Do we really need the clergy?

The Church of England is currently engaged in discussion and action which is pulling in rather different directions in relation to the importance of its clergy, and these debates were exemplified in the latest meeting of the General Synod in York over the weekend.

One of last debates, held on Tuesday morning, concerned the follow-up to the 2017 report Setting God’s People Free (SGPF). The report was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council as part of the Renewal and Reform programme, and it was led by Council member Matthew Frost, who had formerly been the Chief Executive of TEAR Fund. The overall aim of the report, which has generated a programme of activity across the Church, was to recognise that the ‘church’ is actually comprised of all Christians, not just as they gather together to worship on a Sunday, but as they go about their daily occupations Monday to Saturday. It emphasises that ‘lay ministry’ is not primarily about lay people doing things in Sunday services, but engaging in discipleship in all the places God has put them. It does include a careful balancing of the role of clergy and lay, as set out in its introduction:

  • It calls for a shift in culture – not a narrow, centrally driven strategy.
  • It looks beyond and outside Church structures to the whole people of God at work in communities and wider society – not to ‘fixing’ the institutional Church.
  • It seeks to affirm and enable the complementary roles and vocations of clergy and of lay people, grounded in our common baptism – not to blur or undermine these distinctions.
  • It proposes steps to nourish, illuminate and connect what is working already in and through frontline parishes – not to institute a top down approach.
  • It aims to see confident involvement, engagement and leadership of lay people wherever they are called to serve – not to devise lay alternatives to clergy.

This vision is careful not to dismiss the role of clergy, but it is very different from some highly clericalised views of the Church that still exist, such as that of Linda Woodhead who, in a critique of the whole Renewal and Reform process at its inception, stated that, if ‘all regular Sunday worshippers disappeared overnight…the Church would remain, and its most influential activities could continue.’ It also sits slightly uncomfortably with more ‘sacramental’ views of ordination, which see the ordained ministry as somehow constitutive of the Church itself. In a supporting paper on the SGPF web page, Pete Wilcox, the bishop of Sheffield, in a really interesting paper ‘Let the Service Begin‘ on the biblical understanding of worship, ministry and work, makes this comment on Jesus’ ministry as depicted in Mark 1:

I dislike hearing the word ‘ministry’ used as a shorthand for ‘ordained ministry’. People still sometimes say, ‘They’re going into the ministry’. No! Ministry is service, and it’s expected of every member of the people of God. If you are baptised, you are by default a minister in Christ’s service. Ordained ministry is just one possible outworking of that baptismal obligation.

At least two other major discussions also pulled away from what we might call ‘clerical exceptionalism‘. One was the extended and vital discussion about safeguarding. This session of Synod reserved a special time for questions about safeguarding to be taken separated from questions on other subjects, and there was a presentation and discussion on safeguarding led by Peter Hancock, bishop of Bath and Wells, who is the national lead on this, and Phil Johnson, an abuse survivor. The repeated message from this discussion was that the Church must rid itself of clericalism and a ‘culture of deference’ to this in authority, whether that was in relation to clergy in parishes or bishops in their dioceses. Respect for authority must not give space for the failure to challenge and ask questions which has allowed abuse to continue unchecked.

A third strand was the discussion about ‘fresh expressions’ of church, 15 years on from the first presentation of the report Mission-shaped Church that came to Synod in 2004 (when I was previously a member) and marked the formal recognition of the value of church planting and non-traditional forms of meeting as a significant part of church growth, mission and evangelism. In response to the debate on Monday, Martyn Snow, bishop of Leicester, posted an extended comment on Facebook:

I believe fervently that the Fresh Expressions movement is the single most significant development in the church in this country for decades. Having talked for many years about the importance of evangelism and the ‘re-conversion of our nation’, this predominantly lay movement, has quietly got on with the task. Eschewing the big events, mass publicity and big spending of some initiatives, the movement is teaching us about what Pope Francis calls ‘The Church’s Missionary Transformation’. This wonderfully ambiguous phrase – is the church the agent of the transformation of others or is it the subject of transformation – leads me to suggest that there are three specific lessons for the wider church.

Firstly, this is predominantly a lay movement. Fresh expressions of church offer us a living model of what can happen when God’s people are set free to be leaders in mission, when clergy and lay work in partnership, with a genuine sharing of gifts and true mutuality. Clergy are set free to be enablers of others – lay people are set free to use their God-given gifts, and their experience in networks outside the church. Both are needed.

