What is a minister?

The debates have raged for years, whole books (come on MPH how come your own search does not find your own books) have been written on the subject (and without coming to much agreement IMHO). Now David H has accidentally started a new debate when he asked Why do we do weddings?

The debate moved on (cos realistically weddings are not a very significant use of time for most Methodist Ministers) to whether Methodist Ministers are "professionals" or not. It seems that Pam and I managed to shock Ian, which was interesting and I have to say for me quite surprising.

So are Methodist Ministers "Professional"? It seems to me that is a tricky question. In plain practical terms in seems to me that there are three different definitions in common use:

Professional as in a traditional vocation.

Doctors, Lawyers, Architects and Priests are among a number of "traditional" professions. However, this use of the word profession has fallen out of common usage. I also wonder to what extent it ever applied to non-conformist ministers.

Professional as in high quality.

This is a pretty modern understanding and one, it seems to me, has come from other cultures. In Britain it was always considered that the amateur represented the best quality. See for example the film . Anyway it is certainly in common usage today. The phrase "professional quality" is used to sell almost anything and also frequently used to justify high prices.

Professional as in paid.

Another traditional definition. Used most commonly in sport.

Are any of these definitions helpful in considering what a Methodist Minister is and how they do it? I don’t believe they are, for historical, theological and ecclesiastic reasons

In Methodism our ministers are understood to be a representative role, that is crucial to how we are church. A representative role goes against all 3 definitions of Professional.

To separate some vocations out as professional certainly goes against the idea of a representative role. It suggests hierarchy alien to Methodism and a separation between ordained ministers and lay people that on other posts David laments. In my ministry I find the counter cultural aspects of the gospel to be vitally important. Being considered a "professional" appears to me to be fully embracing a culture that stands entirely against the gospel.

  • The call to discipleship is not restricted to certain professions.
  • The idea that high quality is only achieved through paying a high price also goes directly against much of the teaching of Jesus.
  • The idea that ministry/discipleship/call is only for those who are paid is ludicrous and damaging to the gospel and church.
  • The idea that people’s worth can be measured in monetary terms stinks. I am honoured to be able to stand alongside those who in the eyes of the world have little value, look them in the eye and say "Jesus says he came to bring good news to the poor, he says you are of infinite worth and I believe him and that is why I am here as a Christian".

So I do not consider myself as a Minister a "Professional Christian", instead a person called by God and recognised by the Church to serve as a representative of him and his people, something I consider a great honour.

22 thoughts on “What is a minister?

  1. Ian

    My post on David Hallam’s blog item about weddings was not intended to suggest that the call to discipleship was inferior to a vocation to the ordained ministry. Far from it. I think you have missed a number of my points.
    Firstly, I was arguing that the ordained ministry is a calling involving a profession. This makes them professionals. I have not excluded others from that calling. I would like to see the whole concept of ordained ministry opened up. I think there is too much ‘priestliness’ about.
    I did not say that high quality is achieved by high price, rather that the world tends to believe that quality comes with a price tag. Also, that sometimes we undervalue the services we provide to the world. This is more of an Anglican issue in the UK. The other churches are freer to pick and choose. However, if a minister wishes to provide weddings for the world, then it is only fair to the ‘laity’ involved to obtain a fair price for their labours. Too often their time is used, and abused, with the excuse of witness when there is no witness.
    I agree that ministry is not only for those who are paid. It is damaging to the gospel. I thought I made that clear, my apologies if I did not.
    Neither do I think that people’s worth is measured in monetary terms. But I do think that a price can be put on time and skills and that a worker is worthy of his hire.
    I think if you read my post a little more carefully, you will find that we agree on almost everything except the usage of the word ‘professional’. Personally, I would like to try a recapture it as an expression of the committment and service given when responding to a vocation.

  2. PamBG

    As I’ve said before on other issues, I don’t believe it’s possible to ‘recapture’ words.
    Part of the suggestion in the original post was that there are activities that are not ‘worth a minister’s time’ because they don’t win converts and they take up some church resources. To use secular jargon, it sounded like there is some business that we should not pitch for.
    Perhaps a congregation can get away with this in cities. If a church did that in a village around here, it would send a very clear message that Christians don’t want to bother with you unless you’re willing to become a member of the club. I think that’s a terrible witness and I object to that on almost every level.
    The ethos of that is ‘Don’t let the little children come to me; they take up my time and they aren’t productive.’ It’s totally counter to what I understand it means to be a Christian.

