17 June 2024

We must pray the Lord raises up a new generation of Anglican leaders

The Church needs humble, courageous and spirit-filled leadership now as much as it ever has, writes Andrew Judd. Picture: iStock

Andrew Judd

9 September 2023

After months of procrastination, last night I finally wrote my will. The section on funeral wishes raised an urgent and uncomfortable question. Naturally, I want a classic Anglican service in an Anglican church, with the proper Anglican mix of grief at the verities of death, and hope in the reality of resurrection. But here’s my question – will there be any Anglican priests around to bury me?

I’m not quite 40, so I’m not planning on needing a casket any time soon. Unless a truck hits my bike on my ride to Ridley, I’m quietly confident of making at least par for an Australian male and living to 81.3 years. But for there to be a good chance of a half decent Anglican priest – someone who can hold a prayer book the right way up and say pastorally sensitive things to my widow – available in 2063 to lower me into the grave, then we need to do something about that today.

Read more: We need to talk more about vocational discernment, and pray

It starts by recognising the uncomfortable reality: on our current trajectory, Melbourne Anglican clergy will soon be an endangered species, even for those parishes still healthy enough to need an ordained leader. The demographics are simply against us. Most Anglican clergy are closer to retirement than their potential replacements are to ordination. It’s not hard to see this issue around us already. Five years ago there were typically 15 or 16 vacant parishes listed in each Ad Clerum, now it’s common to see a number in the 30s.

At the same time, the idea of stepping into church leadership is not on the minds of many young women and men. Why would it be? Even Moses, on receiving commission directly from the Lord, responded with a “Who, me? Please send someone else!” Yet choosing and ordaining the right people for ordained ministry is a deeply biblical priority.

The New Testament call for good leaders

The records of the first few centuries of the Christian church do not give us a blueprint for running a diocese in 2023, but they do hold up a high standard for leaders, and urge us to choose them carefully.  

The Anglican office of “bishop” derives ultimately from the biblical term for an overseer (episkopos). It speaks of leadership of a group of people. Paul describes the Ephesian elders as having been appointed by the Holy Spirit as “overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28). In 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:7–9 the requirements for an overseer are laid out. These include the ability to teach the true gospel authoritatively, and to manage the household of God. Paul addresses his letter to the Philippians to their “overseers” and deacons (Phil 1:1).

Read more: Unaddressed burnout, heavy workloads amid ordination shortage

Accordingly, in the Anglican ordinal, someone who is presented to be ordained as a bishop must confirm that they “firmly and sincerely” believe the Catholic faith as grounded in Scripture. They must “solemnly and sincerely declare” – without reservation – their assent to the doctrine as expressed in the creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. All bishops have promised to maintain the Church’s witness to Christ’s resurrection, the purity of the gospel, and the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord. They promise to guard its faith, unity and discipline, and promote its mission in the world. After being vested according to the order of bishops they are given a Bible and charged to, “Take them for your rule, and declare them to the world.”

Bishops also promise to take on a particular responsibility for choosing, ordaining, leading and guiding priests and deacons. At their ordination, Anglican priests take up a calling to live and work as a priest, pastor and teacher. These three words remind us that several strands of New Testament leadership are brought together in one office in the Anglican system.

In Anglican ecclesiology, the parish priest’s role corresponds closely to the elders of the congregation. In Jewish and Christian societies the elders (presbuteroi) had responsibility for social and religious affairs. In Acts 14:23, the church appoints elders in every church who continue this model of leadership. Some of them will labour in “preaching and teaching” and so will be worthy of “double honour” (1 Timothy 5:17). They have a role in praying and anointing with oil (James 5:14). Part of the apostolic ministry seems to be to appoint elders within the church (Titus 1:5). Those who are younger are to be subject to the elders (1 Peter 5:5).

Read more: We have the money, now we need vision

The call to live and work as a “pastor” reflects that elders are exhorted to “shepherd the flock among you” (1 Peter 5:2). In Acts 20:17 and 28, the instruction is given to elders who are overseers to “look after the sheep”. John is commissioned by Jesus to be shepherd of his sheep (John 21:16). Pastor is not really a separate office. Shepherding was seen as something that certain people did on behalf of Jesus the Shepherd,because of their role as elders and their gifts, rather than a distinct position or office as some Baptists and Pentecostals use the word today.

The priest is distinctive from the order of deacons in that at the centre of their role is proclaiming the gospel of salvation through word and sacrament, declaring the forgiveness of sins, and watching over and caring for the people in their care. The word deacon is derived from the word for a servant (diakonos), and is intentionally designed to make us think of a lowly servant. However we should remember that you don’t stop being a servant once you climb the ecclesial ladder! Paul is a servant (1 Corinthians 3:5). Epaphras is described in Colossians 1:7-8 and 4:12-13 as a “fellow servant” (syn-dolou) and “minister” (diakonos). Women like Phoebe are also described in these terms (Romans 16:1). Paul provides a list of qualifications for appointing “ministers” in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, which suggests that in some contexts it was considered a formal role. Their qualifications do not include the ability to teach, because this is specific to the role of elder and overseer.

Read more: Truly Called: An indispensable volume for anyone considering ordination

Our Anglican orders of bishop, priest and deacon, therefore, are expressions of responsibilities that are at the heart of the apostolic faith. Our bishops have promised to take on this role of choosing and ordaining ministers. But in our Ordinal the priest responds to a calling from God – but also a calling from the church. It is also our shared responsibility as a church to call out men and women who have the character, convictions and capacity to serve as ministers of the church – including, one day, taking my funeral!

A vision of hope

What is the story they will write about our generation of Melbourne Anglicans in the 2020s? My prayer is that it will not just be a story of decline – though of course as a cultural institution, Anglicanism’s visible numbers and social influence are bound to take a beating. I hope future generations will also thank God for what these pressures brought out of us: an unravelling of all that distracts us from Jesus, a deep and joyful gratitude for each other, a passionate renewal of our commitment to the mission Jesus gave us of making disciples of all nations.

The Church needs humble, courageous and spirit-filled leadership now as much as it ever has. Ours is not the first generation of Christian to stare down complex cultural crosswinds. We are not even the first Anglicans to confront the reality that the next decades will be about change and painful choices. But God in his merciful providence has placed us here in this moment of history, so these are our challenges to confront.

Read more: Tereaza, Monica and Rebecca follow call to ministry

As I looked around chapel at college recently I was overcome by a sense of God’s work in and through all the women and men in that room. I know many of their stories – people who met Jesus in the most unlikely of circumstances; people who are already serving communities with incredible passion and sacrifice.

God was clearly in work calling them to follow Jesus, and in empowering them by his Spirit for service. It’s also true that, in every case I can think of bar one, their decision to train to become a vocational ministry worker was prompted and enabled by someone in their church encouraging them that they had the gifts the church urgently needed, the character to lead with integrity, and the capacity to teach clearly.

Please join with me in praying daily that the Lord of the harvest will raise up more workers. Let us also consider who God would have us to encourage towards training at Trinity College Theological School, or Ridley College, that we might be part of the answer to our own prayers. By God’s grace, I’m confident my funeral plans are in good hands.

The Reverend Dr Andrew Judd is deputy principal: community and lecturer in Old Testament at Ridley College Melbourne.

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