EACH OF US WAS GIVEN GRACE

EACH OF US WAS GIVEN GRACE

Since Susanne and I are here this morning at the suggestion of Bishop Scarfe and the invitation of the vestry to begin a conversation with you about something called “ministry development,” I’m going to take the unusual step of departing from the appointed Lessons today and basing my sermon on another one which really forms the scriptural basis for what we’ll be talking about later. This reading is from the letter to the Ephesians, the church in Ephesus. I’m sure it will be familiar to you:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:4-13)

This reading, taken together with an earlier one from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and other New Testament references, make us pretty sure that this was how the early church functioned. It saw itself as a single body, made up of many members, each one performing its function to make that body move and grow.

The early church didn’t see itself as a congregation, waiting to call a pastor, who would then come and begin serving as their “minister.” Because the early church did not see itself as “a community gathered around a minister,” but as “a ministering community,” a community of ministers. In this example from Ephesians, an apostle (like Paul) might well have been a founding member of a local community.

But soon after that, the community itself would raise up, or identify, some prophets and evangelists, some pastors and teachers and, pretty soon, they would be a self-sufficient, self-sustaining Christian community ready to carry out its role as a ministering community and to make a difference for Christ in the wider world in which they found themselves.

For all kinds of complicated reasons, over the years, the church evolved into an institution which has become pretty “clergy centered.” Occasionally, when a church is in-between priests, you’ll hear someone say that they have a “vacancy.” A vacancy! What in the world might that mean? The congregation is still there, isn’t it? The building is still there. The ministries carried out in the community are still there. They’re looking for an important member of the body, but the body is still functioning. It is not “vacant,” not empty!

So, in recent years, we’ve tried to recapture some of this early church understanding. After all, the church has never been more alive, more fruitful, or spread more widely than in those earliest decades. So, as you probably know, the Catechism in our Prayer Book says that there are not just three kinds of ministers – bishops, priests and deacons. There are four kinds – lay persons, bishops, priest and deacons. And each kind of minister is to play his or her role in “representing Christ to the world,” in building up the body of Christ.

The canons of our church provide a kind of updated list of some ministries which can be licensed in a local congregation: Eucharistic ministers, Eucharistic Visitors, Catechists (who are educators preparing people for baptism and confirmation), preachers, worship leaders, lay pastoral leaders and evangelists. And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s only a place to start.

Some congregations have several licensed preachers and a whole team of Eucharistic Visitors. Others have social ministry coordinators along with deacons. Still others have two or three locally identified and trained priests. The point is the ministering community discerns the kinds of gifts it has and the leadership it needs!

These are just examples of what such ministries may look like in a given congregation. In some of our churches here in Iowa from Iowa Falls to Iowa City, from Clermont to Fr. Madison, teams have been developed and commissioned to serve as what we call a “ministry development team.” We used to call them “ministry teams” but now realize that the team exists to support the ministry of the whole congregation – outside the walls of the church as well as within. And so we call it a ministry “support” team.

And there’s a process for a congregation to begin discerning who might have particular gifts for particular ministries, to form a team which will receive some training and be commissioned at some point to provide leadership and ministry support for the whole congregation.

In some places, there are people in the congregation who themselves may have the particular gift necessary to be ordained as a deacon or a priest. Sometimes this circle of leadership includes ordained people drawn from inside the congregation and share clergy with other churches. Other times, congregations might share a deacon or a youth minister.

But most of the people in the leadership team receive their formation right alongside the other members…So that they truly are a team which can function together. Although some team members may receive financial remuneration, they are often non-stipendiary, freeing the congregation from the financial burden of “the priest’s package” and allowing more money to be spent in outreach and evangelism…to form new partnerships and to grow the church.

Is such a “team ministry” possible here at St. Alban’s? You bet it is. You’ve all been involved in various expressions of mutual ministry and outreach for decades. You’ve had your ups and downs just like any congregation I know, but there are people in this church who could be trained and commissioned for many of these ministries, and some I haven’t even mentioned.

The question is, is this the time to begin moving in this new direction? Is this who God is calling us to be and to do at this time in our history? That’s what Susanne and I are here to talk about and, more importantly, to hear from you about. We’re committed to helping you get started if you choose to move in this direction. I hope you’ll at least stay after church today for an hour or so. And let’s start the conversation!

For “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in (us) all. (For) each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

 

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