  3. Peter Kirk

    I can think of one bad way and one good way in which you might be thought of as a professional.
    The bad way is that Anglican ministers, who benefit from a benefice and/or receive a stipend, and are officially (in employment law) not employed, might look down on you non-conformists as mere hired workers, and so professionals in the same derogatory sense as the old sports definition.
    The good sense is that you at least should take care not to minister in an amateurish way but to follow good professional standards. Too often the church has been a bit amateurish, but in the TV and internet age it can no longer get away with this, services etc need to be done in a professional manner meaning good quality.
    As for weddings, I get the impression that churches are now in competition with historic houses etc to be the most photogenic backdrop for a wedding, but churches tend to be seen as the cheap option. If that is all a couple want from a church, I would suggest charging them as much as a historic house would charge, to pay for the expensive upkeep of a photogenic building. At least my own church doesn’t have that problem, being about as non-photogenic as it could possibly be – and as a result we have only had one wedding there in 35 years.

  4. Dave Warnock

    I was not arguing against you specifically although you did spark the train of thought.
    There are significant issues with considering value for money too much from the point of view of local members. For example the danger that they can see the minister as a family chaplain (one model of Church explored nicely in Steven Crofts book “Ministry in three dimensions”).
    One things is for sure, we are seeing huge changes in the role of an ordained minister and there are lots more to come.
    I do go along with Pam. The word professional is now too muddy in meaning (and by no means all positive meanings) to be very helpful in the discussion.
    However, I am also very committed to high quality ministry by the whole church, paid ministers included. Much has been done, but more remains. For example modern ministerial training includes emphasis on team working, accountability and reflective practice that is a long way ahead of the current practice in most circuits. I just don’t want that search for quality to be compromised by misunderstandings about what “professional” means and who it applies to.

  5. Methodist Preacher

    One of the acid tests of today’s definition of a profession is the existence of a professional regulatory body. I belong to two professional bodies and have to adhere to a code of practice, I also have to have appropriate insurance to protect me should I provide an unprofessional service.
    The clergy seem to be a law unto themselves with no agreed professional standards and no regulatory body. I’ve seen clergy act in ways that would simply not be tolerated in any other professional setting.
    On the other hand I know some really fanastic people who have devoted their entire lives to proclaiming and living the Kingdom – but they would have done that anyway, with or without the dog collar.

  6. Dave Warnock

    “One of the acid tests of today’s definition of a profession is the existence of a professional regulatory body.”.
    That may be the acid test of one definition of “professional” but it is by no means the only definition and I suggest not the one that is most commonly understood outside those “professions”. Let us also be honest and admit the failings that have escaped the attention of professional and regulatory bodies in the past.
    The idea that clergy are a law unto themselves is quite comical to anyone who has had Angela Shier-Jones as their director of studies. For those who have not enjoyed that privilege (and yes I do really mean enjoyed) the warning about being “under the discipline of the Methodist Church” was well used.
    Now for anyone who can’t sleep at night I recommend the latest copy of CPD (Constitution, Practice and Discipline of the Methodist Church), I got mine today.
    Consider for example Book II, Part 0, Section 02 “Complaints and Discipline” (pages 295-333).
    I don’t think we lack processes or responsibilities or standards. I do think that we have not always followed our own best practices and there is a need for higher standards, but that goes in many directions.
    For example there are a worrying number of cases of bullying of clergy by congregations and/or individual members, there are worrying examples of discrimination of different types.
    There needs to be work done at all levels of the Church to improve quality. Thankfully my experience is that there is a growing commitment to do that, we have seen it in training and we are seeing it in a variety of other places too.
    Past problems are not an indication that nothing has changed in response. Certainly when we were taught CPD by Brian Beck we got a picture of the careful and considered development of procedures and policies in the light of experience. As I mentioned in my reports on the Methodist Conference one of the really encouraging things for me was to see the openness of the Methodist Church to challenge and improvement.
    Such improvement is not best served (IMHO) by waving and shouting loudly about something such as the need for a professional body (because can you imagine how long that would take to do with other denominations). Instead by concrete suggestions and pragmatic & practical work. Maybe not exciting, maybe not good PR but potentially highly effective.

  7. Ian

    I can tell you what happens when you make a complaint, tyring to seek redress in a Christian manner. You observe the Biblical procedure and eventually, as you have not the power to discipline the offender, you write to the District Superintendent. You are ignored. No acknowledgement; no rebuke; no explanation as to why you might be wrong; certainly no consideration of your case; not even a ‘Go forth and multiply’ – just silence. The very worst kind of response from a so-called Christian.
    And then you learn that the people you are up against are very well connected. All you can hear is the sound of the priesthood closing ranks.

