Self-Supporting Ministry – a practical guide by John Lees

John Lees has written a truly practical guide to self-supporting ministry and here I am reviewing it as someone who sees himself far more clearly as a self-supporting minister after reading John’s challenging chapters. John Lees is Bishop’s Officer for Self-Supporting Ministry for the Diocese of Exeter. He has served as an SSM for fourteen years. He is a career coach well known for his books including How to Get a Job You Love and Secrets of Resilient People.

There is considerable lament in this guide for the ways in which the energies and expectations of self-supporting ministers are increasingly focused on the support that they give to local churches. Lees explores what has happened in the twenty years since the publication of Tentmaking in 1998. The authors then, Francis and Francis, focused on worker priests, MSEs (ministers in secular employment) and bridge ministry. Lees traces these preoccupations of ministry further back and leaves us with a sense that we have lost missional opportunities as energy has focused on local churches rather than ministry which is more liminal. He reminds us that self-supporting ministry is the New Testament model, with Paul being the first self-supporting minister.

Lees reports on the findings of Teresa Morgan’s research[1] (2011). Part of her summary states “few respondents [her sample of self-supporting ministers] saw themselves as having much, if any ministry outside the formal structures of the church”, (Lees, p39), yet “most SSMs spend much of the time outside formal church structures. They are, together with lay people, the natural missionaries to our society.” (p40). The case studies with which John concludes each chapter are testimony to the enormous range of contexts of ministry, but also, there is a unanimity that there is very little done to prepare or encourage SSMs and lay people for this ministry.

Lees is particularly strong when he talks about ministry in the world. His confidence in the world is borne from his ministry in the secular. He writes: “We seem to have lost some of the eagerness of past generations to find God in contemporary life, and we may have lost sight of the way Church and society learn from one another.” (p59). We have become a “frightened church”, an institution under stress, and institutions under stress “respond like human beings, becoming more self-protecting”. (p59).

I was left wondering what the influence of Tentmaking was on John Lees’s call, theology and ministry and what the effect on vocations would be if we were to support, encourage and celebrate the ministries that so many tentmakers, teachers, hairdressers, bankers and waiters have. I was left feeling affirmed in my understanding of my own ministry as being “self-supporting” (albeit with many freedoms and privileges).

And I was left with a strong sense that the most common model of ministry is that of self-supporting ministry, and the context of that ministry being secular. Just a small proportion of those self-supporting ministers are licensed. An even smaller proportion of them are ordained. They represent 29% of licensed parochial clergy in the Church of England (2016). It seems a shame if ministry training, formation and deployment is seen to be organised around stipendiary clergy – a small part of the ministry of the church of God which by and large has to be “self-supporting”.

Arguably Lees should have had a wider focus on other forms of self-supporting ministry than those who are ordained, but John writes from the heart, from his experience as a coach and a priest, and his heart has gone out to his fellow priests who are often left unsupported. There is challenge, care and common sense suggestions that merit a reading for the sake of all those who are self-supporting ministers (often unrecognised) and particularly those who are ordained self-supporting ministers.

This is adapted from a review I wrote for Parson and Parish Magazine.

[1] Self-supporting ministry in the Church of England and the Anglican churches of Wales, Scotland and Ireland: report of the national survey 2010.Oxford: Teresa Morgan.

The place of maps

I have just been reading The Book of Negroes by Canadian author Lawrence Hill. It gets its controversial title from a historic document from the 18th century which is kept at the National Archives at Kew. It is a ledger of over 3,000 names of enslaved African, the “Black Loyalists” who escaped to Britain’s lines in the American Revolution. It was the first time in history that thousands of black people were formally recorded by a historical body, in this case, the British Navy.

The book describes the journeys of Aminata Diallo who was grabbed from her village in west Africa in 1750 by slave traders. She was just 11 when she had to walk “three moons”, shackled in irons in a coffle from her village of Bayo to the ship which would take her into slavery in the American colonies.

She makes the most of her very limited opportunities. She learns to read and write (in secret), and she longs to return to her homeland. Occasionally she is able to look at maps of Africa, but there were no places marked on them except for a few ports. Inland was shown with drawings of elephants – as if that was all there was.

I wonder if that is where we are sometimes. We can map thresholds and the ports. We can say so and so lives there. We can recognise faces but sometimes can’t get past face value. It is only when we care to listen, to let people speak, to allow them to show us around their lives that we begin to build up a better map of where they have come from, and where they might be journeying to. (The more diverse the maps, the better – geographical, historical, political, psychological dimensions all add to our understanding.) Then we begin to understand the hinterland. Then we can better understand each other.

This is what Aminata writes at the end of her story:

I would like to draw a map of the places where I have lived. I would put Bayo on the map, and trace in red my long path to the sea. Blue lines would show the ocean voyages. Cartouches would decorate the margins. There would be no elephants or want of towns, but rather paintings of guineas made from gold mines of Africa, a woman balancing fruit on her head, another with blue pouches for medicine, a child reading, and the green hills of Sierra Leone, land of my arrivals and embarkations.

