Collaborative Ministry

mcim-greyMission Action Planning (MAP) and Collaborative Ministry in the Diocese of Newcastle

Interim Guidelines

As part of the Mission Action Planning (MAP) process in the Diocese, each Parish is committed to praying to know God’s specific call for its work in this season.  Each parish is seeking to identify the nature and depth of change required to enable vibrant ministry. Each parish, irrespective of its size and budget, is looking to reorder its life for mission.

Collaborative ministry approaches are about recognising and releasing resources to pray and to grapple with each of the four key MAP questions – 1. Where are we starting from? (Review), 2. Where are we going? (Choose), 3. What’s the best way to get there? (Plan), and 4. What do we need to do now? (Act)[i]. 

Whether or not a parish already has some form of collaborative ministry there is a strong connection between collaborative ministry and successful Mission Action Plans[ii]. Collaborative Ministry represents a way of being Church that develops what is already working well in a parish and helps build stronger healthier congregations. It is a way of being Church celebrating that God gives gifts to each person and calls them to use those gifts within and beyond the church. MAP and Collaborative Ministry affirms and incorporates the work done in the Diocese through Ministering Communities in Mission.

The work of mission comes from our encounter with God in worship, prayer, scripture and sacrament. We know that God is calling us to be his priestly people and ambassadors of his kingdom.

We understand that at the heart of this missional vision is the belief that God calls each parish and gives sufficient gifts to each local parish for their ministry and mission. We recognise that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is larger than any single diocese, denomination, parish or congregation. We know that there is no expectation that each congregation can do everything.  A parish will discern what God is calling it to do in this season of its life. As parishes change through time, with arriving and departing members, the pattern of gifts may change. Some ministries will give way to other ministries. Discernment is an ongoing activity.

Collaborative ministry in the Diocese of Newcastle affirms the importance of team ministry in which there are leaders and people working together. It affirms the development and implementation of Mission Actions Plans through conversation.  It affirms the significance of ordained ministry and encourages the nurture of vocations to that ministry both for service in any area of the diocese and for service in a specific local community. It recognises that some people need a stipend (to be released from other obligations) to undertake ministry and others can be financially self-supporting. The collaborative approach multiplies the mission of the Church.

The Diocese of Newcastle has engaged intentionally in Collaborative Ministry practices for over a decade. We are not alone in this journey. The Dioceses of Tasmania and Willochra are strong partners within the Anglican Church of Australia. A number of Dioceses in the Anglican Church in New Zealand, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Episcopal Church in the United States are exploring similar practices.[iii] 

The Vision of Collaborative Ministry

The vision of collaborative ministry builds on two strong foundations that are already in place in the Diocese.

Firstly, we seek to be a missional Church focused on local mission. We want to use as much energy, time, passion and resources on local mission[iv] as we do on our pastoral and worshipping life.  We want to respond to the good news of Jesus by engaging in work that leads to community transformation where we campaign against inequality and unjust structures and seek to help the poor, the marginalized and those in need. We also wish to share the story of Jesus, with those who live around us, in such a way that personal transformation and conversion of life takes place[v].

Secondly, we seek to be an every-member Church focused on discipleship. We give priority to the intentional incorporation and nurture of new members, the ways that we provide Christian formation and education to every person, and the ways that we discern God’s gifts for ministry in each other, and provide opportunities for development of those gifts for ministry in and beyond the life of the Church.

Collaborative Ministry Principles

Collaborative Ministry comes from the New Testament understanding of the church that affirms that by birth and baptism every Christian receives gifts from God for ministry. Every person in the Church has abilities and skills to offer to God and in God’s service.

This view is captured in the Letter to the Ephesians – There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4: 4 – 7 & 11 – 14)

The essential essence or DNA of Collaborative Ministry is the desire of the body of Christ to be a community of ministers. Every member of the congregation (the lay and ordained) accepts responsibility for the Bible, the Sacraments, Ministry and Mission. For this to happen, a congregation should affirm these key practices:

  1. We recognise that when we decide to follow Jesus we commit ourselves to serving God.
  2. We celebrate that every person has God given gifts to offer to the worshipping and to the wider communities.
  3. We recognise, endorse, value and support the people whom God gifts and calls to be leaders in the local and wider Church.
  4. We affirm the importance of the ministries of hospitality, worship leadership, outreach, education and care.
  5. We encourage and support people to undertake training in theology and ministry.
  6. We look carefully at our structures making sure people can use their time well and make wise decisions.
  7. We support the mission of the church both locally and globally.
  8. We treat every person we meet with dignity making a commitment to ensure the all voices can be heard in conversation as well as taking courage to share our insights.

