The Episcopal Church is encountering the new realities of the twenty-first century. The decades-long decline in membership, strained budgets, and an increasingly secular society have left the once de-facto establishment church of American society seeking a new way to be church. We have entered a new missionary age. Our cultural environment much more resembles the first few centuries of Christianity than it does the past few centuries.
As we live into these new realities, there is hope. There is hope because we have Good News to share. Like the earliest followers of Jesus, our new missionary age is calling us, like them, to be people of the Way. The Way of Jesus. The Way of love. As our current Presiding Bishop reminds us, we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement.
But living as people of the Way will require us to re-imagine the ways we do ministry. These are adaptive challenges — ones that are complex, where solutions are unclear, and which require learning from all involved. So we must be willing to experiment. Dioceses will need to encourage and support congregations in such experimentation. We will need to become active and adaptive learners who are steeped in prayer, curiosity, and creativity.
I will be exploring how we might re-imagine ministry in a series of podcast episodes. These episodes are based on my engaging with this topic for the past several years. I draw on a number of leading books and thinkers exploring church mission and ministry in the twenty-first century, particularly focusing on the Episcopal Church.
While not at all limited to the following list, here are some key areas of observation on new ways of doing ministry I will explore in the podcast…
- Our new missionary age requires us to go deeper spiritually as followers of Jesus (and this is a good thing)! A commitment to follow Jesus in the way of love.
- Being authentic to our Episcopal/Anglican roots (theology, spirituality, practice) so we can tell others what we uniquely offer. Rather than defining ourselves by who/what we are not, we will be telling others who/what we are as Episcopalians/Anglicans. Our Episcopal way of following Jesus is a gift to be shared.
- A Diocese is about a community of Episcopal followers of Jesus in a geographic area, not a collection of independent congregations. Dioceses exist to support these Episcopal followers of Jesus as they gather, worship, and serve in various local contexts throughout a diocese. They are connected, or networked, centers of mission. Every congregation should be a missionary congregation of the diocese, and every bishop should be a missionary bishop. Diocesan staff will support mission in the various local contexts where Episcopal followers of Jesus find themselves.
- The Book of Common Prayer lists the church’s ministers as: lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. Lay followers of Jesus are the primary ministers. Ministry needs to be organized around them. Bishops, priests, and deacons need to focus on equipping lay persons for service and witness as followers of Jesus in the world. We also need to be better at discovering and networking the talents/gifts/skills and experience of members of a diocese.
- Priests, rather than primarily being non-profit administrators of volunteers, should have as their primary responsibility cultivating Christian community where lay followers of Jesus are formed, nurtured, and sent. While this is optimal in forming followers of Jesus for mission, it is also an emerging reality as part-time and bi-vocational priests become more the norm for many, if not most, congregations.
- Bishops, and their staffs, are the means of connecting congregations in mutual partnerships to foster creative and vibrant collaboration throughout a diocese. Bishops, and diocesan staff, should facilitate relationships among all congregations of the diocese to serve as “connectors of people” so congregations can be thriving centers of mission in their communities. Resources, training, and mutual learning will be vital to meet adaptive challenges of our new missionary age.
- Diaconal leadership (perhaps even the goal of a deacon for every congregation) is very important in our new missionary age. The role of deacons in bringing the needs of the world to the church is vital in helping congregations reflect on their communities and how the church should be active in the community.
- Dioceses and congregations likely will need to be more agile as we engage with adaptive challenges and new learning emerges from experimentation.
Stay tuned for the launch of the Re-imagine Ministry podcast episodes of my soon-to-be-released Ministry Musings Podcast.
I continue benefit from the writing and presentations of leading thinkers and writers about our new missionary age. Much of what I discuss is formed by their great work. Here are a few of the books which feature prominently in my reflections:
Episcopal Church Focused:
People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity by Dwight J. Zscheile
The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age by Dwight J. Zscheile
A Generous Community: Being the Church in a New Missionary Age by C. Andrew Doyle
The Jesus Heist: Recovering the Gospel from the Church by C. Andrew Doyle
General Church Mission (with definite applications to Episcopal congregations):
The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship, and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen
The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian by Brian D. McLaren
– Revised May 3, 2019.