Eldership in the Anglican Church?
by Revd Daniel Kirk
Different figures are often quoted to show the awful attrition rate of church leaders. How half leave the ministry in their first five years & how only a small amount of clergy end up retiring well. Even now as lock-down is ending we hear of many ministers who need care themselves because of all the stress that they have accumulated. Many have suggested that shared leadership in Christian ministry is far healthier than the Christendom model where in the C of E one clergyman ‘does church’, whilst the rest of the congregation ‘has church done to them’.
Ed Moll has done the church an immense service in doing the hard graft of thinking, researching and suggesting avenues for the use of Ministry Leadership Teams (MLT) in anglican contexts. However, his conclusions in Anglican Elders? have much application for all Christian denominations.
There are five chapters. The first sets the context of the move towards post-Christendom and how this necessitates new ways of doing ministry and resourcing it. ‘If a sole presbyterate was barely adequate for mission in Christendom, how can it be sufficient to meet the demands of mission in a post-Christian society? We need missionaries, and not mere chaplains to the flock.’ (4)
Moll doesn’t advocate shared leadership just for pragmatic purposes. The second chapter looks at its biblical basis. Moll does some sterling work on looking at key NT terms such as elder (presbuteros), overseer (episkopos) and shepherd (poimēn) and those who lead (hoi proïstamenoi & hoi hēgoumenōn). There is an interesting reflection on Diotrephes ‘who likes to put himself first’ as the antithesis of shared leadership, which had not occurred to me before. He concludes that ‘taken as a whole, the NT data suggest that local church leadership was plural, and that elders, shepherds and overseers were synonymous. But the exact details of local church polity remain somewhat elusive’ (17).
In the third chapter - The Anglican Evangelical Understanding of Ministry - Moll examines two approaches to developing church structures. The normative principle where ‘the church has freedom to act... [in] the structures and customs of the church’, a principle followed by Hooker and Stott. The regulative principle advocated by Denver et. al. where ‘everything we do in a corporate worship gathering must be clearly warranted by Scripture’. This section also fleshes out Church practice before and since the Reformation.
Chapter four shows the findings of Moll’s research into the use and practice of nine MTLs in different Anglican churches. Chapter five then finishes off by developing nine fascinating practical proposals for different leadership models; covering all the ‘Cure of Souls’ and the ‘Care of Stuff’ within Anglican structures.
I whole heartedly agree with Moll’s conclusion that ‘Scripture and Mission impel evangelicals towards the NT pattern of plural ministry and leadership’ (32). I would have liked to see further discussion on the four or five ministry roles mentioned in Ephesians 4.11-13, which was only alluded to. It seems that conservative evangelicals have focussed on the pastor-teacher role above all others; surely a Christendom model? Even if apostles were exclusively NT and prophets OT, no one disputes the role of evangelist. But where in our churches do we see an emphasis on evangelists training the people of God to share their faith and build up the body of Christ?
But that is not really a quibble, just an indication of how this intriguing and illuminating booklet stimulated my thoughts, challenged my paradigms and encouraged me to dream of how we could more effectively lead our churches on the mission of Christ that this country so desperately needs.
Revd. Daniel Kirk is vicar of St Michaels and all angels, Gidea Park
To buy Anglican Elders by Ed Moll click here.