These principles echo the commitment a person makes at their baptism when they promise, with God’s help to live as a disciple of Christ, loving God with our whole heart and our neighbour as our self until our life’s end[vi].

As a Diocesan family we recognise that there are many ways of being church and acknowledge that some ways do not embrace a collaborative approach.  While there are times and seasons when other patterns may be needed in a parish, the Diocese encourages collaborative ministry as the norm. Once a parish has embraced a collaborative approach, we discover that the Parish Priest no longer does the bulk of the ministry for and to the people.  The Parish Priest is a missional leader coaching, guiding and supporting the people spiritually and pastorally.

Bringing Collaborative Ministry to Life

A parish working collaboratively will have a MAP and a Ministry Team that will focus on strategic ministry development and/or oversee key areas of ministry in the parish. The Parish Priest will lead the Ministry Team and work closely with the team members.

Many parishes working collaboratively see people explore the vocation to ordained ministry.  Some will examine their call as a major change of life direction where, after education and formation, they serve in stipendiary ministry in other parishes. Others will examine their vocation as a deepening of their call to serve their local congregation and community without stipend. The call to ordained ministry takes time to examine at a local and diocesan level.

There is sufficient evidence in the Diocese to indicate that the exploration of collaborative ministry has led to a number of ministry initiatives that have seen new people explore the Christian faith. Collaborative ministry approaches have enabled additional ministry in communities and sustained sacramental and preaching ministries that may have reduced or stopped when the congregation relied on stipendiary clergy for this work[vii].

We have also learnt, like others, that collaborative ministry comes with many demands most especially the pressures that come with increased need for communication and resolving conflict. Collaborative ministry changes the patterns of authority and power in parishes that take time to embrace and to work well.

The success of Collaborative ministry is not that a team is in place or that people have discerned a call to ordained ministry but that every person in the parish is deepening their relationship with the Risen Christ and taking their place in Christ’s mission.

The Steps in Embracing Collaborative Ministry and Exploring Vocations to Ordained Ministry

As part of the MAP, the parish may recognise that it

  • wants to enable the people of the parish to embrace their ministries
  • wants to encourage more or different people to exercise leadership in the parish
  • is open to recognising that its members may be exploring vocation to ordained ministry

As part of discerning and planning, the existing parish leadership and interested others should spend time praying, studying, reflecting and discussing what the future shape of the parish might be. The group discussing the future shape of the parish will need to identify the ministries that are important in their area as well as deciding how best to lead new and existing ministries. They will find it helpful to talk with other parishes, especially those engaged in some form of collaborative ministry.

Some parishes can undertake collaborative ministry practices with little change in the leadership structure of the parish however, over time, it seems that collaborative ministry practices go deeper and last longer when the parish chooses to change its leadership approach by forming a Ministry Team.

  1. We observe that a crucial change occurs when the Parish Priest resolves to share the missional, pastoral and spiritual leadership of the parish with a Ministry Team.
  2. We observe a parish embraces change more fully when it supports the Parish Priest in his/her resolve.
  3. We suggest a period of teaching and preaching about both the Mission Action Plan and collaborative ministry before making any decision about Ministry Teams.
  4. We encourage the Parish Priest to form a small group who will work with her/him to help prepare the parish. This group will help the Parish Priest and Parish address four critical decisions in forming a Ministry Team –
    • Will the Team seek to cover all the areas of parish ministry or will the Team focus on key areas of strategic change?
    • How will the parish discern and affirm the membership of the Team?
    • How will we ensure the support of the Bishop and wider Diocese in our decision-making?
    • Will the parish affirm and nurture vocations to ordained ministry, in particular recognising members of the congregation who may be ordained to serve that congregation without stipend?
  5. We suggest that the decision-making occurs best in three steps.
    • After hearing about collaborative ministry, the parish affirms that it will have a Ministry Team;
    • After hearing about the ministries of deacon and priest, the parish affirms that it will work with the Bishop and wider diocese in discerning whether members of the congregation are called to the ordained ministry;
    • After hearing about the various gifts for ministry, the parish works with the Bishop and wider diocese to discern who should be part of the Ministry Team.

Forming a Ministry Team

Once the parish has developed its Mission Action Plan, the parish leaders should help the parish develop the team structure aimed at achieving that plan. At the beginning, the parish leaders should focus on whether it is calling a Ministry Team to focus on strategic ministry initiatives or a team leading all of the ministries of the parish with each member of the Team assigned to a Portfolio.

