The conversations can be condensed into two distinct categories (the first being perhaps the most ironic):
Laity who won't share the toys
Clergy who won't share the toys
On the surface it seems that those who are 'doing the stuff' are unwilling to share that role but it's not quite as simple as that. Let's look at some of the tales and hopefully the increase in understanding will start to clear the log jams. We will do a story a day -
Story the first
In one church there was a strong lay ministry group (they were not lay ministers in the 'authorsied ministry' sense) with areas of responsibility for various of the areas within the church (pastoral, prayer, music, teaching, evangelism, etc.). This group regarded themselves to effectively cover all the roles of the Vicar (with the exception of Communion) and they saw themselves as running the church.
Had we the privilege of looking at the minutes of their monthly meeting we would have found that whilst the Sunday service happened, little else did! In reality this group was largely ineffective in terms of anything other than keeping the lights on. Those who came forward, especially those who were not part of the power base that was the team, were sent empty away with various reasons (for there was always a reason) given for the fact that they couldn't join in the ministry.
Of course the reality was that although these people were doing little, they had the power and were not going to give it up or even share it! (The first of our reasons for impotent all-member ministry)
A church member, who we will call 'A', came to see the person responsible for prayer in the church and told them how they felt God was calling them to lead intercessions and be someone who was engaged in the prayer ministry of the church. This request was met with a refusal on the grounds that they needed to be trained before they could do that.
Not to be put off 'A' asked what the training was and when they might be able to do it only to be met with the response that, 'The course hadn't been created yet, but when they had, they'd let them know!' And so the prayer area was once again safe from the incursion of 'unapproved' members and the power remained where it was.
Some time later, when people were praying for one another in the service, the prayer leader came up to 'A' (who was praying for someone) and stopped them because they were not permitted to do that!
Now, I am assured that there were no spiritual reasons, no obvious sin, no chequered history or any other impediment that caused this person to be stopped - it was all about power and authority!
Not long after this episode the minister of the church left, leaving the 'team' to maintain their position of power, and the people to be dominated by them.
The happy note to this story is that the new minister came in and after a few twists and turns 'A' was encouraged to lead the intercessions during the service - and they were amazing. Their prayers matched the sermon and readings and touched people greatly.
Now this story speaks volumes of the faithfulness of 'A' in that they continued in the church and patiently waited until the call to be a prayer in the church was recognised, encouraged and released.
It speaks of the potential for those engaged in an area of ministry, and perhaps especially for those who see themselves as 'leaders'*, to seek to make it their possession and the means by which they are given power and authority.
It fires a warning shot across the bows of those who lead and those who volunteer. The minister, resigned to the fact that the exclusive clique that was the leadership team were running an exclusive and almost totalitarian state within the church, left them to do what they did with the service because it was the path of least resistance which brought the minimum of conflict. (our second point in this journey!)
I'll leave you to think about this scenario - and welcome any anecdotes, observations and learning points from you.
* I have met many who want to be 'up front' and to be applauded and recognised - even fostering the dream that one day they will be the doyen of thousands, out there and being applauded for their sterling ministry and shining life - the problem is that what they brought was valid, worthy and potentially beneficial to the Church, but was self-serving rather than seeking to serve Christ. This is a challenge to us all to examine ourselves and our reasons to be offering ourselves for ministry. As ever we return to one question: Who am I doing this for?