  8. Dave Warnock

    Every district has 2 complaints officers. See CPD p300 III[022]
    The complaint can go directly to them (especially if you feel the circuit superintendent, who is the normal person to make a complaint about a minister to, is unhelpful). You will get a written response and if that is not adequate you can go to the connexional complaints officer. All these complaints and procedures have to be fully recorded and go to the secretary of conference.
    It is all laid out in CPD, if you believe that a District Chair is ignoring a complaint then CPD does give you routes to take. It may seem bureaucratic and cumbersome but I think you will find that every possibility is covered.
    Such complaints are a big deal, they involve Church courts and are a very big deal for any minister who is subject to them.
    Seriously, if you think you have a problem about complaints then get hold of a copy of CPD and your Synod directory. You will find that Methodist ministers are not safe from complaints. You will find a well tested and very rigorous system is in place. I have seen it in action and seen a minister out of post and manse in a very short time.
    Mind you I have also heard of attempts to bully ministers through this process and concerns expressed that it is weighted in favour of the complaint as the minister who is being investigated can be very isolated and unsupported by the Church.
    It appears you have not used the formal process, if you are not happy then the next step is laid down, if you are sure about the grounds for a complaint, then you engage the formal process – I am confident you will not be ignored.
    Sadly in the past I have seen people who prefer to winge, grumble, complain and generally cause lots of disruption while expecting others to make the complaint for them (and part of their complaint is when people who do not know the facts are unwilling/unable to make a formal complaint). When a person has first hand knowledge of a disciplinary offence then it is their responsibility to make the formal complaint.

  9. Methodist Preacher

    Dave, its interesting that you refer to a host of sub-sections in CDP. Whilst that may be your preferred bedtime reading, few ordinary members have copies or are aware of its existence.
    The complaints procedure itself is so complex that it is clearly intended to discourage complaints.
    There seems to be no clear idea where line managerial responsibility for the actions of a Minister lay. Is it with the circuit super? circuit meeting? church council? district chair? I have asked this question – Ministers are not seen as employees so there is little accountability upwards.
    When a Minister acts in an unprofessional manner – and sadly I have seen numerous examples – there is no one to take responsibility, often seeing it as a “pastoral” problem that should be resolved by “reconcialition”.
    I think our church works on a take it or leave it basis. That is no longer acceptable. There are thousands, if not millions, of people who play no part in worship on a Sunday. If you ask them why they left, it often comes down to the lack of professionalism amongst the clergy.
    When given the choice of “take it or leave it” a lot of people choose to leave it. Why, for example, work with a “professional” who is a lazy workshy, lying bully?
    After all the rest of us are volunteers who pay the salary.

  10. Dave Warnock

    I find it astounding that on one breath you are demanding extra regulation and standards and then saying that you are surprised that a minister reads the ones we have.
    All the church councils I chair (and those I have been to before I became a minister) know about CPD, we use it regularly within them.
    Advertised every year on the back cover of CPD is a step by step guide to complains and discipline in the Methodist Church available from MPH for £9.99
    It is absolute rubbish to say that the procedure is designed to put off complaints. It has been built up over the years to ensure it is comprehensive and that entails complexity, which is why a separate guide to it is available.
    To complain all the time that we have no regulation or rules or authority and then not read the rule book that is publicly available is lazy.
    You are right that ministers are not employees in the “normal” sense. That does not affect their accountability at all. The accountability is clear. It goes right through to conference which is why all our ministers are “received into full connexion” (ie put under the discipline of the Methodist Church). CPD makes clear the Superintendent is responsible for the Ministers within the Circuit. My superintendent certainly takes that seriously and from experience so do many others. The church takes that seriously, there is more training now for superintendent than ever before.
    I have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. When a minister behaves unprofessionally they can be disciplined and thrown out of the Church. I was a Church Steward when that happened to our Minister. The processes are there and they can work. The Superintendent, Chair of District, other ministers, supernumaries and Circuit Stewards all supported our Church through that process. It was a quick process that was professionally done.
    It must be nice to sit back and blame everything in the Church on the Minister. It must also have been nice to be in professional politics where there is no bullying, dishonesty or incompetence unlike in Church ministry.
    These comments about paying the salary are again shallow and unhelpful. They ignore the important separation between Minister and Members which means a Minister can speak the truth to a congregation and challenge them without fear of losing their job. It may surprise you but congregations are not perfect and sometimes the difficult role of the minister is to challenge who they are and what they are doing and expect change. Our structure permits that. Again, been there,l got the t-shirt (and it is a very uncomfortable one), do not treat this lightly.

