Are we really ‘ambassadors of Christ’?

I minister within the Church of England Diocese of London. If you check out their website, or know this network already, you’ll be aware that the current vision here has a focus on “equipping and commissioning 100,000 ambassadors representing Christ in daily life”. As someone who’s been in parish ministry in London for 19 years, it’s refreshing to have a Biblical metaphor (ambassadors) used so overtly in an Anglican mission action plan. And bold to have (for the C of E) a large target for the number of church members we are aiming to train and send.

There’s a lot to like in the “ambassadors” initiative here. A great collaboration with the LICC (London Institute for Contemporary Christianity) has enabled churches to benefit from resources like the “Right Where You Are” workbook, tailored to the C of E in London. The church where I am Vicar just hosted a Diocesan Ambassadors training evening for lay and ordained church leaders, encouraging them to take the vision for “whole-life, 24/7 discipleship” back to their parishes. The paradigm shift away from clergy/Sunday-focussed church to “everyone, everywhere” mission is wholesome and Biblical as a model of Christian discipleship.

The church of which I’m minister has been learning how important it is to orientate what we do on Sunday towards equipping members for the rest of the week. We’ve taken on board the call to make micro-shifts in that direction, such as “this time tomorrow” interviews, and including workplaces, homebuilders and community places in sermons applications and in intercessions. Gone, I hope, are the days of the only mission that is prayed-for being done by clergy, youthworkers and mission partners (though I think I have heard enough jibes at clergy who “never preach sermons on faith at work” to keep me going, thanks).

So here comes the “but”: I am not convinced that much of the use of the language of “ambassadors” here is fully true to the nature of this metaphor as Paul uses it in 2 Corinthians 5:20. Coincidentally I preached on this text recently as part of our church series on personal evangelism, “Six Steps to Talking about Jesus”. The focus of the Diocesan ambassadors material that I’ve heard presented so far has been on enabling church members to see themselves as living for Christ all week,  but not on sharing Christ in words. An emphasis on the “manner” of the representation but really on the “message” from the One we represent.

The word “representing”, arising from the ‘ambassadors’ metaphor, is straight from 2 Corinthians, but only if the primary way we do that is by speaking on behalf of Christ and about Christ. “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God” is Paul’s ambassadorial message. I recall being involved in early drafts of the Diocesan vision document and appealing, with others, that the language of “living and speaking for Christ” be retained, and it does appear in the banner heading of the Diocesan vision literature, but it does not seem to me to have been emphasised in the obvious place with Biblical foundations to do so, the language of “ambassadors”.

Of course that may be for two reasons.

Charitably, many church members are nervous about speaking about God’s mercy in reconciling us to Himself through Christ’s death – who isn’t? I understand that the Diocese does see equipping members with the message as part of sending ambassadors, and sees the “what is the message and how can we speak it more confidently?” piece as a next phase once members have gained confidence in their Christian calling. If so I’ve got a few ideas of how to do that in my next post. I’d still argue that the emphasis needs to shift from manner to message.

Let’s pray that the reticence to put front and centre the message that Paul spoke as an ambassador is not because some in the Church may not be wholly convinced that we have a message that needs to be communicated verbally for others to be saved. If that is the case, the initiative will only really be about 24/7 vocation, and we will end up a long way from the evangelism of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. If that happened we should probably stop using the “ambassadors” image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of “The Call” by Trevor Archer and Paul Mallard

The Call book cover.jpg

This is an admirably  concise but deceptively thorough book to give to members of our congregations who are considering “the call” to full-time (paid, ordained – the right term eludes us) ministry in the local church. Written from a Free Church perspective (this becomes more and more apparent in the second and third parts of the book) I nonetheless found it useful to consider giving to potential Anglican ordinands.

The strengths of the book are its broad wisdom in describing both what to look for in oneself if considering the ordained path (part one), and in plotting the course through a process of discernment and training (part two). Obviously the examples given for the latter are not the same as in the Anglican process, although similar. I especially liked the emphasis in part one upon Christian character as foundational before any discussion of gifting – and the three “g’s” (evidence of the considerable ministry experience of both authors) of grit, grace and gumption. Judicious quotes are included from Richard Baxter, and the inclusion of discussion of other models such as bi-vocational ministry is welcome. It was good to see that one of the 12 “marks of ministry” highlighted is a heart for the lost, and the all-too-true comment that too many pastors are happier feeding the flock than reaching lost sheep! The potential danger of making it appear that “call” is a subjective and individualistic matter is well avoided by sections reminding us that “calling” is in large part the fruit of proven ministry and local church recognition. As my own director of ordinands said to me over 20 years ago, “The Church cannot give you a ministry, we simply recognise one that God has already given you.”

It would have been interesting to explore more the nature of the pastor’s role as a shepherd in leading the flock. What leadership gifting does a pastor need, or what special heart or skills are needed in pioneer or church planting or youth ministry? Theological reflection on ministry is light: to what extent does the pastor represent the congregation and model discipleship for others (however imperfectly)? That this is missing perhaps reflects lack of space, not just denominational perspective, but as an evangelical Anglican with a reformed bent I looked in vain for a reference to administering sacraments in ministry and how they proclaim the gospel alongside preaching. Preaching may be the key way we pastor, but surely leading the Church to be healthy in displaying her other key marks is essential as part of “the call” too?

The bibliography includes greats like CH Spurgeon, John Piper, Richard Coekin and Derek Prime, yet is a bit selective beyond those.

A great little book, probably most useful for pastors and potential pastors in free evangelical churches.

 

How will we train clergy to teach and preach?


“It’s the theology, stupid” is the title of Alister McGrath’s very helpful Church Times review of the Church of England’s discussion document on clergy training “Resourcing Ministerial Education” (RME). I believe strongly that we must cultivate a stronger leadership culture in senior clergy, which is the focus of the earlier Green Report, and which should not in my view be confused with this separate one. But I do agree with McGrath that congregations, parishes and people need clergy who know their Bibles and can connect them theologically with their lives. I’m not sure he is right to see RME as promoting a corporate, institutional view of Church, but he is spot on in sounding the alarm at its proposals to delegate how training is financed to local dioceses, and very likely to disconnect training from residential and university-based theological education. It’s the theology, stupid.

Bishop Steven Croft chaired the RME report group and responded to its critics in this blog this week. Reading his response, I am encouraged by the reminder of the goal of an increase in 50% in vocations (just as big a task as financing them). But I am still left asking for the group to assure us that increased quantity will not mean diluted theological quality. As mixed-mode training still appears to be the favoured way to finance an increase in ordinations, this dilution is surely inevitable, if the proportion of ordinands training residentially (and in seminaries linked to university faculties) falls as the number overall rises.

Attending a preaching conference this week I am forcefully struck by the value of rigorous theological education (evident in the humble work of so many attending with me) to give us high expectations of one another as clergy, and to train us not to think “that was it” but to be lifelong theological and homiletical learners. This “never stop learning” attitude is epitomised by the title of the handout given this morning by an eminent but humble Australian preacher and theologian who retired after 40 years of ministry, but continues to preach and train preachers:

“Still learning to preach, and still learning to teach others to preach”.