Presiding Bishop’s Charge – Synod 2019 (Part 2)

The Presiding Bishop’s Charge – 2019 (Part 2)

REACH-SA Ministry

This year’s Synod and Ministry Conference theme is “Building the Kingdom”. We cannot be about the work of the Kingdom without godly and gifted men and women being identified, equipped and sent into the harvest fields. 

I want us to consider today how best we can be doing that.

Ministry Workers  

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  – (Matthew 9:37,38)

We are no doubt all conscious of the need for more workers in the harvest field. I don’t think any of our churches could say that they have sufficient lay and employed workers equal to the task at hand. Missionaries, Church Planters and Church Workers are desperately needed. As always, finding and financing the right people is a challenge. 

We must also not overlook the fact that the primary solution Jesus gives to this need is prayer (Matt.9:37,38). It is the Lord alone who sends out the workers. More than that, it’s clear from these words that the entire enterprise is all the Lord’s work. It’s His disciples, His harvest, His sending, His workers, and His harvest field. This short verse is of such a weight in implication that it should drive us to our knees daily. 

I wonder if much of our ministry problems relate to our lack of trust and prayer in this regard. It sometimes seems like we act as if the harvest is few and the workers are plentiful! Or that the harvest is thinning, and the workers must just look after the crop they already have? In my own heart I confess that sort of unbelief creeps in all too easily. 

We certainly are facing many difficulties in the harvest task. Our economy (along with much of the world) is flagging. There is much political and financial uncertainty. Crime statistics are looking bleak, particularly here in Cape Town as we meet on the doorstep of a turbulent Cape Flats. 

In the markets we are seeing a struggling economy. Our own REACH-SA financial reports have been showing notable a drop in levy income. This means most of you have had a difficult financial year.  

We are also facing a western influenced, worldwide social trend which is turning ever more aggressively against Biblical truth. Social media is a strong and instant influencer here. We are all well aware of the growing move toward normalizing sexual relationships and gender constructs that contradict the God given picture in Scripture. 

It may be said that we are facing overwhelming obstacles, and yet, it’s in the face of just this type of context that Jesus says, the field is ripe for harvest!

I have said before that the economic squeeze must be seen as part of our sovereign God’s discipline on His church. He is able to supply more than we could ever ask or imagine. Which means our lack has a purpose. Our hardships throw us back upon His sustaining grace and away from our sinful self-reliance. Financial pressures also lead us to be prayerfully careful with our limited resources. Shortages make our leadership more circumspect when it comes to investing in the right people. We cannot afford to carry people who lack giftedness, godliness and gospel gumption. 

Financial limitations also lead us to be more creative in recruiting training and equipping lay workers for ministry in our local churches. I know of ministry teams that are combinations of retired volunteers, self-supported ministers and part time employees. Volunteer or self-supported ministry workers are the norm in many regions and countries today and we may be looking more and more at that scenario in years to come. 

It’s also important to be clear that the denomination is not sitting on pots of money. Given that we only collect a 10% levy from churches, we work with a relatively small amount of distributable income compared to the needs of our churches and ministries. Fortunately, we do not carry a large denominational staff and most of our income goes back into the churches.  Even so, we can only supplement some people and projects and not exclusively finance them. If there is a surplus it is not invested in banks but rather in church building and church planting funds. This is the Kingdom investment that best befits the money God’s people give to gospel ministry in REACH-SA. We want to be generous with gospel investment, including partnering and sharing what we have for the cause of Christ. I’m sure that desire echoes with us all. 

Ministry Training 

It’s most appropriate that we meet at George Whitefield College in their 30th anniversary year. At this year’s Gospel Workers Conference, we have been able to see and benefit first-hand from the faculty and facilities of this valued institution. We are grateful to the kindness of our God for providing this premier training facility to equip our future ministry workers. We affirm again that GWC remains our official theological college for men and women seeking to serve in our REACH-SA churches. 

We remain aware, however, of the difficulty and sacrifice involved in coming to study full time at GWC. We are not ignorant of the fact that this move can be costly for many and even impossible for some. We are more than willing to find ways to navigate exceptional cases. 

Yet it must also me remembered that hardship and sacrifice is part of gospel service. This must not be overlooked in an age that too easily values earthly comfort over Kingdom cost. 

Our denomination and college leadership are not unaware of the difficulties involved with relocating for full time study. We want willing, godly, gifted men and women to be trained to the best possible standards. A lot of work goes into raising bursaries and funds in order to make residential Theological education as accessible as possible. 

It is also true that not everyone can, nor needs to be trained at GWC. Very able men and women serve the Lord in many effective ways without a GWC Theological education or REACH-SA ordination. We certainly are called to study and progress as we seek to be more effective in the work of the Gospel. GWC is a part of that training spectrum, not the whole.  