  11. BD

    ” There are thousands, if not millions, of people who play no part in worship on a Sunday. If you ask them why they left, it often comes down to the lack of professionalism amongst the clergy.”
    This is not my conversation to butt into but I am going to anyway. That comes across as an arrogant and insecure statement and I’d like to see some statistics.
    People leave churches for all kinds of reasons. We, the body, are to become disciples, accept responsibility for one another. While all of us may be on a continuim, we still have a responsibility to grow in grace, mercy and maturity.
    Sorry, ministers are just not that important that I’m going to leave a local church because you haven’t behaved as a ‘professional.’
    If ministers are so responsible for people leaving churches than just cheapens their role into one of a CEO and we have quite enough of those.
    That would guarantee more of us would leave, we’d have no more loyalty than we would to a company. I’m accountable to the Holy Spirit, not to a minister.
    Forgive me, but I am unable to identify with that statement on any level church is about all of us learning to serve one another.
    6 reasons people leave a church.
    “People leave church for the stupidest reasons. Nearly three-quarters of people left U.K. churches because of a “disagreement on a range of issues, from the way the organ is played to the content of the sermon.” It’s the little things like the choir robes or the building design or the flowers that cause silly arguments and people end up leaving.”CMS
    “Demographic studies have revealed that if new members in a church do not “connect” with at least three others that befriend them and help disciple them, they will drop out within six months. This perhaps explains why so many choose to leave the church. “Discipling” is not always easy.”
    Lifeway study:
    Here are the top ten reasons they found that people switch churches:
    1. The church was not helping me to develop spiritually. (28%)
    2. I did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work (20%)
    3. Church members were judgmental of others (18%)
    4. pastor was not a good preacher (16%)
    5. Too many changes (16%)
    6. Members seemed hypocritical (15%)
    7. Church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work (14%)
    8. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement (14%)
    9. Pastor was judgmental of others (14%)
    10. Pastor seemed hypocritical (13%)

  12. Methodist Preacher

    David I do respect you and from what I have read on your blog I suspect that you are hard working, committed and professional (even if you don’t like to use that term).
    My experience has been different. I won’t again rehearse the problems. You mention CDP, a copy of which I looked at only this morning, I once produced a copy of CDP at a Church Council, quoted from it, and the Minister walked out and told me to quote “F**k Off”.
    ==big snip==
    Sorry David, but I do not believe this is an appropriate place for this kind of detailed complaint.
    ==end big snip==
    Sorry that is my recent and personal experience of the Methodist system of accountability – it clearly doesn’t work and is held in contempt by those who should be held to account.

  13. Ian

    The existence of complaints officers is news to me. Thank you for the information. Now all I have to do is find out who they are. The trouble is that due to the lack of help from the Circuit Super and the Chair of District there has been a long delay and information has been lost. Also, the person I wish to complain about is extremely well connected and protected. Still I may may look into it again after prayer and taking counsel.
    I do agree that Ministers can be bullied. I know of one excellent Pastor who was treated that way. Oddly, he didn’t get the support that the incompetent Methodist Preacher refers to got. I do wonder if churchmanship had something to do with it.
    And yes, the incompetent minister Methodist preacher mentions really did say, ‘Four cups of coffee’ but it was amazing how only two people recall hearing it. However, he is not the one I wish to complain about.

  14. Dave Warnock

    Thanks for a valuable and useful contribution.
    David and Ian,
    I am not going to comment on specific cases. I am not qualified and this is an inappropriate place to do so.
    I have been a Member of the Methodist Church 15 times longer than I have been a minister. The experiences you describe are not typical of the people who have been my ministers during the past 25 years. I would not have responded to a call to ministry if the experiences you talk of were anything but very rare.
    I have worked in other Christian organisations which have struggled with the ethics of incompetent staff and it is not as simple as you imply.

  15. PamBG

    I do wonder if churchmanship had something to do with it.
    The principle behind this would be ‘us and them’ and people do the ‘we are good’ and ‘they are evil’ game with any set of categories conceivable to human beings.
    I’ve been excommunicated by an evangelical congregation (not Methodist) and told that I was damned to hell for not believing in creation in 6 twentyfour hour days. I know that most evangelicals don’t believe this, so it would be silly to generalise that experience. Still, it hurts and its part of the baggage that I carry and keep trying to let go of.
    Ian and Methodist Preacher, I believe the gist of your story and I really regret that you are going through this. It helps to explain why from this perspective a lot of your message sounds like ‘Most ministers are incompetent and most people who love liturgy are probably unbelievers’
    The ‘us and them’ game works both ways. I cherish the fact that The Methodist Church is deliberately broad and I value my evangelical and ‘informal worship style preferring’ brothers and sisters and hope that they would value me.
    I don’t know if this is of any help, but here’s a link to the complaints procedure (Don’t kill the messenger!)

