Towards a Strategy
By Mark Pickles
“The word ‘earnestly’ is significant, the situation is so urgent, the need so great, so we need to pray, but to pray with focussed persistence and intent so that more labourers might be raised up.
“All Christians are to be involved in this great work of brining in the harvest but for reasons I will explain shortly, there is a particular emphasis here upon those called to full-time gospel ministry.
“This is precisely the great and urgent need of the hour in the Church of England at present. Urgent may not even be a strong enough word. If the harvest is plentiful then not only do we lack labourers, our numbers of labourers is rapidly declining and its impact upon the ministry and mission of the Church is catastrophic.
“There are some in the Church who argue that this decline is an opportunity to rethink and reimagine how we do ministry, indeed it may even be the sovereign work of God to release the church from the grip of clericalism and allow the laity to flourish. As more and more clergy look after more and more parishes, inevitably others must step forward in order to keep the plates spinning.
“However, both biblical principles and hard facts make it clear this quite simply not how it is.
“This is how 16,000 churches of the Church of England are currently divided. The numbers are taken from What Makes Churches Grow? by Bob Jackson in 2015.
In single church benefices 3,700 23%
In two church benefices 3,200 20%
In three church benefices 2,600 16%
In four-six church benefices 4,400 27%
In seven plus church benefices 1,900 12%
Not designated/uncertain 200 1%
“The single largest group is that of clergy looking after 4-6 churches, only one in four have responsibility for just one church, or to put it another way, three-quarters of all clergy have more than one church to care for.
“Let’s be perfectly clear as to why this is the case, what it is that is driving this—it is not a vision for renewal, nor is it driven by a vision to ‘release the laity’. It is quite simply because there is both a shortage of clergy and a shortage of finance.
“Sometimes we can miss something because of its simplicity. The words of Jesus remind us that:
a) It is neither unusual nor a surprise that there is a shortage of labourers, it was the case then and it is the case now.
b) The solution then is not to cut our cloth accordingly and try to harvest what we can with limited resources but rather to plead our cause earnestly and persistently to the Lord of the Harvest who has at his disposal limitless resources.
“According to Bob Jackson:
“The number of full-time stipendiary clergy in the Church of England has fallen from over 11,100 in 1990 to under 7,800 today. Yet the number of churches— around 16,000 has hardly changed …also the average age of the stipendiary clergy has risen to 52 …because of their age structure, we know ether decline the number of stipendiary clergy will continue into the foreseeable future.”
From Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, 2017, pages 94-95.