Future Church of England: The Parachuted Pastor

In the last blog, I wrote a little about the odd state of affairs in the Church of England where we seem to be developing a model of ministry which is the wrong way round.  Instead of a plurality of elders for each church, we have a plurality of churches for each elder.

Something I think is linked to that is the problem of the parachuted pastor.  I'm not sure, but it seems to me that the elders to be appointed in Titus 1:5 would mostly be locals and already a part of the church.  Now I know that Paul sometimes parachuted leaders in (like Titus), but I think it's unlikely that the majority of the leaders of churches in NT times came from outside.  However, in the Church of England (and plenty of other denominations) that is what happens, to the point where curates are often not allowed to go back to their home churches.

Now I'm sure there will be those who can list the problems of being a home-grown elder, but I want to suggested six weaknesses (feel free to add more!), when we parachute people in.

  1. The pastor has no relationship with the people. It is a pretty tough place to start in ministry when not only do you have to work hard to preach the Word, to do the work of an evangelist and often do most of the admin for the church, but you also have to start every single relationship from scratch.  You have no capital with people, they have no reason to trust you, respect you, or even listen to you.  Of course a congregation should obey, submit to and respect their leaders (Hebrews 11:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12), but I reckon it takes a pretty solid and mature church to act like that with the parachuted pastor.
  2. The pastor doesn't know the church. Every church has its own little ways.  It's patterns, traditions and programs. Some may be good, some may not.  The reality is it will take significant time just to get to know them, let alone to decide what to do with them!
  3. The pastor has no friends and support network. Increasingly I hear and read of those in ministry who are isolated and maybe under attack from their congregation.  Of course this will lead many to leave a church or even ministry.  The problem is that the parachuted pastor often ends up in a place where they know no-one, have no family support and (because they have no relationship with the people of the church yet) no church support.  The busyness of ministry and perhaps the reality of a young family can make it very difficult to move out of that isolation.  In the Church of England this can be a repeated cycle.  Move to a place for training for 2-3 years.  Then move to a curacy for 3-4 years.  Then move to a first incumbency.  Surely that's not a particularly healthy approach either to life or ministry.
  4. The pastor doesn't share responsibility.  This links in with the plurality of elders idea.  The problem here is that the parachuted pastor often has a situation where they are the one who takes the ultimate responsibility, but they do it from the day they start without a relationship with the people (point 1) or a knowledge of the community (point 5).
  5. The pastor doesn't know the community. Most of us are in situations where we need to get evangelism going.  There are very few churches which naturally keep evangelism top of the agenda.  Now the problem here is that the parachuted pastor doesn't know the community well and yet has to determine a strategy for evangelism.
  6. The pastor has to settle. The reality is that lots of time is taken up with every move.  You have to decorate, sort the kids' schools, find the amenities etc.  It takes longer than you would think and can be harder that you think (what if the kids' are unhappy at school, what if you can't find a dentist?).  Some of these things are trivial but time-consuming, others are significant and emotionally draining.  Either way, they are not helpful to ministry and probably not to the family either!
Now the grass is always greener, I know. I can see how there would be problems being the minister in the church you grew up in for example. I can also see how some of what is happening in the Church of England could be used to overcome this (e.g. Ordained Local Ministers, although they seem to be going out of fashion again).

I wonder if there might be value, both for church and minister in re-thinking the parachuted pastor model.  I wonder if we may be forced into this re-think one way or another soon anyway.  What do you think?


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