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The Processes That Develop Ministry

By Nigel Hardcastle.

The most important task

I've been in paid Christian ministry since 1972, nearly a third of a century. All that time I have been interested in developing ministry. That includes my own ministry, but arguably my ministry is to develop the ministry of others. If by ministry we mean "Loving Service in Christ", then there is not much of the church's life that is not part of this task of developing ministry. This is our most important job.

Many changing approaches

Over the decades I have seen all sorts of changes in the way ministry is organised. When I was ordained, there were still people saying, "A house going parson makes a church going parish". Churches were, however, already more about running organisations, such as Mums and Tots for isolated mothers, and clubs for the old and young. In many places, including my first parish, this had turned into a church community centre. It got us in touch with the needs of lots of people and involved the laity. For a while it seemed the answer.

Then came the community work principle, which was to work with the community, not for them, discovering what they wanted and helping them achieve it. Then political campaigning replaced these "sticking plaster" approaches. The Charismatic movement meant we were more likely to speak in the tongues of angels than the tongues of politicians. House groups became common. I remember the decade of evangelism, which led to several years of street theatre and rallies. Now it is "emergent church", which sometimes means café style worship and other times running groups not much different from the ones we ran in the 70s.

Team ministries have been in turn the answer, a silly sixties idea, and the answer again. All age worship was once the thing. Now it is giant children's churches, youth churches, etc. Once we longed for a multicultural coming together in diversity in Christ. Now we divide into mono-cultural gatherings that meet people's cultural needs. No one can say the church hasn't tried, or that church life is conservative and boring!

Each new wave was met with a wave of enthusiasm from the trendy and rejection from the traditionalists. Each new approach had some spectacular successes and been widely copied. Then the problems emerged. What works in one place doesn't elsewhere, and even where it does work, it leaves the feeling that something is missing. When the next new idea comes along, the old approach is ditched as wanting or unfashionable. It left me feeling that perhaps babies had been thrown out with the bathwater.

Behind the changes, the successes and failures, there had to be processes that were more constant. These would have to be applied differently in different situations, but neither people nor God change every 5 years. There are many different ways to organise ministry, but, I asked, "Are there any common processes happening inside them?"

The learning cycle

A few years ago I spent some time thinking about this question. I read many books and talked to various people including a tutor at the Westminster College Oxford. A theory began to emerge. I came to the conclusion that there were seven processes that could be used to develop ministry.

The first group I recognised were the four processes of the "Learning Cycle" - Action, Reflection, Theory and Pragmatic Learning by considering what might work better. People learn to minister. The people who helped in my first church's community centre learned by doing ministry. They learned by watching others. Some would think about what could be done better.

Something, however, seemed lacking. In one sense ministry was a behaviour that could be learned, but the behaviour on its own didn't make it ministry. Ministry is love and love is relationship. Ministry is response of one person to another, and to God. I could think of people whose ministry grew out of seeing the need. I could think of other people who caught it from another Christian. Last, but far from least, ministry is a response to God.

The seven processes that can be used to develop ministry

Finally my list of processes that can be used to develop ministry looked like this:


* Responding to God and his works (receiving his grace)

* Responding to fellow Christians (serving and being served graciously)

* Responding graciously to other people (serving graciously)


* Learning from Action (learning by doing, learning from experience)

* Learning from Reflection (reflecting on your own and other people's experience)

* Learning from Theory (conclusions from experience, conceptualising, drawing up theories)

* Pragmatic learning (considering what might work better, planning the next step)

I can think of other factors that had helped develop people's ministry, but they were not processes a minister could use. Some people seem to have the right genes. One day we may be able to take a random member of the congregation and give them an injection to make them a genetically ideal youth leader. At the moment we cannot. Sometimes a personal disaster has been part of the process. For example, the widow sometimes becomes an excellent counsellor of bereaved people.

Proving this list of processes would be impossible. I did, however, survey twenty two people by questionnaire and carry out four long, semi structured interviews asking people what developed their ministry. In these investigations I could find no other usable factors though I found various subheadings that fitted under my list of seven. Only a few people would clearly refer to "pragmatic learning" or "reflection" without me asking leading questions, but all the other processes were mentioned by well over half the people surveyed. All these were without prompting.

