reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Subbing for deacons?

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |

Now, I’ll admit that this is something of a bugbear with me. But there are people who make me feel like I am constantly on the back foot recruiting Relay Workers because I am not a church. I’ve blogged about it before.

But, I was struck by a conversation that my parents had recently with friends of theirs whose son was thinking of working on a church apprenticeship scheme. The son said, “It will be some student work, some training and some practical work. “ “Great” said the dad, “what is the practical work?” “Oh setting out chairs, hymn books, folding service sheets and stuff”. “Oh”, said the dad “it’s just that, in our church, normal church members who have other jobs do those things. We call them deacons.”

Recently I found an old article in a Christian magazine where someone was asking whether it is really a strategic use of our resources to take people out of secular work, our most promising graduates in fact, to move chairs, stuff envelopes and cook food. Fair point.

But what we want to do in UCCF is train people to do mission work to our dying culture! I want to immerse them in the Bible AND in pioneering missionary work, mentoring and frontier mission on Britain’s campuses. I do not want to have a “theological upper hand” card played at me to trump that so someone who could be an effective campus missionary can move chairs, when I’m quite sure that taking a year off secular work for a year of training on Relay will not be wasted, whatever they go on to do.

Is it just possible, that apprentice-ships can sometimes be (not always, dear reader, lest you think I am over-generalising) a middle class way to deal with the deaconing that needs done in our churches – “we are all too busy to serve the church, so throw a bit of money to get a graduate in to do it”. Of course they learn to serve by doing it, I’m not denying that, but what does the church learn by paying someone (or not!) to do that stuff?

And does the church learn by releasing someone into campus ministry with a specialist ministry to students for a year? I think so.

So, by all means, recommend the church deal as the best thing for some people. But please don’t play that trump card with me. It is, in my humble opinion, a bad theology of deaconing.


Blogger Scott said...

Interesting! Certainly might prove helpful when I think about what to do when I'm probably going to be thinking about some sort of apprenticeship/relay or whatever when I'm free to in a couple of years.

Your post also made me think about the gaping hole in these training type schemes, that I haven't really seen filled? I think it is generally assumed that middle-class, recently educated graduates will fill these schemes (and rightly so, for example, in the case of Relay). However, if we (the church) are wanting to effectively train a generation for reaching the world, perhaps there needs to be more in place to train working-class people without a university education to meet working-class people without a university education? We live in a country at least half full with working class people, and churches with working class Christians who need to be trained and equipped to be missionaries in their context. Do we have enough in place to help them to be effective witnesses in their situations?

Perhaps there is, and it would be great if you could point me to it. The gospel is relevant, true and accessible for people from all backgrounds, but perhaps training needs to be geared to reaching specific groups who might need a different approach, and at a level where individuals from these groups can better engage with it? Coming from a home church with way over half of the Christians working-class, and in a neighbourhood and town predominantly working class, I haven't really come across anything that meets that group; that trains these Christians to be missionaries in their situation, helping them to faithfully and relevantly share the gospel to their peer group. In particular, I haven't seen anything in place that is as well developed and widespread as apprenticeships/Relay type things.

Again, I would love to be pointed to it if I'm just missing it.

Very interesting post, thanks!


6:50 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Please please please don't take this the wrong way. In general I agree with you - apprentices as cheap/slave labour a bad thing - apprentices as excuse for no culture of service in the local church a bad thing - don't play the theological trump card to stop people doing relay or make Mo feel guilty - I agree with all of that.

But...your post reads just a little ranty, and could be so easily construed as polarising what ought not to polarised.

So, 'immerse them in the Bible AND in pioneering missionary work, mentoring and frontier mission' sounds like much of my two apprenticeships if I'm honest. And the churches I served in and put chairs out for were full of members who served in practical, menial, 'deacony' ways, as well as us apprentices.

And therefore it reads a little like you're setting up a false antithesis between the relay and the apprenticeship experience when you say: 'so someone who could be an effective campus missionary can move chairs'

I know you said 'not always' and I know you're just hitting back at one or two things, but, I'm not sure this really helps the discussion.

