Full time ministers: a dying breed?

I had the pleasure of chairing a conversation day run by the Baptist Ministers’ Fellowship this week. Entitled “Pathways for Baptist ministry” speakers shared their varied experience of ministerial life, training / formation and ways of working. Although the conversations ranged wide, two things stood out for me from the day:

1. The majority of participants appeared to have a functional view of ordination and accreditation rather than an ontological one. This is noteworthy not just for theological reasons but because at a national level the trend appears the other way. Partly as a result of theologians like Paul Fiddes and John Colwell the nature of ordained ministry has received significant attention in recent years, changing the emphasis of college courses and the nature of national ministerial accreditation (as can be seen from the increasing importance of Covenant to the new ministerial rules).

2. The variety of patterns of ministry in church life are growing. The model of full time college based training has long been in decline but the sheer variety of ways people enter and conduct ministry is growing all the time. A trend that will surely increase as many smaller churches will be able to afford full time ministers and most larger churches will build staff teams based on specific roles (youth, children, elderly, worship, mission, pastoral visiting) rather than having multiple ministers.

Maybe we are witnessing the death of ‘Baptist Ministry’ as we know it and over the next twenty years the notion of full time ‘professional’ Baptist ministers who went through a period of initial training / formation at a Baptist College and then expected to be the stipended minister of local churches till they retired will seem a quaint anachronism?

Whatever the long term future holds though, we have work to do if our patterns of training are to fit a changing context and our patterns of support and accreditation are to become flexible enough to help encourage and release people rather than act as a straight jacket.

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