At a time when the church is being forced to recognise the very damaging effects of clericalism – where a culture of deference has contributed to abuse, and difficulties in the reporting of abuse, and the poor response to the reporting of abuse – our recognition of lay ministry needs to be more than a patronising, ‘isn’t that interesting’. We simply must find ways of learning from fresh expressions and enabling their approach to ministry to shape that of the wider church.

In response to an observation I made on the thread, Martyn offered further comment:

More and more, I am convinced that the role of clergy is to enable the ministry of others, but we struggle to do this for a whole mix of reasons. Unless and until the clergy are set free to do this, lay ministry will always been seen as ‘helping the clergy’ rather than valid in its own right.


On the other hand, there were a number of strands in the Synod session, reflecting other work going on, which seemed to put the focus more on clergy and their importance. One was the proposed Clergy Covenant, responding to concerns about clergy welfare and the challenges and pressures clergy face, which has been interpreted in some quarters as suggesting that clergy are distinct from laity in having unique needs which require special and unusual attention. The other strand is the focus on the role of clergy in church growth: one of the major goals promoted by Archbishops’ Council the growth of numbers entering ordination training, with a target of a net increase of 50% over a five-year period. This is significant not least for its impact on national budgets; ordination training is a major component of the national central budget, and therefore has a direct impact on what is asked for from the diocesans in terms of national ‘apportionment’, that is, financial demand. If lay ministry is so important, and lay-led ‘fresh expressions’ are the key to growth, why this emphasis on clergy numbers? The simple answer: research has shown that the number of stipendiary ministers (who will usually be ordained) has a direct impact on church attendance. If you want the church to grow, then appoint more clergy.

How might we resolve these tensions? Key to this will be to return to biblical reflection on the role and status of leaders in the church. We need to do this because of the mythology that all too frequently springs up in relation to the status of clergy. I thought this example, from Peter Leithart of the Theopolis Institute, fascinating. He defends the importance of wearing clerical collars on two primary grounds: first, the biblical theology of dress as a marker of office; and second, for the clerical collar as expressing a Pauline theology of leaders as ‘slaves of Christ’. On the first, I don’t think such a theology actually exists in Scripture, and Peter doesn’t offer any evidence of it—besides, clergy don’t appear to have had distinctive dress until around the 6th century, so this certainly wasn’t evident to the early church. On the second, this is shear invention; the clerical collar in its modern form was invented in 1865, and was derived from the earlier wearing of a white cravat, which was the general practice of gentlemen. So, rather ironically, the roots of this are to make the clergy blend in to the gentlemen class, rather than stand out from it!


My reading of the data of the New Testament agrees in large part with Martyn Snow’s. I regularly cite the compelling study of Robert Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community, in which he notes the distinctive contrast in the New Testament faith communities compared with both the Old Testament patterns of ministry and pagan religion in the surrounding world:

Paul’s dissolution of traditional distinctions: between priest and laity

Within the church, distinctions between priest and layman, mediatorial and common service, cultic ritual and secular activity, do not and cannot exist…

Between officials and ordinary members

Paul rejects the idea of certain members of the community possessing formal rights and powers…

Between holy men and common people

Paul has no place in his view of community for the traditional distinctions between its members along cultic, official or religious lines… (Paul’s Idea of Community chapter 13)

There are several key texts which support both the unified nature of the community of Jesus-followers (the ekklesia, which does not have the institutional overtones that go with our word ‘church’), the most important of which is probably 1 Corinthians 12–14 which centre around Paul’s primary metaphor of believers as the ‘body of Christ’. The relation of leaders to others in the community is elucidated, in terms that Martyn Snow expresses, in Ephesians 4.11–13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 

So ministry is indeed the work of the whole people of God, and there are those who are set apart for particular kinds of ministry, and these are not to be an end in themselves, but are to equip all God’s people so that they might reach maturity. All this is within a ‘single status’ community without ‘ontological’ divisions of identity and rank.

