Quo Vadis: Anglican Clergy Formation and Ministry? A Talking Points Brief

What follows are some observations about trends in Anglican Clergy Formation and Anglican Ministry, and some talking point proposals about how dioceses and seminaries can respond to these trends proactively.

  1. Overall Thesis: Clergy formation and ministry are undergoing a time of transition in America. Residential seminary is giving way to more diocese-based training. Full-time positions are giving way to various mixes of bivocational ministry. Larger churches with full-time staff are giving way to smaller churches with volunteer staff. This phenomenon is only being amplified by global societal trends. In some countries (such as Mexico) this future has already arrived. America is actually on the trailing edge of this global trend, not the leading edge. Revocation of non-profit status, or elimination of tax deductions or charitable giving or property tax exemption, would only accelerate these trends.
     
    Overall Response: Wise dioceses and seminaries will proactively anticipate these trends and lead the transition instead of resisting it.
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  3. Thesis: Less and less true clergy “livings” (i.e., full-time positions that pay a living wage) are available throughout America. The new normal for domestic clergy support is becoming the same set of mechanisms that have traditionally funded overseas missionaries, namely bivocational (“tentmaking”) work and raising their own support. Add one new mechanism to this list: Crowdfunding. And raise the importance of one other mechanism: Eating what you kill by starting your own church in the hopes that it might eventually support you. As a result, more and more clergy, not just in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) but throughout America and indeed the world, will be required to seek outside employment to support themselves and their families at some point in their ministry career. For an increasing number, this bivocational approach to ministry will become a way of life. Note that the current situation in ACNA, with its heavy emphasis on church planting and overlapping affinity dioceses that tend to keep local Anglican churches relatively small, is only exacerbating this situation in the short run.
     
    Response: Wise dioceses and seminaries will anticipate and support this trend in at least three ways. First, by baking in a bivocational ministry course as part of the curriculum. Second, by working with local employers, whether at the residential seminary or in the local area of the diocese, to provide internships for its students during their studies. Third, by cultivating mentors for students in various trades or job categories. The overall goal is that by the time a student graduates, not only do they have academic training in ministry but they also have a valuable skill in the secular employment market. Yes, this will mean that a student might need to juggle two internships, one ministry-related and one job-related, during their time of study. However, this situation realistically models what is likely to occur in a lifetime of ministry. Note that in the limit, most churches will be led by a team of bivocational clergy and volunteer staff, and will be relatively small simply due to the more limited span of control. The bishop is likely to be the only person in the diocese with a full-time paid position. However, according to my Bishop, Mark Zimmerman, “Even the office of Bishop is changing and many bishops are rectors of a parish or teachers, or authors. Many bishops will be and are already bi-vocational.”
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  5. Thesis: Hand in hand with the constrained economic situation for clergy is the economic situation for ACNA dioceses. Gone are the days when a diocese would sponsor clergy residential education. And with the prospect of low remuneration after receiving an MDiv, more and more students are looking to local or diocese-based clergy training options. However, ensuring the quality of such programs has at times been problematic.
     
    Response: Wise dioceses and seminaries will stay on the leading edge of this trend not by resisting diocese-based models but by supporting and even co-opting them. Current residential seminaries could supply rigor, standards, curricula and even instructors for diocese-based clergy cohort training. At least four course design models could be offered: Entirely residential; residential intensives (i.e., the model that Nashotah House Theological Seminary uses); local intensives (which Trinity School for Ministry [TSM] has used in the past, such as in the Diocese of the Rio Grande); and entirely distance.
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  7. Thesis: In a tradition as rich as Anglicanism, a three-year MDiv is simply not enough for effective lifetime ministry. Something is always left behind, whether it be true facility with the Biblical Languages, training in counseling and pastoral care, or expertise in conducting liturgy and preaching along the entire continuum of Anglican churchmanship.
     
    Response: Wise dioceses and seminaries would embrace this phenomenon with eyes wide open and support it in at least a couple of ways. First, we need a return to the traditional Anglican practice of serving a multi-year curacy upon graduation. Of course, a vital component to a curacy is an experienced mentor priest. But another vital component is additional training in areas in which a three-year MDiv is simply not sufficient. Currently residential seminaries could help structure this academic component such that the curacy is practical, valuable, and joyful experience for the newly ordained priest as he lives the variety and the blessedness and the grottiness of practical ministry in the trenches, and marries academic training with real-life needs. Second, wise seminaries would also work with diocesan bishops to cultivate a life-long learning culture in their dioceses. Such a culture could be supported by low-cost audit courses (at which TSM simply excels); local seminars with seminary faculty; and annual conferences (like the Ancient Evangelical Future Conference hosted by TSM).
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  9. Thesis: As more and more clergy and parishioners come into ACNA without strong Anglican backgrounds, as the push for planting new churches increases, and as requirements for clergy ordination diminish, it is inevitable that in a generation or two ACNA runs the danger of morphing into a denomination that has left its Anglican heritage behind. One can even say that the seeds of a post-Anglican future are being sown in the ACNA even as we speak.
     
    Response: Wise dioceses and seminaries will be concerned about this potential eventuality and seminaries will actively work with diocesan bishops to stress the importance of proper clergy formation in the Anglican heritage in all of its cacophonous glory. Coupled with the proposals above, coursework and practical training that directly tackle the thorny question of Anglican identity and denominational boundary lines, and form students to be competent along the entire churchmanship continuum of historic Anglicanism, would go far to resist this trend. Explicit training on how to live and think and be spiritually formed as an Anglican is also necessary. In effect, it is the seminaries that need to be the guardians and disseminators of the Anglican heritage in the new ACNA era.


Rev. John M. Linebarger, PhD

John M. Linebarger is a bivocational priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Southwest of the Anglican Church in North America.  His bishop is +Mark Zimmerman, and he served his curacy at Church of Our Lord under Fr. Harold Trott.  John also wears the hats of husband and father, Computer Scientist at a National Laboratory, storyteller-in-training, and once-and-future guitar player.  He lives with his family and a menagerie of books in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


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