PS. When I say that Lawrence Hill is a “Canadian author” I am guilty oversimplifying the map of his life – drawing elephants, if you like. He was born in Newmarket, Ontario – the son of a black father and a white mother who moved to Ontario from Washington DC. These are details to add to the map of Lawrence Hill’s life. Reading another of his books, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada might add psychological and sociological dimensions to that map. I’d like to find out by reading more.

The List – a poem for World Book Day

The List
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction, and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely.
There are only so many days.

Oh, I felt sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through the delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.

>Diversity Training 2

>Lost in thought this morning – with many matters.
Is this what diversity training looks like? This dance group won a British TV talent competition.

Diversifying is God’s business.

Through Abraham and the cross God provides us with a family tree which renders all brothers and sisters. Hear this (as Abraham and Sarah did) – from Genesis 17 – “I will make nations of you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations …”

God’s business is diversifying – as Paul recognised: “Now faith has come … there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one …” (Galatians 3:28)

Diversifying is the church’s business. Hear Jesus: “If you greet only your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” (Matthew 5:47)

Restrictions and deprivations make up our history. Analyse the media and it soon becomes apparent that only a small section of society has any say. The voices of so many are not heard. Listening therefore becomes the essential requirement of diversity training. This was the strategy the Church of England try to deploy in our debates about homosexuality in the 90’s. We’re not sure how much listening happened – but the intention was that the gay voice was one which the Christian Church had tried to smother. If someone isn’t allowed to speak – how can they be understood? But how can you listen if you are not pre-disposed to love or care enough to listen to the muffled cries of those fighting for breathing space?

I am reading a book by Natalie Watson called “Introducing Feminist Ecclesiology“. Feminist theologians highlight deprivation and challenge practices which are exclusive. Natalie (why do we use surnames when referring to authors?) quotes Nelle Morton who draws attention to the way that women have heard from one another. “New words and the new way old words came to expression” became a liberating force for the women who have heard from one another. “women came to new speech simply because they were being heard. Hearing became an act of receiving the women as well as the words.”

Diversity training requires us to listen – to listen to those who feel excluded in church and from church, in society and from society. It requires us to realise that they are unable to raise their voices – and if we don’t listen we won’t hear them. It requires us to realise that only the rich and powerful make their voices heard when empires are being built.

Our liturgy (aka our “work) begins with the invitation “lift up your voice” – are we looking forward to a time when all people will be able to lift up their voice (with the confidence that their voice will be heard?

Thank you Tracy for the photo of the Jesus Tree.

>Book List

>Doing a bit reflecting in the shower I concluded that books no longer are my main source of learning. It’s probably debatable whether they ever were but the assumption was that a student needs books if s/he is going to learn. I would have to say that significant turning points – things that have set me thinking have been articles I have stumbled across on the internet and chance encounters and experiences. But books are easier to categorise – they are there on the shelf as visible reminders, and if I was to stack the ten which I think had had the most impact on me over the last ten years, these would be them:

  1. Transforming Mission by David Bosch
  2. Team Roles at Work by R Meredith Belbin
  3. Hard Times by Charles Dickens (and it only cost me a penny!)
  4. Transforming Priesthood by Robin Greenwood
  5. Ministry in Three Dimensions by Steve Croft
  6. I and Thou by Martin Buber
  7. A Sideways Look at Time by Jay Griffith
  8. Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan
  9. Being as Community by John Zizioulas
  10. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

These are books which have been memorable. Of course there are others – and I didn’t give it a great deal of thought – and I haven’t included any read in the last 12 months because it’s easy to be enthusiastic about what I’ve just read. None of them have been particulalry authoritative as once they might have been which leads me to conclude that the way we learn has changed so much and reflects our networked society – with one thing leading to another and learning being practical and contextual. Perhaps more relevant to me would be to list the 10 theories, or the ten thinkers, which have had the most impact on me – but that’s another post altogether.

Image is be Faeryan

>An old friend

>Friend Jim came by with a quote from the work of Laurens van der Post. I enjoyed his books when I read them. A lovely man, great story-teller and lover of humanity. I particulalry remember reading one of his books on a train journey at a time of bereavement, and remember noticing feeling so much better at the end of the journey. Not many writers can be so inspirational.

The quote:

Jung believed that the unique achievement of Western Europe, particularly Christian Europe, was the creation of the individual who would be sufficiently individual and integrated to take the burdens of his community and the world upon himself, to resist this collectivization of the spirit.- he goes on to say that he felt that it was the failure of this in Germany that allowed Hitler to rise to power unchallenged.

And another one from his intriguing solemn requiem (based on the Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse) by the editor of Feather Fall:

Gradually I have formed the impression, now a certainty, that Laurens van der Post is a member of a vast family which constitutes a community of spirit and heart that has existed throughout our history. Like those wells in the desert that are so difficult to find and so far apart, yet are linked beneath the ground and combine invisibly to quench one’s thirst, this vast and ever growing family of fellow-travellers is the company in which, step by step, century by century, we can all join in the ultimate quest, following the flight of the great white bird of truth, ready in heart and mind for its eventual feather fall.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence was a film based on two of Laurens’s books which describe his experience asa japanese prisoner of war where he gained a reputation for building up the morale of people of many different nationalities. here’s the trailer.