These relationships are expressed in narrative form in Acts. The shape of Acts traces the way that the early Jesus movement shifts from a focus on the renewal of the Jewish people of God to being a largely Gentile religious movement, and a key moment in this is the establishment of a Jesus community in Antioch ‘where the disciples were first called ‘Christians” (Acts 11.26). But this came about, not through apostolic church planting, but through a natural ‘lay’ movement (though note that the distinction between ‘lay’ and ‘clergy’ is something that the NT does not recognise).

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11.19–21)

Here, it seems, is the original lay-led ‘fresh expression’ of church! Yet the immediate response of the believers in Jerusalem is to sent Barnabas to Antioch, and he takes Paul with him, in order (as per Ephesians 4) to equip and build up the believers there so that they might grow into maturity.

But it is very striking in Acts that, along with the emphasis on the ministry of ‘ordinary’ believers, and the way in which apostles and other leaders support and equip ‘ordinary’ believers, the leaders also have a distinctive ministry of pioneering, proclamation, and church planting themselves. This adds a third layer to Luke’s narrative depiction of ministry—one which has importance in its own right, though without being built on a clergy/lay distinction, without ‘ontological’ distinction, and without suggesting that in any sense these leaders ‘constitute’ the church.

Perhaps we do need clergy after all—though not always in the ways that are suggested.


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26 thoughts on “Do we really need the clergy?”

  1. Thanks for this Ian, I find myself very closely aligned to the things you’re writing here. I wonder if you can comment on a question I have? I have often heard the research you mention that churches with clergy are the ones that grow, and the conclusion that is drawn that ‘we need more vicars’. I don’t know the original research but it makes me wonder if another analysis might be that churches without clergy don’t grow because we have grown a body of believers who are overly dependent on clergy and don’t feel able or confident enough to do much without them? The conclusion might then be we need fewer clergy as they are perhaps blocking the ‘building up’ of the whole body of Christ?

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  2. Ian, my view has always been that the ordained ministry in the catholic and apostolic tradition has one unique purpose – to administer the sacraments. These, in particular Mass, form the very quiddity of parish life and our faith.
    Very much enjoy your articles though Ian, provoking reflection as they do. Thank you

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  3. Fascinating post
    Some thoughts sparked:

    1) Leithardt’s justification for Clerical collar …what on earth?
    2) Is this a verse about clergy: ‘In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.’ 1Cor9v14
    3) God gave some to be ‘Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’ to ‘equip the saints for works of service’ – was Paul here making a distinction between clergy & laity?
    4) Do we really need the clergy? Depends which clergy we are talking about – depends what need we are talking about.

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  4. “Here, it seems, is the original lay-led ‘fresh expression’ of church! Yet the immediate response of the believers in Jerusalem is to sent Barnabas to Antioch, and he takes Paul with him, in order (as per Ephesians 4) to equip and build up the believers there so that they might grow into maturity.”

    While that’s true, the role is the clergy in the modern CofE can’t be directly extrapolated from the role of apostles and prophets (like Paul and Barnabus) in the early Church.

    In Eph. 2:20, Paul himself distinguished the foundational role of apostles and prophets in the development of the Church, which cannot be applied wholesale to clergy.

    Also, I would dispute the idea that the dispersal of Christians due to the persecution that ensued after Stephen’s martyrdom was the original Fresh Expression.

    Certainly, this notion does not square with the definition that: “Fresh Expressions are new forms of church that emerge within contemporary culture and engage primarily with those who don’t ‘go to church”

    With all due respect, I don’t see any evidence of this as part of the intent behind the departure from Jerusalem of those belonging to the Jesus movement.

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  5. You mean ‘sheer invention’; the ‘shear invention’ was the monastic tonsure.
    I wish people would stop talking about “survivors” of abuse. The correct word is “victim”. A survivor is someone who lived while others were killed.
    I agree that ordained, stipendiary ministers are essential if a church is going to grow numerically and in other ways; and most important in this work is being an able and articulate teacher of the Bible and Christian faith. The imposition of episcopal hands in itself won’t convey this gift. Time I have spent in church schools of different hues (Anglican, RC and Methodist) – along with examining GCSE RE over several years – has convinced me that even in such privileged settings, few young people ever read the Bible or understand much basic theology about the person and work of Christ. If that is how bad things are in church schools, how is it for the great majority of the unchurched in the UK? The default positions for the UK are becoming non-religious (including vague post-Christian credulousness and moralism) and Islam. Churches that *seriously teach their people and unashamedly promote daily Bible reading are worlds apart from the disappearing ‘broad’ Anglican system.

