Saturday, April 14, 2012

ordination and the future: a question of mission

An email I sent to a friend, that I realised as I wrote it that I want to place on the blog for my ongoing reference. It is a processing shaped by the unique location in which I find myself – trained a Baptist, ministering as a Baptist minister, now serving in a Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. In doing so, I point to the byline in the header of my blog “steve taylor … in process … all thoughts personal and provisional.”

I don’t see ordination as a functional thing tied to existence, or otherwise, of funding models via church.

I see ordination in the future as being a sort of mission order of the church. As families and society get more and more complex, we need a “training bar” that encourages self-awareness and skilled ministry. As society gets more individualised, we need networks that encourage catholicity, apostolicity and mutuality.

So I see ordination in the future as encouraging this sort of missional ordering – a way of being that exists to encourage training, to develop practices of collegiality and accountability, to enhance peer support and reflection, for apostolicity (starting new things).

Many ordained will be bi-vocational or voluntary, but then ordination has never surely, been simply a function of Christendom’s imagination of church as a building and a full-time presider.

We will also have non-ordination missional orders – and perhaps the Uniting church ministry category of “Pastor” is an ideally container for this. It too encourages training and points toward a sort of learning community in mission.

But this missional ordering is expressed as a more localised expression, more likely to emerge in one location and remain in one location. (Rather than ordination which seems to reference a belonging to the whole church in terms of placement).

So ordination beyond Christendom has a future, as one expression of the church in mission.

Posted by steve at 11:38 AM


  1. Hi Steve – it will be a challenge to un-hinge ordination from the existing structures (e.g. economic, ecclesiastical, organisational) so that it can re-hinged to emerging structures (e.g. networks, relational communities, disciplines, shared praxis).

    What do you see as the barriers and bridges to seeing this happen?

    It seems to me that we have a three tier system at the moment (1) Ordination :: authorised nationally – managed at a state/synod level (2) Pastor Stream(B) authorised at a State/synod level and managed at a state/synod level (3) Pastor Stream(A) guided at a State/Synod level and authorised and managed at the Presbytery level.

    It would be really interesting to see an alternative model whereby one of these authorising bodies granted the management to a network/missional community/Order and were released into mission/ministry (apostolicity as you say).

    I spoke with Father Chris Reilley ( and he told me he only has to report to his Order Bishop every 5 years or so – he just gets on with the mission of the Order as he sees fit (within the discipline and shared praxis of the order)

    The UCA has to give up / let go the controls of structures and release people :: we need to simplify the centre to free up the complexity at the edges – while the centre tries to control the edges we are in trouble – we will lose our edges (as we’ve seen happen over sexuality issues).

    Comment by Peter Armstrong — April 14, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

  2. Hi Peter,
    A considered response. Thankyou.

    I’m not yet sure this is even close to a “what needs to change” process. I’m more organising some thoughts, opening them up for a conversation, which might cause me to revise my original thoughts. Or generate energy in me/others to even think about change processes.

    I suggested at that national pastors conference in Adelaide last year that we need a missional order and perhaps this is part of it, or perhaps separate. (Posted about that here -

    I think there is a lot of systemic pressure that will quite naturally break our current systems and I guess my thoughts here are about wanting a future that emerges from missiological/theological frames, not “we can’t afford this” frames.

    Personally, a system that says – to be church = building and a fulltime minister ie a congregation or aggregation of congregations of around 120 people in order that a person can be afforded – is, IMHO, evil. Its such a unhelpful driver of our ecclesiology.

    But a future that encourages groups of 20-30 to live a mission, with sacraments and baptism and leadership and quality pastoral care, provided part-time by a person with multiple talents (serving both church and a “job”), I see that as really hopeful future for the church – a mission potential not a resourcing issue.