God is always involved even when the person is not aware he is. I am confident that many more would have agreed if asked the direct question. Similarly I suspect that the other factors, while not universal, were much more common than recorded because of my concern not to ask leading questions.

Using ALL these processes to develop ministry

Teachers, especially of practical skills, try to make use of as many of the processes of the learning cycle as possible. This is for two reasons. First, people learn better when they have used more than one process. The knowledge is more complete and sinks in to different parts of the brain. Reading a book on swimming may be great, but you only learn to swim when you get into the water. Learning to improve needs to be done in practice, not theory.

Second, most of us have a preferred learning style. ACTIVE learners want to rush in and have a go. However, half the clergy are REFLEXIVE learners - we want to watch someone else try first. THEORECTICAL learners want to read a book or have a lecture first, and PRAGMATIC learners want to think about the practical problems. If we try to use all these parts of the learning cycle, everyone will get some time in the part of the cycle that appeals to them. Thus a talk on "Listening Skills" needs to be linked to some practice and feedback and thought.

Similarly, involving the three different response processes also strengthens the development and integrates it into the Christian life. Prayer and meditation are part of the process. Any Christian will pray anyway, but making it explicitly part of the process makes it consciously Christian. Similarly workers need real relationships with each other. They need real relationships with genuine responses to the cared for. When all parts of us are involved, we learn and respond better, and insofar as we have favourite ways to start the process, the approach suits a wider range of people.

In the Church Community Centre where I started my ministry we learnt a lot though ACTION. We could have improved the learning greatly by strengthening the other sorts of learning. Conversely some house groups would become better places for all round learning if they were to do things as well as talking and praying.

Already the idea was beginning to shed some light on the strange things I had noticed over the years. One of the reasons that each new approach was successful and unsuccessful was that it used and neglected different processes that developed ministry. You will not be surprised, however, that it wasn't quite as simple as that.

The ministries we need to develop

Not only do the different approaches churches use, or once used, utilise different processes, they also are good or bad at developing different sorts of ministry.

The Church Community Centre in my first church ministered to people in their isolation. It couldn't, however, minister to people in their work problems or home problems so easily. House Groups are fairly good at developing those ministries that most people care called to share in. They are not good in developing specialist ministries that only a few are called to. Conversely specialist ministry groups such as healing groups may be weak in developing any ministry other than the one in question.

We don't need every church to have every possible ministry. However, some ministries are needed in nearly every church if they are to survive and others are so common we cannot avoid developing them.

Paul asks, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets?" Of course not. Neither are all youth leaders or evangelists, etc. But all Christians are called to ministry, and the essence of ministry is the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Without these fruits, there is no ministry. You may think you are a great preacher or pastor, but without love, and joy and self-control, you are not ministering at all.

Second, most Christians will have neighbours, friends and family to whom they need to minister. Many have jobs, paid or unpaid. In these ministries the fruits of the spirit take flesh. To neglect these common ministries would be bad.

Third, if a church is going to survive it needs new members. In the past this was possible by teaching the young. Now the young move away physically and spiritually. Some kind of other way of drawing people into a changing relationship with God is necessary. Most churches need to have some process by which (like a jet engine sucking in air) the church draws people in, to a transforming reaction with God, to produce power (ministry),

Six vital sorts of ministry

Eventually I came up with a list of 3 essential ministries and 3 others that should be considered.

The three essential groups of ministry that must be developed are:

* the essence of all ministry, the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

* ministries most Christians are called to: ministry in the family, community, at work, political and environmental concern, proper participation in liturgy, worship, and teaching.

* ministries all churches need to survive: drawing people in, to a transforming reaction with God, to produce power (ministry).

Each church should also consider:

* What particular ministries it needs to develop because of its particular circumstances and strategy, for example, a ministry to seafarers, or to Asians, or the homeless.

* What particular gifts and calling members have. Should the local church develop them? For example, a person may have a gift that the local church cannot use, but which should be developed and used elsewhere.

* What it can do to develop ministries needed by the wider church: priests, missionaries, teachers, etc.

These two lists (processes and ministries) are useful on their own. However, as the final step I tried to apply these two lists to the list of systems I had seen Churches using over the years to deploy and develop ministry. Suddenly things started clicking into place. Much was explained. There is not space to give a full account, but here is a summary. You may like to play with ideas and come to your own conclusions.

