One of the small but vital roles I have in the national church is to be part of a stakeholder group for a project called ‘Living Ministry’ which is a big bit of research into how we help clergy (or ministers) thrive. I wrote the following for their blog to explain why I think this is important:
There are lots of reasons why the way we treat our leaders in the church really matters.
Some people talk about caring for clergy in relation to how much is invested into their training, others about looking after limited human resources. Still others emphasise the impact on ministry: healthy clergy make healthy churches (and the reverse).
All these may be true, but they all miss the main point.
Jesus told us that the way people would know that we are His disciples was that we love one another.
John the Apostle was equally clear: “Little children, love one another!”
It always intrigues me that we tend to think of this call to love merely in terms of loving the outsider, but this is not what either Jesus or St John are talking about in these quotes. We are called to love each other within the body of Christ; to care, to prefer each other, to provide well and nurture each other; this, Jesus says, is the sign the world looks for when it wants to check out whether we are living what we believe, whether there is something here they might need to investigate for themselves.
Clergy are people, we are disciples. We are made in the image of God and loved by God. Clergy (just like our other lay leaders) are no more special than others in the church, but we do have a particular duty of care for them because we ask them to take on particular responsibilities on behalf of the whole body of Christ. They occupy roles, and are under pressure, for the rest of us. The church, dioceses, and those of us who are called to be bishops have a duty of care for clergy that rests on our identity and calling in Christ. We love because He first loves us. We shepherd because Christ is the Good Shepherd. We care proactively because people are precious to God.
This of course is complex. Providing for the wellbeing of clergy is a two-way process as clergy in the Church of England are not simply based in a local church. We are part of a bigger whole, through the Diocese and the national church. Wellbeing is partly about being supported, but it is also undergirded by a robust reality of being a healthy part of a bigger whole. Proper provision for wellbeing, in other words, is not simply ‘warm and fuzzy’, it is challenging, real, dignified, and lasting… just like love itself.
This is why ‘Living Ministry’ matters to us as the Church of England and for me as a Bishop within it. Living Ministry is a quality piece of longitudinal research into clergy wellbeing, which will provide the data we need to shape our provision for the wellbeing of our clergy and also for lay leaders.
(Text of my blog for ‘Living Ministry’ website: http://www.ministrydevelopment.org.uk/blog/ministry-development/why-care-for-clergy)