Where the Team works with Portfolios, its members co-ordinate and work in the specific areas such as liturgy and music, education and formation, welcome and incorporation, children and youth ministry, mutual (pastoral) care, spirituality, education and community connections. The leadership roles will relate directly to the vision for mission and ministry of the local parish.  Where teams already exist, there will be some re-organisation and re-focusing around the revised goals outlined in the MAP.

Where the Team works on a strategic ministry initiative, the MAP outlines that initiative. The Team will recognise that other areas of ministry will continue in the parish under the supervision and with the support of the Parish Priest.

Once the parish defines the focus of the Team, a parish leadership group should draft a role description and goals for the Team and its members. The goals should relate directly to the MAP. Each member of the Team should have a Ministry Undertaking Document defining their expected commitments, including Ministry Team meetings, education, formation and spiritual direction. The congregations should be able to see these descriptions and undertakings.

The Parish Priest and the leadership group should work closely with the Regional Archdeacon in developing the Team Structure, the Role Descriptions and Ministry Undertakings. On occasion, there may be some conversation before these are finalised.

A Parish can apply to the Bishop to have its Team formally recognised and thus change the structure of its Parish Council so that there is a Resourcing Team (focussed on the financial, administrative and property work of the parish) alongside the Ministry Team.

We are learning from experience every week as teams around the Diocese meet and work together. We know already that our teams should

  • develop a written list of “team norms” which spell out what members can expect of each other and the whole team.
  • spend substantial time in prayer and fellowship
  • meet often enough to build relationships and do constructive work
  • make an action list at each meeting recording the work people have agreed to do.

Members of Team need to learn about their each other’s personality and conflict styles. They also need to consider carefully how members acquire knowledge and process information. Different people need different communication strategies. They must work on deepening their own and the parish’s faith and spiritual life as well as working towards fulfilling the aspirations of the MAP.

The Team has a formal life of three years. At the end of the third year, lay members of the team may step down. Clergy members of the team (other than the Parish Priest and other stipendiary clergy) may also step down. If clergy members step down the Bishop, after consultation with the Parish Priest, may grant them permission to undertake some ministry in the parish.

Affirming the Call to Ordained Local Mission

Parishes are invited and encouraged to discuss the way ordained ministry is central to the Church’s participation in God’s mission. They are invited and encouraged to consider whether the service of additional deacons and priests would enhance the work of their parish.  Experience has already shown that many men and women have been wrestling with God’s call for years. The opportunity to serve in ordained local mission enables people to take their place in the household of deacons or the college of priests in a way that has previously not been possible.

The people most suited are men and women who demonstrate by their character and participation in the congregation that they are disciples of Jesus Christ and are committed to Christian ministry and service. Often we already see in them the characteristics of a priest or a deacon (They may gather people and help them grow in the life of faith or they may serve the needy and encourage others to do the same).

The call of a Deacon in local mission is to be a bridge between the local community and the gathered congregation. We will see local deacons connecting with disadvantaged people and those on the margins as well as responding to the sick and needy of the church family. Through Deacons in local ministry, we see a recovery of this distinct ordained vocation in the Church.  Deacons in local ministry will be at the forefront of fresh expressions enabling the church to respond to human need with loving service through which nurture and discipleship education may lead people to want to express their response to God through corporate worship.

The Priest in local mission enables corporate worship exercising leadership in the ministries of word and sacrament. The way a Priest in local mission exercises this ministry alongside the Parish Priest will vary. They may focus on a specific congregation or centre in the parish, including gatherings in nursing homes. In some parishes, the presence of priests in local ministry has allowed the community of faith to expand ministries previously constrained by priestly availability. In some communities, priests in local ministry will enable communities to celebrate the Eucharist weekly or more frequently.

The Bishop requires people called to ordained ministry to undertake specific education and formation. The Diocesan Director of Vocations assists the Bishop and the person exploring vocation to identify training pathways.

Not every person called to serve in local mission will become a member of the parish ministry team. Some of those serving as deacons and priests in this way will be releasing others in the parish of strategic mission or leadership roles. The Bishop after consultation with the Parish Priest will decide whether a deacon or priest in local mission is part of a Ministry Team or is simply licenced to undertake ministry in the parish under the direction of the Parish Priest. The approach taken in a parish may change as the needs of the parish and the Ministry Team change.

It might be that during the process a person recognises that God is calling them to full time Christian ministry for which extensive education and formation is required. These people will explore that call directly with the Bishop and follow the Diocesan process. People under the age of 45 are encouraged to consider this direction. The majority of people exploring new arenas of ministry will be looking to serve in their local context. There is no upper age limit in place. However, where people are aged seventy and over, there is a process of regular diocesan review including medical assessment.

