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Going Parachurch 2: Ordination?

Christian ministers talk a lot about ‘pastoral ministry’ (running a local church) and often call it ‘the ministry’.  This is the established ministry path in every denomination, and denominational trainers may even present it as definitive.  However, as I explored last post, parachurch and mission do not require denominational endorsement.  Still, denominations do provide for many forms of ministry and mission.  Might it be possible to find some kind of place for parachurch work within these?

As 2009 approached, I began exploring ordination in the Anglican Church, and then began its ‘Year of Discernment’ program in Melbourne.  I viewed ordination pragmatically; my interest in ordination was for what ministry doors it might open.  I had never planned to pursue local church leadership, but I wondered if my parachurch path might fit in with the Anglican diaconate.

Anglicans have a ‘threefold order’ of ministry: in addition to bishops and priests, they’ve got deacons, who form the diaconate. Commentators identify two dimensions of the diaconate.  Firstly, a deacon is servant, a broad role using Acts 6 as its prototype, with three angles: a deacon serves others, symbolises service to others, and enables others to be servants themselves.  Secondly, the deacon is bridge, connecting their local church and surrounding society, and activating other Christians for mission.

In this dimension of bridge and missional activator, the diaconate sounds like it might have a real connection with parachurch work.  This is certainly true in some cases; for example, becoming a deacon is a really good way of doing chaplaincy in Australian schools or hospitals.  However, there are two problems.

Firstly, the diaconate is highly generalised.  A deacon should be prepared for everything from charity to mission.  As one source puts it, a deacon has ‘a heart for the dispossessed and the poor, a strong need to deliver the Church’s grace-filled ministry to those outside, and a strong impulse to keep the Church alive to the realities of secular people’. The diaconate may well be distinctive but it doesn’t have the built-in specialisation required in parachurch ministry.

Secondly, the diaconate is institutionally constrained.  Here is an example of the vows deacons make.  Deacons (1) operate in obedience to a bishop and priest and (2) are ordained to a parish.  Even after a deacon completes their curacy, their ministry remains defined in connection to some parish or other — in other words, a deacon is not just integrated in a local church but their ministry is tied to it at the bidding of a bishop and a priest.  If a deacon is to go further afield, it is only with their permission.

In practice, an Anglican deacon may be unhinged for mission in their local area but will always remain at least theoretically subservient to a particular local church and its institution.  While Anglican ordination can therefore accommodate parachurch work such as chaplaincy, it does not clearly provide for ministers to be unhinged for mission. For this reason, I pulled out of the Year of Discernment.  In the next post I’ll explore some other models.

Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

3 replies

  1. A ministry student ought to get trained in things which will be useful for the ministry they expect to be doing, and hopefully the colleges are flexible enough to do that.

    Two weeks ago I was talking with some wise heads in the baptist union and we came to the conclusion that we have many good leaders of the ordained/scholarly variety, but our model of leadership doesn’t fit well with anyone not academically inclined. In the future we’re envisaging more bi-vocational church leaders and on the job training.

    In today’s Advertiser is a photo of Adelaide’s six new Anglican ordinands, and three of them were St Matts boys at some point.

  2. On the one hand, I can appreciate what you’re saying — that ministry training needs to involve plenty of practitioners and praxis, not just the theory. And part of that means rethinking traditional adult education models, etc.

    But a good practitioner will always be driven by hard gospel thinking — just as Paul is (eg 1 Thes; 1 & 2 Cor). Practice and thought should always go together…

    By the way, there’s been more discussion over at the Ridley version of this post.

    Stay tuned for part 3!

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