And, as someone who has experienced and loved both relay and my apprenticeships, I have to say that my apprenticeships better prepared me for the reality of missionary work in this country. Most ministry, and most of the Christian life, and therefore most mission, happens (or should happen) in the context of, amidst the problems of, surrounded by the (at times frustrating) normality of, the local church. Valuable and strategic though reaching students is - campus, CU, student life is not Christian life and mission as it is experienced most of the time by most people. (in fact, the uniqueness of student life establishes the importance of student/campus/CU ministry whilst at the same time as relativising it).

That's in no way to negate the importance or value of relay, any more than asserting the centrality of the local church negates the importance or validity of UCCF or any other mission agencies. I loved Relay, and I have and would encourage people who ought to do it to do it, just as I support the work of UCCF in other ways too.

I know you said 'not always' and I know you're just hitting back at one or two things, but, I'm not sure this really helps the discussion and maybe just feeds the sense of 'competition' out there.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Scott - I'm coming back to yours.

Pete - I am ranting! And like you said I DID caveat. But I am responding to a real issue. Not that apprenticeships are bad. But that there is competition out there (sadly) and that it is based on false theological assumptions. And, I'm afraid I'm not happy to let that go on!

11:37 AM  
Blogger Marc Lloyd said...

Interesting stuff.

A few random hasty thoughts:

As someone who's recently be ordained a deacon, it would certainly be nice to know what a deacon is and is supposed to do! :)

In an anglican set up, its normally a "transitional" kind of apprenticeship for being a prestbyter / priest though some people remain permenant deacons and the drill is that all presbyters remain deacons and all ministry has diaconal elements.

I'm not sure chair stacking necessarily teaches humble servant heartedness.

I deciding between apprenticeship / Relay opportunities, I reckon a crucial question is who the actual mentor will be - how much time will they devote to the relationship, how open will they be etc.

From a practical "church" perspective, I think its worth thinking about the fact that employing an apprentice can easily mean paying someone to do things that volunteers would have done otherwise. As the apprentice is more available and more commandable than many working "volunteers" it can be a path of least resistance to get the apprentice to do it.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Lloydie. Being an Anglican you are bound to be confused by all things to do with church government. ;)
Couldn't agree with you more about the mentor stuff.

Scott, there are 2 things that occur to me with reference to your question. One is Careforce, a Christian charity I sit on the board for that works hard to place people in needy churches round the country. We are now running a scheme where people can do Relay for a year with specific study on issues of the Gospel and social need and then do a Careforce placement the year after.

Also, I guess the people that are working hard to find models of church and training to reach working class people are the Crowded House in Sheffield. Google them, its v interesting.

2:18 AM  
Anonymous Christy said...

Mo your post is exactly what I have been thinking lately. I have seen some of the best evangelists in students. Or at least not great evangelists, but those with a HEART for it and just need equipping, put into a role of administrating folding chairs and I think that some challenging needs to be done. So well done. Maybe I will pick up on your rant with one of my own. ;)

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Mo - very interesting. I agree that churches shouldn't use having Ministry Trainees as a way for people with jobs to get out of doing stuff they don't want to do. And I'm sure some do...

My question is whether setting up Relay and MTs schemes as "pioneering campus evangelism" v "putting out chairs" creates exactly the same "trump card" syndrome as the church leaders you are questioning...

Theirs is a "trump card" of theology of church. Yours could be construed a "trump card" of usefulness of ministry. But I don't think the NT allows us to say that one ministry is more important than another in this sense.

In reality, of course, every meaningful ministry, including MTs schemes and Relay, involves a lot of dull, tedious and apparently pointless stuff that just has to be done to enable the stuff you really want done to get done. But that's OK - because, as you brilliantly point out in another post, our doctrine of creation teaches us that whatever we do for the glory of God in his world is beautiful...

8:56 AM  

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