I rejoice in the work that the Methodist Church has done in the last thirty years to diversify the ministries it is prepared to recognise. No longer is it appropriate to speak of 'the ministry' (though many still do) as if that referred to a single group or designation. Rather the ministry of Christ in the Church is now exercised in a greater diversity of roles, orders and authorised ministries.
But here's the rub: as new 'vocational pathways' have been created, so the difficult, unpalatable or humdrum parts of ministry have been visited on the unfortunate few - mainly presbyters, Superintendents and Circuit Stewards. So we see the emergence of more categories of ministry 'freed' from the burden of institutional maintenance - chairing those pesky church meetings or making sure the paperwork is filled in - at the same time as recruitment to the presbyterate is falling and it is becoming increasing difficult to fill the key lay offices. No wonder so many presbyters decline the offer of a Superintendency when it comes to stationing, especially those who have already done it!
Have certain ministries and office become the new dumping ground for our Church?
Firstly, I want to decry the way that lay ministry has been over-functionalised in the last twenty years. In CPD, the Methodist 'rule book', the section referring to lay ministry has gone from being titled 'Lay Ministry' to 'Lay Workers' to, now, 'Lay Employment'. Despite Biblical warrant for administration as a ministry of Christ in the Church (1 Cor 12), we insist in regarding administration as the obstacle to ministry - get that out of the way and proper ministry can happen. Those who process our expense claims, type up minutes, or clean the toilets, are engaged in lay ministry as much as Local Preachers or Class Leaders, so how do we honour that? Why do we not talk in vocational terms about all lay ministry in the way we do about ordained or preaching ones? It takes years to become a Local Preachers and seconds to become a Circuit Steward - what is that saying about the value we place on each office?
Secondly, I want to raise a huge concern about how 'ordinary' presbyteral ministry is being spoken of and viewed. I have spoken with a number of colleagues recently who are, frankly, fed up and worn out. Not tired of the gospel or less passionate about mission, but tired of being denigrated in order to prove the worthiness of other ministries. The repository of others' anger and disappointment, whether things are changing too fast or not fast enough. Shortages and illness mean that barely covering the bases is increasingly all that presbyters in Circuits can do, leaving no time for the 'luxury' of new mission opportunities or proper spiritual renewal. As someone approaching their 20th year in ministry, I worry that these sentiments are not just being expressed by those long in the tooth like me, but b