    Re pastor – I have been really struck by Graham Cray’s comment that pioneering in future will need around 90% lay leadership, cos its’ not economic otherwise. So we need a way to resource lay pioneers. And it seems that in the grace of God, pastor category in the Uniting church does that superbly. It would allow for accountability, networking, resourcing.


    Comment by steve — April 14, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

  3. Peter,
    Your comment re Father Chris to me points to the place of sodalities and modalities and the need for us as a Protestant church to find a place for “orders”. Parachurch has done this by default, but struggles to them provide ecclesial community. So we need orders. I’m thinking of giving Gerard Arbuckles From chaos to mission, to all our college staff as one of my first acts as Principal and invite us to read it together, as a way of us starting to think about serving orders and congregations


    Comment by steve — April 14, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

  4. Perhaps a way of freeing is for presbyteries/congregations to exercise oversight of ordained in a different way – recognise placement/ordering/project and not get hung up on money but on living out God’s mission. It requires a whole reorientation – repentance if you like, of our user pays system and a much more enfleshed vision of the community of faith where our baptism is lived out according to the gospel and not according to whether our community of faith can afford a minister or a building or resources – instead being like the feeding of 5000 – sharing what we have to be the body of Christ

    Comment by Michelle cook — April 14, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  5. Michelle,
    Coming from a Baptist system, it seems that Uniting church is less user pays than the Baptist congregational model. More money does go into a centralised system,

    I like the feeding of 5,000 image, just a pity it doesn’t happen with $ when it comes to stipends ๐Ÿ™‚


    Comment by steve — April 14, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  6. This is a really interesting post and I think it’s pointing in the right direction. This weekend I’ve been reading Ignatius’ letters and am struck again by his emphasis on the orders of ministry in the life of the witnessing community. There’s a tradition there that. iChat speak into our situation again.

    Comment by Andrew Dutney — April 14, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

  7. Steve can you clarify your thinking for me around Pastors being non ordained missional orders? Are we talking about those people who maintain existing congregations/faith communities or is it more about their level of ‘competence’ or their willingness to accept ‘life-long’ ordering as is currently the case? If, and I agree, that ordination is to be about skills and self-awareness I’m wondering why not for Pastors also.

    While i agree that the placement system needs to change as per the previous comments, I think the other sticking point has been the need for theological colleges to control the ordination process thus maintaining their funding. So absolutely we need to not be so hung up on money and control, and those in ministry leadership should be much more open to being at least bi-vocational (Continuing Education should in part include maintaining or building ‘secular’ skills).


    Comment by Karyl Davison — April 14, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  8. Thanks Andrew. It’s amazing the way you move between Ignatius and iChat; that sense of ancient and future. ๐Ÿ™‚

    What exactly in Ignatius are you reading?


    Comment by steve — April 14, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  9. Hi Karyl,

    I’m not sure if it will answer your question, and if it might just display my lack of Uniting polity but here’s what is shaping my thinking

    – pioneers are many shapes and sizes. we need them not as a separate order, but as a way of being ordained (but not the only way), as a way of being a pastor (but not the only way), as a way of being lay (but not the only way).

    – pastor is a recent Uniting church category that gathers a range of “orders” into one. So why not pioneering as part of that.

    – in trying to get my head around Pastor cf Ordained, it seems that one way to distinguish is to see pastor as those in a local, more specialised ministry ie linked to one place or one part of the church. Again, why not pioneering as part of that.

    So I see the pioneering charism in Uniting church as being able to operate through ordained, pastor and lay. And I’ve tried to pitch our training at Uniting College with this in mind – missional masters for existing ordained wanting to innovate more; Bachelor of Ministry (pioneer) for candidates wanting to pioneer (but not exclusively); working on our VET course so that a person training for pastor through VET can pioneer; mission-shaped ministry for all the above, but most accesible for lay. So we’ve tried to cover the whole church, without linking pioneer ministry to any one place.

