Appointing our Ministry Leadership Team

How we 'called-out' people to lead our congregation

Taking risks

We knew there would be risks in choosing a team to lead St John's. Some people would doubt the ability of lay people to undertake such a project with maturity, discretion and mutual trust. Issues of power were involved - and there was a danger of some people having expectations disappointed. Things need to be handled with sensitivity to people's hopes and fears.

Risks like these have sometimes been avoided by clergy deciding who should be invited to form the team. That usually leaves the congregation feeling de-skilled and marginalised (though it does mean they have someone else to blame when things go wrong - as they almost certainly will if the congregation is patronised like this). It could lead to a feeling that the priest has gathered a clique of cronies; it often results in low levels of ownership of the new pattern of leadership among the members of the church.


Maximising outcomes

While we recognised that adopting a new pattern of ministry could not be risk-free, we wanted to do it in a way that would:

  • maximise the congregation's sense of ownership and mutual trust;
  • respect the integrity and maturity of each member and of the congregation as a whole;
  • avoid both canvassing beforehand and personal disappointment at the outcome;
  • preserve confidentiality;
  • retain the Vestry's responsibility for decision-making;
  • reflect the recognised needs of the congregation for leadership in its ministry and mission;
  • provide us with a leadership team with a defined period of life and a process for ensuring continuity.

So we decided to make it clear that whatever else was going on in this process it was neither an election by the members of St John's nor an appointment by the priest-in-charge. We called it a 'calling-out process' to indicate that everyone had a part to play in it. And we agreed that the team that emerged from the process would have a term of office of 5 years, after which the calling-out process would take place again.


Preparing the ground

The process began with the Vestry (the SEC equivalent to the PCC in England). Over a series of meetings the Vestry considered the mission priorities of St John's, the sorts of service we needed to sustain them, the sort of leadership we needed to support it, and the kinds of gifts those involved in the leadership would need. The aim was to be able to ask the congregation to tell the Vestry who it believed its leaders were in the various services (or ministries) at the heart of our life. Eventually the Vestry decided that the different kinds of ministries could be summed up under two broad headings:

  • nourishing our personal and corporate faith;
  • practical organisation of our common life.

It was accepted that the two categories overlapped, and that some people seen as leaders might well be named in both.

While this was going on David, our priest-in-charge, kept us all in the picture through a series of newsletters. The first set out a vision for the sort of collaborative ministry we were working towards. The next reviewed the way the Vestry had tackled the process, and outlined the way in which we would all be involved. It also fed back to us the reactions of the Bishop of Edinburgh to our proposals, though as our journey continued, Bishop Brian's thinking moved on as well.


Making it happen

The next stage was to ask the congregation to name its recognised leaders. We did this by means of a 'calling-out form'. The form itself is pretty self-explanatory and is worth downloading, as it sets out quite clearly what the process was. During Advent 2007 everyone in the congregation was asked prayerfully to complete the form in private, naming the people they thought of as our leaders under the two headings, and to return it anonymously in a sealed envelope. You could name people under both headings and you could name yourself if you wanted to.

The Vestry had appointed a group of three 'scrutineers', confidentially to process the names that were put forward. Bill Elliot, the former Rector, Annie, the elderly and universally trusted churchwarden, and David, the priest-in-charge, compiled a list of those who were named most often. It turned out there were seven, and these names were brought in confidence to the Vestry with the recommendation that they be approached to see if they would be willing to form the MLT.

In the event all accepted, though one later decided this particular role in the life of our church was not for him. Only after they had all been approached and had responded was any outcome of the calling-out process made public. No-one ever knew who had named whom, and only the group of three ever had any idea how many times any individual had been named. But the congregation had a strong sense of involvement in the calling-out of its leaders, and was able to recognise, in those who formed the MLT, the people they had themselves identified in that role.


What next?

All this happened in 2008. The MLT that was called out then had a 5-year term of office. We did not want any of its members to feel they had a 'life sentence': it would be important that they each had an opportunity to relinquish the role of church leader after a fixed period without any feeling that they had let anyone down. But it was also important that the MLT had long enough to establish itself, discover what leading St John's would mean, and take the congregation beyond the stage of re-shaping ministry into a vision for its future mission.

It was equally important that the congregation knew from the outset that it would have an opportunity of re-naming its leaders after a fixed interval. We were very aware of the way in which impressions of cliquishness and cronyism can form in the minds of a congregation. So we determined from the outset that the MLT would serve for 5 years, after which its members would all resign and a new calling-out process take place. There would be no barrier to any member of the previous MLT being invited to serve in the new one, but it would be equally important for the congregation to name its leaders afresh at the end of the 5-year period. And members of the previous MLT who did not wish to serve again, would have the opportunity to say so within the confidence of the calling-out process.

The second calling-out took place during the winter of 2012-13. The congregation's suggestions were made in December 2012, the scrutineers proposed eight names to the Vestry in January 2013, and the Vestry invited those named to form the new MLT. Seven of those approached agreed to become the new team, which was announced to the congregation in March. On Palm Sunday 2013 our main service included prayers of thanksgiving and closure for the first MLT, and the new MLT was inaugurated on Easter Day. Bishop John formally commissioned the members for their leadership role at our Harvest Gift Day service at the beginning of October 2013.