Ordained local ministry is not an alternative selection and training process for stipendiary ministry. Deacons and priests in local ministry seeking to transfer to a stipendiary position in due course will normally be required to re-enter the diocesan discernment process, this time for stipendiary ministry, and enter formation with other theological students.

Those exploring a call to the ordained ministry enter into the Diocesan Discernment Process. This begins with a Discernment Year. During the Discernment Year, there are interviews with Examining Chaplains, a medical, a psychological assessment among other processes. People exploring ordained ministry need to attend a number of events including a Vocation Discernment Conference. The Conference is normally held on a Friday night and Saturday and often includes an overnight stay.

Calling People to Ministry Leadership 

Once the team structure and role descriptions are complete, the journey of calling people to ministry leadership begins.

Some parishes will choose not to have a Team recognised formally by the Bishop. Some roles undertaken by Team members will need a formal licence or authority from the Bishop (for examples the ministries of worship leadership and preaching).

Many parishes choose to have their Team recognised by the Bishop. Some members of the Team will need to complete both general and specific training before they can work fully in the area of their calling. Again, the Bishop will require that people have or make good progress in specific training and a formal licence before they can undertake some ministries. This will usually be the Trinity Certificate in Theology if they have not completed the Bishops Certificate or Bishops Diploma in Theology.

The Parish is doing one or two things in the discernment process. It is identifying members of the Ministry Team and, if it has affirmed the call of people to ordained local mission, it is seeking to find whether God is calling any member of the parish to that expression of ordained ministry.

Where a parish is calling a Team to be recognised by the Bishop or the parish is open to calling people to exercise ordained local ministry it should follow the process for Discernment in Appendix A.

  • Appendix A

    Discerning members of a Team to be recognised by the Bishop and

    Discerning candidates for ordained local mission

    The Parish Priest should form a DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE made up of 3 – 4 people recognised as offering wisdom and spiritual leadership in the parish. The Parish Priest will work closely with their Regional Archdeacon and the Director of Vocations. From time to time, they may need the assistance or involvement of one of the bishops.

    The DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE should consider names confidentially and in writing from four sources

    1. The Parish Priest will propose names
    2. Members of the congregation can be invited to submit names
    3. The committee itself will propose names
    4. The Bishops and the Regional Archdeacon can be invited to suggest names

    The Parish Priest has an important role in discernment and may decline to put a name or names to the DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE for the Ministry Team and/or ordained local ministry.

    The Parish Priest should check all of the names with the Director of Professional Standards, the Regional Archdeacon and the Bishop to ascertain whether there are any matters that might preclude a person from being considered.

    The Parish Priest puts the names of the people able to be considered to the DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE who should spend time in prayer and when it is ready, it should consider all the names.

    The DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE will need to tailor its work to the task – is it looking at the best person for a portfolio, identifying the best strategic thinkers and workers, and/or identifying people who might be called to be deacons or priests.

    The DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE or some of its members will need to meet with people who have been identified one to one to see whether they would be open to further exploring the proposed appointment or process. They will need to make it clear that the discernment is still subject to support of the congregation and in relation to ordained ministry also the diocesan processes.

    Once the DISCERNMENT COMMITTEE has a list of names (recognising that this might take time especially as people may not wish to be involved) it should invite the congregation to affirm them by secret ballot after prayer. The ballot should invite the members of the congregation to affirm with a tick the names of the people with the question “Do you affirm the following to be part of the Ministry Team?” and “Do you affirm the Parish Priest proposing the following to the Bishop to be considered as a deacon or priest in local mission?” Normally, a person requires majority support of the congregation to be appointed to the Ministry Team. From time to time, the Parish Priest may exercise their discretion to appoint a person to the Ministry Team. The results of the ballot should be forwarded to the Bishop and the Regional Archdeacon.

    Every Christian has spiritual gifts. The people chosen to lead should not be solo flyers but people who are excited by enabling other people to fulfil their vocations. Sometimes the gifts are easily discerned and obvious to everyone. At other times they are subtle and in need of identifying. We proceed with the confidence that God has given to the Church the gifts for the ministries to which God is calling the parish.

    The Regional Archdeacon is an important resource to the parish during the discernment process.

    Any member of the Discernment Group who is proposed as a member of the Ministry Team should withdraw from the work of the Discernment Group.

    Where the Bishop formally recognises the Ministry Team in the parish, one of the bishops will, at an appropriate time commission the ministry team and decommission and thank the former Team.

    Every member of the Ministry Team undertakes public and representative ministries in the name of Christ and his Church. It is therefore very important that the people called to the Team have the personal qualities and holiness required of those leading the church in this way.  As part of the discernment process, the Bishop wants to be satisfied that there is nothing on the person’s police record precluding them from ministry. The person must also have a Working with Children Check. All members of the Team should be familiar with and willing to abide by the standards expected of church workers (clergy and lay, paid and voluntary) contained in Faithfulness in Service.