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  6. Lots of thoughts Ian. But, as well as seeing models in Acts, we should recognise that this is where the rot set in. Acts 6 – the twelve being too important to wait at tables!

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    • But Acts doesn’t give the slightest hint of rot in this account. Nor does it imply that the apostles never did anything practical. There’s a problem and it’s tackled using other Spirit – filled people (and more culturally in tune?). Likewise Stephen isn’t just a table waiter but an evangelist. No more than Moses was skiving when his father in law suggested using others.

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    • They weren’t ‘too important’, Penelope – they just had to prioritise on what Jesus had called them to – “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14)

      Nearly all of them died as martyrs, we believe, so it’s hardly the same as a vicar who doesn’t help put the chairs away. Preaching made them marked men.

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    • Have folk come across the work of John N Collins (an Australian Roman Catholic) on the word diakonia and related words? I did so in reading the Faith and Order Commission’s work “Mission and Ministry of the Whole Church” (2007, I think, and available here: https://www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2018-01/The%20Mission%20and%20Ministry%20of%20the%20Whole%20Church.pdf)

      Collins looked at the word group not only in the NT but a large amount of literature from preceding and following centuries. Although diakonia can mean ‘humble service’, it seems the predominant uses are more describing a role as a formal go-between, often carrying words. As a result Acts 6 can be read in a different way, suggesting the ‘deacons’ had a role more of bringing the teaching to those of the same language, rather than food (the reference to tables is the only connection to that, and this is somewhat at odds with the other uses of the word group). Then, when Luke provides details of two, Stephen and Philip, that they are not supplying victuals to widows is less surprising.

      I’ll also add that Collins would put back the comma after ‘saints’ in Ephesians 4.11-12:

      And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

      I.e. those gifted to the Church have this three-fold work towards it. Following these ideas, the FaOC work identifies ‘ministry’ as ‘commissioned service’.

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      • As a result Acts 6 can be read in a different way, suggesting the ‘deacons’ had a role more of bringing the teaching to those of the same language, rather than food (the reference to tables is the only connection to that, and this is somewhat at odds with the other uses of the word group).

        It is a bit odd if you’re looking for waiters that they would have to be ‘known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom’, isn’t it? Known to have steady hands would seem to be more important.

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  7. When, in 1979, I was buying my academic dress, there in the ‘Academic and Clerical’ floor of a well-known outfitter were shelves, with boxes marked “Vicar; 1 inch”, “Vicar; 1 1/4 inch”, “Vicar; 1 1/2 inch”. (I presume the measurements were the height of the collar, not the vicar). You don’t seem many of those these days!

    Some years ago my then vicar told how he was going to Church House, should he wear a collar? He decided to, but then on the train a tall well-built black youth sat next to him, and fiddle with his phone. “Are you a minister?” the youth asked? My vicar could hardly deny it, but wondered where this might go. “My mum’s not well, can you help find something to say to her?”

    For a more recent example of the usefulness of a collar, read Gabby Thomas’ reflection on walking North Kensington in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower, done at the behest of Graham Tomlin. It’s here: https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/ministry-at-grenfell-tower/

    The collar does mark out clergy for good. It denotes the positive place in the community they hold, as someone who can give wise counsel or a listening ear.

    Long gone are the days when there were strict rules about what you could wear depending upon your station in life. But this remnant, albeit in a form of relatively recent origin still has some value. I speak as someone who is not a clerk in holy orders.

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  8. Too few ministers preach in a Geneva gown these days.

    What actually are clergy for? What is their purpose? What is the point of them? We clearly need people qualified to teach the congregation, but ‘clergy’ here seems to have rather more baggage than that?

    Is it about someone being ‘in charge’? Well, I guess it helps to have someone whose job it is to co-ordinate and, where necessary, provide direction. But is there any reason why that should be the same person who teaches from the pulpit on a Sunday? Is there any reason at all to think that the same skills which make someone a good expositor of scripture should also make someone a good co-ordinator?

    Why should the person who does the sermons not be an employee of the church, hired and paid for that purpose and that purpose only, just like the organist is hired to play, and the organisation done by someone else, someone with the right skills for it?