  16. Ian

    Dear Pam,
    Thanks for the link. I will look it up, but may not proceed. I’m not sure that the battle is worth the effort anymore.
    Dave and I are not saying that most ministers are incompetent, but I do think that there seem to be more around these days. Neither of us mentioned liturgy.
    My background encompasses the Society of St. Francis (Anglican bells and smells), Bible College, Baptists, Methodists, a Christian Fellowships, Pentecostals etc. etc. Back in the sixties and the early seventies it was a much more exciting blend. I did my teacher training at an Anglican college, my subject being Religious Studies and Community and Youth Studies. My tutors were mostly on the liberal side which, after Bible College. was interesting. I’m a qualified teacher, I have a theological and pastoral training, I’m a trained counsellor, a qualified Youth and Community worker (bit old for that now) and the church still doesn’t want to know. Being a minister of the gospel is an immense privilege and it grieves me to see it abused.
    We all hurt somewhere.

  17. PamBG

    We all hurt somewhere.
    Yes, I think this was my point.
    I wonder if DaveW was saying that the use of the ‘f***’ was inappropriate? My own understanding was that what’s inappropriate is to try to sort out issues of a specific nature on the internet.
    It’s not appropriate to speak of the specific issues but that leaves everyone open for a whole lot of projecting on to others.

  18. Dave Warnock

    I really resonate with the idea that “We all hurt somewhere”. For me part of the problem of being a professional is that for me (if not for others) it implies that a “professional” has it all together and holds it all together for everyone else. In fact ministry can be most powerful when the Minister is on their knees acknowledging that they also hurt.
    I think of two testimonies in the past year from members of the congregation that have had me in tears for the echoes with my own hurts. That is not encompassed for me by the term “professional”.
    Pam, I am not objecting to “f***” here. I don’t want to comment on the specific case. Personally I would not use that expression.
    I just don’t think public space on the internet is the right place to disclose specifics of a complaint like this against someone (regardless of whether they are a minister, a lay person or nothing to do with the Church). It is not a safe place for anyone. My own views about what is appropriate to share are obviously different to others so this can only affect what happens here on 42.
    I don’t know what to suggest about problems with projecting onto others

  19. PamBG

    I just don’t think public space on the internet is the right place to disclose specifics of a complaint like this against someone (regardless of whether they are a minister, a lay person or nothing to do with the Church).
    Yes, I agree with this and this is what I was trying to say. What usually happens is that the same people reply to blogs and it starts feeling like ‘our little group’. However, posting something on the internet means that whatever we’ve said is there for all to see.
    My blog gets about 150 unique visitors a week and I’m assuming that yours gets a lot more than that. Obviously, most of these people don’t post. Also, a search on Google for, say, ‘John Ezekiel Smith’ could result in a ‘hit’ on this comment even if someone is not a regular reader of your blog.
    I don’t know what to suggest about problems with projecting onto others.
    What I’m saying is that we all project to a certain extent and it’s even more complicated with written communication, even if we work regularly with people face-to-face. It’s even more complicated with internet communication where people have never met. When we start hitting out at groups of people like ‘ministers’ or ‘liberals’ or ‘evangelicals’ or whatever, communication can get difficult because of what everyone is projecting. This is why meeting face to face is important.
    I’m certainly prepared to believe that one ‘incompetnet minister’ has connections and therefore the system doesn’t work well. I’ve also known a number of ministers who were bullied by members. This happens, I think, because we are all – lay people and ministers alike – sinful, fallible human beings. I honestly don’t think it happens because a person is ‘a minister’ or ‘a circuit steward’ or whatever. I can think of three ministers who have been seriously bullied by colleagues or their churches.
    It’s regretable when anyone gets hurt, and personally I’d like to offer a listening ear to people who are hurting. But it’s difficult for me to do that if they are going on and on about how ‘bad’ (for all values of ‘bad’) ministers are.

  20. Tim

    Dave, Pam, and others who are involved in Methodist ministry structures in the UK, please don’t read what I’m about to say as a criticism of the necessity for complaints procedures. It’s not. We have the same issues in the Anglican Church of Canada.
    I just think it’s tragic that almost every church I have ever been a part of ignores Matthew 18:15-20. And since I’ve been the pastoral leader of several of those churches, I have to accept a huge part of the blame for that.


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