We realise that there is a growing need for more online, regional and local church based training in our country. I have long held that we should formalize a more comprehensive, nationwide training standard and network for our denomination. Both and pre-college training (Ministry Apprenticeship) and post graduate training. A secondary network of Bible and ministry training centres could be a helpful boost to expanding our equipping network. Some discussions have already begun between Johannesburg Bible College and GWC and there are also other options to be explored in other cities. 

More also needs to be done with regard to specialised training schools and courses for subjects like expository preaching, church planting, student ministry, Biblical counselling and missions. This is something for future conversations. 

Curacy / Post Graduate Training

I’ve often been told that we are placing a great deal of emphasis on ongoing training for male graduates working toward ordained pastoral ministry but not on other ministry workers.  I don’t think we should apologise for our focus on the best possible training for our clergy. But we do need to work at increasing and widening the focus on training for other fields of local church ministry. 

Currently we have a two year, post graduate Curacy program (LMin) for GWC graduates going into ordained pastoral ministry. There is no reason why the program can’t be expanded into other streams such as Children’s Workers and Women’s Workers. We have already begun including women graduates on the LMin program, but it is time for us to be more intentional in this practice. 

I have been in discussions with various role players to develop a two year ‘on-the-job’ LMin program for Children’s Workers and Women’s Workers and we hope to have the curriculum ready for implementation in the new year. 

I also believe in the future we could look at LMin modules for Expository Preaching, Youth Ministry, Student Ministry, Church Planting, and Biblical Counselling. (The complexity of today’s pastoral issues requires us to pay more attention to Biblical counselling ministry and I’m most encouraged to have various training opportunities being offered at this year’s Synod.)

Women and Men and Ministry  

Much has been said in previous synods and charges about the role of women in the church. We had a special focus on understanding Complementarian theology at last year’s synod with excellent input from our guest speaker, Carrie Sandom. I do not want to revisit all the details but I want to affirm again our convinced Complementarian stance in REACH-SA. 

We see the Biblical picture of Male and Female in Genesis 1 and 2, created equal but within an order that includes male headship of God’s creation. We see that order distorted and broken in our fallen creation (Gen.3) and we see that Christ restores that order in the New Creation, which we are called to reflect in the Christian church on earth (Eph.5; 1 Tim.2,3). God calls men to the role of headship in the home family and the local church family. The Bible affirms the equality of both men and women in the sight of God as well as the distinct and valued roles He has given to each gender. We do not have time to unpack this further here.

I realize this teaching flies in the face of our modern secular society as well as other Christian denominations and organizations who choose an Egalitarian approach. Given the context of where we are in society and the potential implications of our stance, we don’t do this lightly.  

It is important for us to be clear minded and united as we go forward. There are loud voices opposing even the mere mention of distinctive roles for (just) two genders. History shows us that the church has often failed in these sorts of challenges by either capitulating to the mood of the day or retreating into rigid rejection of change. Neither of these approaches reflect a Biblical expectation for God’s people to be constantly reforming our minds and actions according to the Scriptures.  

The #metoo movement should not make us rally the defences and batten down the hatches. Rather it should cause us to honestly examine the Scriptures and our own hearts and prayerfully implement right and Biblical practice in our local churches. 

We affirm the dignity and worth of all men and women who are equally made in the image of God – and equally fallen and in need of redemption through faith in Christ. 

We also call on Christ’s redeemed men and women to live out their Biblical roles and exercise their Spiritual gifts in our local churches. 

As much as we may also lament the sometimes liberal (and even intolerant) excesses of the politically correct brigade, there are also cautions against rejecting the sin that it does expose. We do need to repent of prejudice. We do need to call out abuse. We do need stand against injustice, hate and bigotry. The current level of violence against women and children is horrific and totally unacceptable. We are called to stand against this both in word and deed. 

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

(Prov.31:8,9)

Of course, this is a short visit to this discussion. I don’t think we have done nearly enough in unpacking the gospel implications of Christ’s love ethic in the context of our fractured society. 

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As we affirm the roles of women from our Complementarian theology, here are some examples of how that could look in our REACH-SA context: 

Our current denominational structures

  • Women elected onto National Executive and Trustees.
  • Women in senior administration and ministry support roles. 
  • Women serving in regional leadership roles (e.g. heading up community care networks or ECDs).   
  • Women serving in missions leadership roles

In our local churches

  • Women represented on local church councils (diaconal role). My only caution would be with regards to Wardens given the nature of their task.
  • Women leading ministries in church and para-church organizations. 
  • Specialized skills such as pastoral counselling (women to women). 
  • Specialized trainers and teachers in local church (e.g. administration; parenting; legal; finance; community care; ECDs; etc) 
  • Participating in public services. 

In our Theological college

  • Women being trained to the same standard as the men without discrimination. 
  • Women excelling in their specialized Theological fields (we need more women Theologians who hold to Complementarian theology). 
  • Women serving on staff and faculty at Theological college level. 

