Sunday, October 23, 2016

Who will lead 21st century church plants?

By J. West

Fr. John Linebarger, a bivocational priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest (ACNA), on Friday posted a provocative essay about how Anglican clergy will raised and called in 21st century America. It resonated with those of us involved in clergy formation in my diocese.

He begins with his overall premise:
Clergy formation and ministry are undergoing a time of transition in America. Residential seminary is giving way to more diocese-based training. Full-time positions are giving way to various mixes of bivocational ministry. Larger churches with full-time staff are giving way to smaller churches with volunteer staff.
He makes four other points:
  • There are less conventional full-time positions and thus clergy will have to either be bivocational or find some clever way to support themselves. Most churches will be led by a combination of bivocational clergy and volunteer staff.
  • Dioceses can’t afford to sponsor clergy education, and so a full-time MDiv at a residential seminary is being replaced by local efforts at the diocese (or using residential online courses). In my own experience, everyone I’ve met in formation in the past five years has paid for his own education from the income he has from his previous job.
  • Given the responsibilities of a priest are so complex, the MDiv needs to be supplemented by a multi-year curacy and continuing education.
  • The ACNA is attracting more clergy from other traditions, and if it doesn’t do a better job of steeping these clergy in the Anglican tradition, “ it is inevitable that in a generation or two ACNA runs the danger of morphing into a denomination that has left its Anglican heritage behind.”
I would recommend the article for any one considering the priesthood, the dioceses and parishes involved in clergy formation, and laity who hope to someday call a priest to their church plant.

As a layman, I would only add that this raises the importance of having well-trained lay leadership. The most successful church plants that I have seen began with strong laity with a good business background, an understanding and love of the Anglican faith, and a respect (and deference to) Anglican church polity.

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