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June 20, 2003


Bishop's Corner

The Culture of The Clergy

By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker

Through the Conference Table we in the Florida Conference are addressing the fundamental issues we face in our life together. One of them is the culture of the clergy. To focus upon the clergy is not to neglect the laity, for we shall also be addressing the issue of how we may develop lay leadership in our connection.

As we enter the 21st century we are aware that habits of behavior that became normative in the 20th century are no longer helpful if the church is to be effective in its ministry. As the church changes, its clergy also need to change.

Some of the habits characteristic of clergy in the 20th century were thinking of the ministry as a chaplaincy in an established church and performing the vocation of ministry as a profession. Because the church is no longer viewed as the chaplain of the culture, the clergy can no longer view the ministry as a chaplaincy in the church. The clergy have to assume the responsibility of leading the church in becoming a missionary church in a missionary context.

In order to lead we must learn. Therefore, ministry has to be a vocation in which there is lifelong learning. We must learn both how to reflect theologically upon the purpose of the church in a changing culture and how to develop the skills necessary to lead the church through change. The bird of culture we need to create is an environment in which all the clergy embrace the adventure of leading the church into a new future.

In a missionary context missionary must be practiced as a vocation rather than as a profession. The word vocation comes from a Latin word that means “call.” To be in ministry today we need to renew our sense of call from the living God to serve the laity as the servants of God. Once the ministry is perceived as a vocation rather than a profession, the practices of a minister undergo a profound shift. The nurture of our spiritual life becomes paramount.

We cannot hear the call of God unless we practice listening to God’s call in a pattern of contemplation, prayer, and study of Scripture and the living Christian tradition. Participation in a group with other clergy for mutual support and accountability becomes essential. In a profession one masters certain techniques, but in a vocation one surrenders to a calling that is bigger than we are. We cannot practice ministry as a vocation on our own strength.

The needs of the spouse and family of a clergy person cannot be neglected since there are tremendous pressures upon the clergy family in a changing environment. Not only do the clergy have to care for their families, but also the church needs to provide the support they need.

In the 21st century we need to develop a culture for the clergy in which they feel both challenged and nurtured. We should make the Florida Conference a place where all the clergy and their family members experience all they can be according to God’s good purposes and provisions.

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