“The gifts [Christ] 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….” Ephesians 4.11
Whenever I stand before a congregation, I try and remember two things. The first is that it is a wonderful privilege to preach the word of God. The second is that the people I am about to address are people of enormous influence. Each one of them is a leader.
Often they don’t think of themselves that way, of course. But that man over there by the pillar is a primary school teacher. He has 25 children in his class. Over the next ten years he will profoundly shape 250 lives and families for good. This elderly lady has eight grandchildren. She prays for them, she teaches them their prayers, every time she sees them she builds up their sense of worth. That man who is giving out the books this morning is a police sergeant. He is befriending the Muslim community in the place where he works. The person who leads the intercessions works in a large office. She is the person younger staff turn to whenever they need a listening ear. The lady in the overcoat is a Macmillan nurse. She will spend this evening with someone who is dying. This teenager who is assisting at the altar might be in a senior role in a major company in ten years time. In the meantime she will be the most remarkable ambassador for Christ in her own peer group: the only Christian these young people know.
These people in front of me this morning, whether it is fifty or five hundred, are not simply members of the Church. They are people of influence in their families, in their places of work, in their communities, in the whole world. My task, when I stand up to preach on Sunday, is to equip them for their task on Monday, whatever that may be.
Don’t just take my word for this. Listen again to the words of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount he says this: “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world”. You are people of influence, spread across the world to prevent decay, to establish peace and justice (salt is both a preservative and a fertilizer). You are people of influence, showing the way and helping people to see in very dark places.
The calling of every local church is to form and build, sustain and support these men and women of influence whose task is nothing less than reshaping and transforming the world.
I don’t mean, of course, that the Church is only for important people. The Church is here for everyone. As in the Church in Corinth so in the Church in Hatfield and Wickersley and Millhouses: “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”.
We are ordinary people, but called by an extraordinary God and entrusted with a unique and extraordinary message, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through that call and through that message, in the strength which God supplies, Christians become salt and light, people of remarkable influence whose calling is to change the world.
“The Diocese of Sheffield is called to grow a sustainable network of Christ-like, lively and diverse Christian communities in every place which are effective in making disciples and in seeking to transform our society and God’s world”.
You may have heard me say that on previous occasions. We seek as a Diocese for every church to be a place where men and women of influence, ordinary yet extraordinary Christian disciples, are formed and sustained and equipped week by week, month by month, year by year. God has not called us simply to increase the membership of the Church to make it easier to pay our bills. God has called us to make and grow and sustain disciples who will together make a difference through the way we live our lives, through the example we set, in many thousands of places throughout this region.
We are setting before this Synod today a revised strategy for discipleship, mission and ministry for the next part of our life together. It is called “Forming and Equipping the People of God”. It’s not a new strategy but an important revision of one of our four key documents.
The most important change is a greater focus on discipleship and on the whole people of God. We want to grow a culture of discipleship right across the Diocese, in every tradition and every kind of Church.
The Church is called to be a community of missionary disciples. We are called into discipleship through grace. In our baptism, the sign of that grace, we dedicate and consecrate the whole of our lives to God. We are called together to be with the risen Christ in the Eucharist and as we gather around God’s Word. As the people of God, we are sent out to live to the glory of God in every part of our lives.
In our recent Mission Action Planning exercise, 8 out of 10 churches said they needed help with making, forming and sustaining disciples. Over the next ten years we want to offer that help and encouragement and build that culture of discipleship in everything we do.
Every local church is called to be a place where new Christians are coming to faith and prepared for a lifetime of discipleship and service. Every local church is called to be a place where Christians are deepened and sustained in worship, fellowship, witness and service to the whole of society, through every part of our lives.
Much of this growth and development will take place in the life of the local church. Every parish and fresh expression will need to pay attention to its worship and community, teaching and learning, mission action planning, welcome and the nurture of new believers.
But as a Diocese we believe we need to support this in four key ways:
- By offering frameworks of support and patterns of life which help every church grow its own culture of discipleship.
- By offering training and support in discipleship to complement what the local church can offer.
- By identifying obstacles to growth in discipleship in our life and culture and developing strategies to address them.
- By helping to form lay and ordained ministers who are equipped to grow the church in this way.
If we are to grow the Church across this Diocese in numbers and depth and quality of life then we need to pay careful attention to growing our lay and ordained ministers to support that growth: the ligaments and sinews of the body of Christ.
To help us to do all of those things we are proposing to draw together all of our existing learning and teaching as a Diocese into a new learning community: St Peter’s College.
The purpose of St Peter’s will be to nurture and sustain the whole variety of ministry the Diocese needs to fulfill our shared vision.
The focus will be on equipping the whole people of God and on equipping apostles and prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who will themselves equip all the saints for their work of ministry: the services offered in many different ways in many different places in the workplace, the home and wider society.
We want to go on equipping people to be pioneers to plant fresh expressions of church, children’s and youth ministers, Readers, worship leaders, spiritual accompaniers, lay evangelists and pastors. We want to offer the whole people of God help and support in discovering their call and vocation before God and how to best use their gifts. We want to offer some initial training for those preparing for ordination, though the majority of our ordinands will continue to do their initial training in colleges and courses as now.
We want to invest much more in the ongoing training we offer for our clergy and lay ministers so that we become truly a learning community. For that reason our second appointment to St Peter’s in the new year will be for a continuing ministerial development officer to focus on that ongoing equipping of lay and ordained ministers which is so vital for our future.
But all of those ministers who are called and served and equipped and sustained have one central purpose: they are themselves to equip the saints, the whole people of God for the ministry and service all of us are called to offer in the whole of our lives.
The draft of our revised strategy for ministry and details of St Peter’s College will be found here.
Our present strategy for ministry and our other three strategies are here.