What processes and ministries do the structures and techniques support?

1. Organisations and the major project

By 'organisations' I mean playgroups, old people's clubs, etc. By 'the Major Project' I mean things like the Community Centre and/or a Counselling Centre. The major project is, from many points of view, the same as the approach of setting up organisations except for the scale of the project, and that, as a result, all the eggs are in one basket.

STRENGTH: response to Christians and others; active learning.

WEAKNESS: response to God; reflective, theoretical, and pragmatic learning need to be added; can't deal easily with evangelism, ministry at home, work or worship.

2. Community work or consultancy approach

Community Work or Consultancy Approach emphasises working with rather than for the local community, as catalyst with their agenda. Visiting and various leadership roles can use a consultancy approach.

STRENGTH: reflective, theoretical and pragmatic learning.

WEAKNESS: direct response to God, Christians and others need to be added; assumes, but doesn't include, learning through action; often 'one to one' so time consuming.

3. Training courses

Courses in parish, diocese and elsewhere.

STRENGTH: reflective and theoretical learning; can be applied to most ministries; some active and pragmatic learning can be included, but not in depth.

WEAKNESS: response to God, Christians and others need to be added somewhere.

4. House groups

Regular ongoing groups for Bible study, fellowship and ministry

STRENGTH: can be good places for all round learning of the ministries most people have, especially if the groups minister as well as talk about it. They can be places where special gifts and callings can emerge.

WEAKNESS: there is no guarantee they will use all these learning opportunities; they may become an inward looking clique; they may not be able to develop specialised ministries in equally balanced way.

5. Specialist ministry groups

Doing particular ministries: Evangelism Group, Music Group, Pastoral Team, etc.

STRENGTH: specialist ministries; learning through action; response to Christians and others.

WEAKNESS: must add response to God, reflection, theory, and pragmatic planning somewhere.

6. Subcommittees

Organising rather than doing ministry: Mission Committee, Youth Committee, etc.

STRENGTH: shares the oversight of the PCC/Church meeting/leadership group and develops the ability of people to share that oversight through learning by action and pragmatic planning.

WEAKNESS: tend to forget response to God, Christians, others, reflection and theory.

7. Ministry teams

'Ministry teams' take various forms. Each needs to be considered separately. Types include:

a) The Pastoral Team (members share the minister/vicar's pastoral ministry, but not leadership)

This is a special case of a specialist ministry group. All the comments on them apply to this type of group.

b) The Consultative Group (the minister/vicar consults the group about the direction of the church)

A weaker form of the subcommittee. It cannot organise or minister itself, but deals with more than one ministry.

c) The Management Team

Like the subcommittee, this is really a ministry of management, oversight and leadership. The only difference from the subcommittee is that more than one area of ministry is involved.

d) Pastoral Leadership, sometimes called eldership (the 'corporate' vicar/minister)

STRENGTH: ministry teams share the oversight of appointed or elected church leaders; they develop the ability of people to share oversight through learning by action and pragmatic planning.

WEAKNESS: easy to forget response to God, Christians, others, reflection and theory.

8. Vicar, wardens and church council

Legally and spiritually, the vicar, wardens and PCC share the oversight and leadership of the parish with the Bishop under God. In this council, authority from below and above meets. The PCC cannot get out of its responsibility.

STRENGTH: could be a good place for learning how to minister as Christians together.

WEAKNESS: often doesn't think it has anything to learn and so reduces its learning opportunities to action or even to what is effectively inaction.

9. Worship, preaching, charismatic and the liturgy

ESSENTIAL: this makes links between worship and ministry; includes concern for others, reflection, theory and pragmatic planning. By Charismatic I do not mean that we necessarily have to copy Pentecostal-type churches, but each church must in some way receive the spirit and gifts of God.

Of course it is quite possible to use any of the above systems badly so they don't even do well in the areas they are potentially strong.


Good theories are like road maps. They are useful because they are simpler than reality. A road map of the whole country leaves out most roads in towns, which makes it simpler and easier to follow, provided you don't assume it does show every road. This theory, like all the rest, remains useful as long as you remember that reality is far more complex.

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You are reading The Processes That Develop Ministry by Nigel Hardcastle, part of Issue 32 of Ministry Today, published in October 2004.

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