    Indeed who says the organiser has to be a single person? Might it not be better for it to be a group selected from among the members who it’s thought have something to offer in that area? Instead of a single person in command, a meeting, as it were, of those members of the congregation who are elected to serve because they are generally held to have the wisdom and experience to, collectively, make good decisions?

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  9. A few observations:
    1) The church takes special care for its clergy wellbeing because they are in effect its employees so it has special responsibility for them; this dimension has to be kept in mind.
    2) My reading of the NT is that in terms of authority it is constituted by that of the apostles solely who confer it on others by laying their hands on others, an act of consecration in which the Spirit cooperates.
    3) The special ministry of apostles appears to be the ministry of preaching (and governing) with more practical matters being delegated to others.
    4) Paul describes his ministry as ‘priestly’ in Romans 15.16 and this theme is taken up in the Didache where the idea of what it calls ‘prophets’ as priests is used to justify supporting them financially (similar to how Paul talks of supporting apostles).

    Not sure how you integrate these points into your account?

    Final question: if church attendance correlates with stipendiary clergy how do we know that’s because clergy cause attendance rather than attendance causes clergy eg by supporting more of them?

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  10. If ordination is understood as the laying on of hands, prayerfully publicly recognising the God given gifting of an individual who knows they are part of the body of Christ, not some CEO lording it over the church then it’s mostly about right order, helping to release a lay persons gifting in leadership. What bothers me is that we risk not training and ordaining those lay people who are called to lead due to finance. Every clergy person was first a lay person, too often we forget this in the way we think about the church as if clergy are another breed of person altogether.

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    • True–but there is also a question as to whether such people who have been prayed for and set aside for a task should then be regarded as a different ‘class’.

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  11. I do not think it is a straightforward thing using the NT church to discuss ministry today. There is no one pattern of ministry to be found in the early church is there? Although elders were clearly a favoured and familiar form of leadership borrowed from the synagogue it is really not clear that they happened everywhere. It is not clear how they were selected and by whom, how they exercised their ministry or how they related to the various charismatic ministries that Paul lists. Learning from ministry in the NT for today involves looking for theological and practical principles ministry patterns that were exploratory, transitional, possibly interim and certainly evolving, rather than ‘given’ and fixed. I do not mean that the NT does not suggest some sharp critiques of some of where we are today, but the comparisons are not for oversimplifying.

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  12. Thank you, Ian, for another stimulating article.
    In the Bible, church leadership is essentially shared; the normal pattern is of plural eldership. See e.g Acts 14.23 and 20.17, Titus 1.5, 1 Peter 5.1-2. No passage suggests that any church, however small, had just one leader. But the model in the Church of England is of an ordained person leading a congregation – albeit with others around him/her. It is hard to reconcile the way things are done with the teaching of scripture.
    As such, the Church of England seeks to invest in the clergy certain special attributes. This is commonly known as A, B and C – Absolution, Blessing and Consecration. So a “priest” can for example declare a blessing over a person or a congregation but a “non-priest” can say “May….be blessed.” It is hard to see any theological justification or logic for such a distinction.
    There is a sacramental connection to all this. The Church of England believes that “priesthood” is essential for sacramental “efficacy.” This is surely to misunderstand the essence of sacraments.
    The Old Testament seems to live on in the Church of England!
    The teaching of the New Testament and in particular the Letter to the Hebrews is in danger of being ignored. We are all a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2.9) and patterns of church life should reflect this.
    There is a great richness in shared leadership.
    The issue for the Church of England is whether it has the courage to face up to the implications of all this and the “will” to create a new “system” or “approach” which recognises the strength of the biblical model; only then will the Church fully recognise and utilise all our gifts and ministries.

    William H

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  13. Interesting Ian. You don’t mention the priesthood of all believers. Do you have any comments in this context?

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  14. In Phil1 we read ‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
    To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons’

    Paul makes a clear distinction between the church laity & ordained leadership – the laity are saints (Holy Ones) the latter Bishops n deacons. May I take it we ordained leaders are not saints? 🙂

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  15. Two comments: 1. “The overall aim of the report, which has generated a programme of activity across the Church, was to recognise that the ‘church’ is actually comprised of all Christians, not just as they gather together to worship on a Sunday, but as they go about their daily occupations Monday to Saturday.” This actually still needs to be said in 2019?
    2. Can you advise me if Synod ever discusses the role, recruitment and needs of churchwardens, lay people who have been in leadership in the Church in England for hundreds of years? If a church is without a vicar, there are procedures and prayer for finding a replacement; the churchwardens are however expected to cope (indefinitely, without training and of course without pay.) If a church is without a churchwarden, what does anyone do to provide assistance?
    It is increasingly difficult, in my experience, to find people willing to step up for this role.
    You will not be surprised that I was a warden for seven years.