    [i] Many parishes will have done a form of MAP when they grappled with six questions posed in the 2009 Strategic Directions Statement of the Diocese –

    • How are we energising the ministries we already undertake?
    • How are we engaging people in our local community in effective witness and sharing the Christian faith?
    • Are our structures, budgets and processes enabling the ministries we undertake?
    • How are we equipping people through training and formation?
    • Are new expressions of church emerging in our setting?
    • How are we empowering people for justice and peace?

    [ii] Research in the United Kingdom found that “AchurchA church where volunteers are involved in leadership, and where roles are rotated regularly, is likely to be growing – especially where younger members and new members are included in lay leadership and service.”

    [iii] One of the most important writers about mission and ministry for the Collaborative Ministry movement was the nineteenth-century Anglican missionary in China, Roland Allen. He suggested,

    1. A Christian community which has come into being as the result of the preaching of the Gospel should have “handed over to it” the Bible, creed, ministry and sacraments.
    2. It is then responsible, with the bishop, for recognizing the spiritual gifts and needs in its membership and for calling into service priests to preside at the Eucharist and to be responsible for the word and for pastoral care.
    3. A Christian community is also required to share the message and the life with its neighbouring communities not yet evangelized.
    4. The Holy Spirit working on the human endowment of the community’s leaders are sufficient for its life. Don’t “train” them too much. Don’t import from the outside.
    5. A Christian community that cannot do these things is not yet a CHURCH; it is a mission field.
    6. The bishop and his staff (Timothy, Titus etc) are crucial.

    Bishop Wesley Frensdorff developed these ideas, under the title Total Ministry, between 1972 and 1985, when he was Bishop of Nevada. He proposed that

    1. Each congregation is to be a “ministering community” rather than a community gathered around a minister, sufficient in ministry from within its own membership, including local deacons and priests wherever possible.
    2. Each member of the church will have the opportunity to serve our Lord in church and world, through ministries which will vary greatly according to gifts, available time and opportunity.
    3. Seminary-trained clergy and laity will increasingly be trainers, enablers, supervisors and pastors of trainees. Congregations will become less dependant on seminary–trained clergy as the doers of ministry.
    4. The diocese, as the primary unit of interdependence in the life of the church, is the support system. The diocese will provide training and support for the various forms that ministry can take, including local priests and deacons.

    As Total Ministry was explored in Australian Dioceses, participants at various gatherings began to emphasize the importance of mission. Bishop Brian Farran suggests that a missional church must:

    1. Be a proclaiming church
    2. Be attuned to its locality, to its context
    3. Appreciate that God is a sending God
    4. Recognise the deep socialization required for people to stay Christian
    5. Enable social space in which Jesus Christ is to be encountered.

    [iv] At the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops describe mission as ‘the total action of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit – creating, redeeming, sanctifying – for the sake of the whole world’ and acknowledges ‘the important dimensions of mission as God’s reaching out to all of creation, challenging our structures as well as our souls, our communities as well as our Churches.’ They said, ‘In Christ Jesus, God has revealed himself as the self-giving Lord of Creation, full of compassion and mercy. That same Son who was sent by the Father into the world, in turn sent forth his disciples, instructing them to proclaim the good news, making disciples and baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. It is therefore God’s mission in which we share.’

    In seeking to be a missional church, the Diocese has embraced the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion

    – To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
    – To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
    – To respond to human need by loving service
    – To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
    – To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

    [v] Research in the United Kingdom found that while there is no one way of helping a church grow, there are “there are common ingredients strongly associated with growth in churches of any size, place or context.

    • Good leadership
    • A clear mission and purpose
    • Willingness to self-reflect, to change and adapt according to context
    • Involvement of lay members
    • Being intentional in prioritising growth
    • Being intentional in chosen style of worship
    • Being intentional in nurturing disciples”

    [vi] We embrace the charge in the APBA service of confirmation that “All who have been baptised and confirmed are called to study the Bible, to take part in the life of the Church, to share in the Holy Communion, and to pray faithfully and regularly. We are called to share with others, by word and example, the love of Christ and his gospel of reconciliation and hope. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves, to honour all people and to pray and work for peace and justice.” (APBA p69)

    [vii] This evidence has borne out the experience of others, no matter which denomination, which found that growing churches exhibit two key characteristics:

    • They take their members’ ministry in daily life seriously. Members know their gifts for mission and are exercising them.
    • They know the needs of the people and communities around them and they are responding to those needs with loving service.