit into the team that is the Church. It’s time to dust off your best Liverpool accent and go “Giz a job - I can do that”.
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