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    • You make a very good point. The central church seems to make this even more difficult by limiting the terms of service of lay officers and now even lay members of deanery synods.

      We want more lay involvement, but unless you are a lay reader then you can only do it for 6 years then you have to stand down.

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  16. Ian: The only Scriptural role for “clergy” is with respect to the function of pastoring, protecting the flock from harm, that might be caused by false teaching infiltrating the church, and by any renegade figures in the church, who are unrepentant of their sins, that could corrupt the flock, Such renegade figures would include those “clergy” who abuse their leadership positions.

    This would appear to get at the heart of what is being communicating through Paul’s farewell address to the elders in Ephesus, in Acts 20, as well as establishing the purpose of overseers, as laid out in the Pastoral Letters.

    Where church “clergy” gets into trouble is when “clergy” forget their pastoral role, and church leadership structures begin to function more as businesses, or corporations, instead of being spiritual family structures, where the dignity of Fathers and Mothers of the church are to be honored.

    Clerical collars can serve that sacramental purpose, of being a physical reminder, of the invisible function of pastoring, that is so essential to the life of the church. Other traditions might use robes, or perhaps something as simple as a name tag that says “ELDER” on it.

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  17. It is true that the NT seems to have different models of ministry (using a very general sense of the word). For example, Edward Schillebeeckx draws this out (e.g. “The Church with a Human Face”) , although I wonder about the extent to which this is based on the assumption that different gospels were written for different communities, thus expressing their own concerns.

    However, some things are clear. For the Church there are specific people with specific gifts (1 Cor 12, Rom 12) and specific people who are gifts (Eph 4). What is significant is that in no place in relation to the church is the natural Greek word for ‘leader’ or ‘ruler’ used, i.e. arche.

    Where there is a suggestion of a sense of leadership it seems to be done by verbs rather than nouns. Thus Heb 13.17 might be translated “be persuaded by those who are leading you/going before you”, which might imply the active members of a congregation rather than those with a formal office of leader.

    Rom 12.8 uses the verb proistemi (a verb with a wide semantic range) which does connect with the role of an episkopos in 1 Tim 3.3,4, and Rom 12.7 has diakonia which connects to diakonos. Are these the only links between the gifting and the traditional offices?

    I think most assume that prebuteroi and episkopoi where basically the same in the NT era, and perhaps up until the start of the 2nd century. Along with diakonoi, these were local positions. I suggest that 1 Tim 5.17 implies that only some elders (aka overseers) who are those managing or leading were also speakers and teachers. The assumption that bishops are the primary teachers was a later development.

    In the immediate post-NT period, the Didache seems to give three additional ‘offices’: apostle, prophet and teacher. These are distinguished by being itinerant. However, when they visited, they took precedence over the local bishops.

    It was only in the 2nd century when these itinerant roles died out did the bishops take the lead overall, and at different time in different places it seems one person became primus inter pares, thus separating the (mono-)episcopal role from the presbyteral role. It was only significantly later that the presbyteral role became more of a priestly role.

    Perhaps one of the reasons I am an LLM (Reader) is that I am not sure about the correctness of the three-fold order of bishops, priests and deacons!

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  18. Seems to me that in NT times there were teams of itinerant, strategic missionaries, (apostoloi), teams responsible for local spiritual leadership (presbyteroi/episkopoi) and teams carrying out local, practical servant roles (diakonoi). Always plural, never singular.

    If we want to call that ‘bishops, priests and deacons’ fine, though personally I find it problematic on many levels.

    Whatever we call them, let’s have them in teams, not lone ministers, let’s ensure the apostolic role is missional and actually defends sound teaching, let’s have the local oversight as one that raises up and releases ministry, let’s abolish notions of a diaconate which is just a one-year trial period for priests restoring it to a distinctive dimension of ministry, and let’s have zero tolerance for a culture of deference which is utterly foreign to Jesus’ model of ministry.

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