Lastly: As we uphold ministry and teaching roles for women in our local churches, we must not give in to the mistake of creating some sort of secondary class of ‘non-ministry’ women who stay at home and raise children. The world does enough on its own to make stay-at-home mothers feel insignificant. I’m hope no one needs to be convinced of the high status the Bible gives to motherhood and parenting as well as the essential role that is given to those women who are married and have children. We must affirm both the high calling of ministry as well as marriage and motherhood – for those to whom God gives these gifts and responsibilities. It is also critical for us not to miss just how interconnected these responsibilities are (Titus 2:3-5; 1 Tim.2; 2 Tim.1:5; 3:14-17). 

The Gospel Workers Licence 

The establishment of the Gospel Workers Licence was an attempt to demonstrate a more formal recognition for all non-ordained ministry workers in our churches (both male and female). It was also seen as a way to get a wider range of recognised and licenced ministry workers into the field. The minimum requirement for this licence (the old Lay-Reader’s licence) is the Explore Course Certificate. It must be added (to clear up confusion) that the Gospel Workers Licence is not automatically issued to all Explore graduates. The licence is specifically for those working in our REACH-SA churches, under the oversight of one of our Rectors, who also needs to initiate the application.

There are clear advantages to having licenced Gospel Workers:

  • Denominational Recognition: Gospel Workers receive a profile across the entire REACH-SA family. They are included in our database of ministry workers and in so doing their qualifications and ministry are known and recognised by us all.
  • Transferability: It is far easier for local churches to access and offer positions to those who are suitably qualified and formally recognized in our denomination. 
  • Accountability: Some may see this as a disadvantage but is it right and Biblical for us to be accountable to one another. This is not often welcomed in our individualistic and anti-authoritarian society, but proper church discipline and accountability is an essential part of God’s church.

It has been noted that even with the Gospel Workers Licence we are still seeing little if any requests to have men and women licenced as Gospel Workers in our local churches.  I’d be glad to hear more feedback with regards to the reasons. 

Deacons

I know I’m not alone in being convinced that the role of Deacon is a Biblical role for both men and women. It seems to me that we have danced around this issue for way too long and some positive progress needs to be made. We came so close to ratifying women Deacons almost 20 years ago and no real progress has been made since. 

Part of the problem is the perception of double ordinations (Deacon and Presbyter) and the way we apply the two responsibilities. I believe it’s time for a clearer policy here and the first step is a proper review of our offices and how they are practiced. We did have a ‘deaconing’ service for women in our Handbook of Procedures, but it had not actually been ratified by the Synod of 2000 (only tabled) Its quite critical for us to clarify this going forward. I would be very glad if synod even gave us permission to re-establish the Deacon review committee and bring their recommendations and guidelines to the area councils for Synod 2020. 

One other factor with regards to recognizing women Deacons. It is important to disconnect ourselves from the worldly notion that there is some sort of professional career advancement in mind here. The common perception is that one “progresses” from Deacon all the way to Bishop. Sadly, we too easily create that impression, even giving an unbiblical power status to the offices, particularly to the Bishop’s role. Ministry is not a professional career, nor is it a ladder climbing exercise. If we do come across any ladders in the course of our ministry, the Biblical move would be to climb down not up! We are servants of the Master not superior saints. We wash others feet, not our own crowns. 

Employment

We must add a final reality check here too. It’s likely that none of these changes will open up a massive run of employment opportunities in our local churches and structures. In the current economic circumstances even some of our Rectors are having to find ways to supplement their income. It’s also no longer unusual for married ministry workers to have a working spouse helping to supplement their income. 

Ministry comes with hardship (Ac.14:22) but I must also add that our God is faithful. It has long been my experience that those who are willing to work hard and who serve willingly in the place where they are gifted and called to be, discover a God who is more than able to supply our needs -not our greeds. (Matt.6:25-34; 2 Cor.9:8). Yes, it may take some creative and prayerful approaches (and you should not expect any reward for sitting around doing nothing) but our God cares for His servants – through His servants.  

And the Lord will grow His church!

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In summary: 

Progress –  

  1. Post graduate LMin (‘curacy’) training streams:
    1. Pastoral Ministry
    2. Women’s Ministry
    3. Children’s Ministry
  1. Gospel Workers Licence for both male and female workers.  Rectors need to apply on behalf of their workers and commission them under their oversight. 

We need further discussions with regards:

  1. Women Deacons or a Deaconate for women?
  2. Formalizing a wider network of recognized training institutions for Gospel Workers in our churches. 
  3. Agreed upon standards and curriculum for Ministry Apprentice Training and Post Grad (curacy) training in our local churches and regions.  

Questions

  • Do we have the right expectations of GWC within the wider context of ministry equipping and training? 
  • Are we placing too much focus on employed ministry workers? Is training and engaging a lay-worker ministry force possible? How?
  • Is the Gospel-Workers licence needed? Understood? Too complicated? News to some of us?
  • Are we missing something important?
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