    As for Colleges, I’ve often joked that the are a “monopoly” – the hold something vital and this can easily make them a controlling mechanism. Having said that here at Uniting College we would say – the selection panel is a Synod/presbytry function, as is ordination. Further, our formation panels which meet 3 times a year with candidates during Phase 2 and 3 have 3-5 ministers and 1 faculty person as academic advisor. It’s a way of saying that ordination belongs to the church, not the college.

    I feel in this post I’ve moved a wee way from my initial intent, which was simply to try to articulate some thoughts about ordination in light of missio Dei, not critique or endorse any existing practices.

    Does this help you Karyl?


    Comment by steve — April 14, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

  10. Thanks for these thoughts Steve, very challenging and thought provoking.

    As a ‘newly’ ordained minister, in the Uniting Church, and also in my first placement (a .7 EFT) it raises a number of issues and questions and stories.
    (I will not raise the issues or questions, as I do not feel this is the appropriate space at this time. As I feel I need to give sometime to formulate these appropriately.)

    But some stories….
    I remember when I first joined the Uniting Church there was (what I saw as a missional order) an order called (I think) St Stephen. It was focused at young adults who would give a year to serve in a congregation. That congregation would care for their physical needs. I am not a hundred percent certain of this as it was rolled down just as I joined the Uniting Church.

    I am also aware of a number of Ordained ministers who currently serve in a congregation less then full time who also hold a ‘secular’ job. I think in particular one of my colleagues down here in the south who serves 0.3 in a congregation and is a contract nurse in the local hospital.

    I also think of those who serve as Chaplains in ‘secular’ organisations, and their ‘stipend’ is supplied by those organisations. In particular I think of Defence Force Chaplains. Whose ‘congregation’ is certainly not a ‘typical’ understanding of ‘congregation. As too those who serve as Hospital Chaplains.
    I also think of those who are ‘ordained’ as Deacons (in the Uniting Church), who to full fill their ‘call’ must source their own resources (in particular their ‘stipend’).

    I greatly appreciate the questions you raise and the thoughts you share, and I feel these are crucial to the current and future conversations within the Uniting Church around mission and ordination.

    Comment by Matthew Stuart — April 14, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  11. yep that helps me understand where you’re coming from Steve – thanks. I completely agree that pioneers can and should come in many different shapes and sizes, and that pioneers can operate in any of our current ‘orders’ within the church.

    I guess that my concern about the strong link between ordination and theological colleges a(and the financial implications of that), recognising that it’s more than a college function to ordain, is that ordination has, to all intents and purposes, become a matter of passing an educational program (under the guise of ‘formation’)rather than it being about the person being spiritually mature and self aware, skilled etc for ministry and perhaps less well academically educated. I can’t help but come back time and time again to the example of two colleagues who are both exceptionally gifted in ministry (pioneering at that) but have been excluded from ordination because they have studied as private students and are not considered to have been ‘formed’. I know this is some way from your musings about pioneering, but it seems to me to be indicative of the Christendom view of the church which freed from, might give way to some exciting possibilities.

    I’m also aware and extremely thankful that not all theological colleges are the same….. ๐Ÿ™‚ thank goodness for Adelaide.


    Comment by Karyl Davison — April 15, 2012 @ 6:08 pm

  12. Thanks Karyl,

    Yes, we are a long way from my original post, which was about whether we can frame ordination missionally going forward, wheras here we’re talking about selection processes.

    But the distinction between between education and formation is certainly why we here in SA have deliberately unhinged a degree from movement between Phase 2 and 3. We assume that degree study will continue well into Phase 3 (9 more years at the moment, if you did a topic a semester!). We also hope this encourages patterns of life long learning.

    A lurking challenge in all of this will be how we deal with candidates from different cultures – the danger that needing a degree in a 2nd language is actually a barrier. Yet how we balance that with the sense of serving the whole church ie needing to be able to minister in English if God that is what God is calling you to. Hoping to have a post-grad student working in these areas in Semester 2!


    Comment by steve — April 15, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

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