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In my four and a half years in Canberra I’ve been stunned by the high turnover of ministers in parishes and by frustrations experienced by parishes to find someone suitable.

It would be easy to cast blame on either group for these trends. But that is a mistake: at the same time, I have been intrigued by the way churches, although smaller, are often now characterised by a nucleus of dedicated and determined people who want good leadership. I’ve also been watching ministers attracted to various chaplaincy roles—forms of ministry in everyday workplaces— as they seek to offer Christ and his care to modern Australians. These developments are great, actually, and easily missed.

Obviously, our task at St Mark’s is to discover what these developments indicate for training, preparation and formation. I have come to these conclusions.

Firstly, most ministers are ‘semisuitable’. What frustrates congregations and burns out ministers are those areas where ministers are ‘underdone’, operating beyond our natural or learnt ability. No one can have every skill, of course. Everyone knows that in theory. In practice, it drives us nuts when our minister can’t show empathy, or read a budget, or organise a bunfight in a bakery, or preach, or run a decent service, or explain the gospel to someone hungry for it, or set a direction that gives people hope and purpose. Even when we can do some things on that list, the gaps stall churches and cripple a minister’s ability to continue. We ministers are a patchy lot, in that we have these patches where we’re just no good.

Secondly, the trend toward chaplaincy ministries is exciting. But sometimes, people used to church life don’t make the transition well because secular workplaces are different. Trust is earnt differently; teams work differently; budgets and risk analysis and human resources and all the rest of it are all different. So people new to chaplaincy can toil in lonely isolation, reinventing the wheel, feeling unsupported by churches, and generally muddling through.

Therefore in 2019 we are trying some new things at St Mark’s.

Our new Diploma of Leadership and Management will give lay and clergy church leaders skills in, well,  leadership and management. We’ll help people get good at those basic ‘creaturely’ aspects of church life, like running budgets matched to vision, making meetings constructive, overseeing a safe church culture, helping conflicts to become constructive, and the other things we can’t teach in a theological degree (because those are full of other essentials). Graduates will be eligible for credit toward other awards in business and/or ministry.

We are offering a Diploma of Chaplaincy orienting people to that different way of working in a workplace, overtly representing Christ in full awareness that many around us are suspicious of religion and have no interest (initially) in churchy stuff. Chaplains can be a huge value-add to organisations when their Christianity takes a form others experience as empathic, careful, collaborative and insightful. But chaplains only get as far as they are trusted by managers. We want to set people up better for entry into those spaces.

In addition (pending the Bishop-elect’s input), we are re-engineering the formation of deacons and priests. A three-stranded program will expect of candidates (i) a theological degree focussed on the Bible, Anglicanism, integrative
ability in theology and ethics, self-awareness and practical skills (like preaching); (ii) further ‘units of competency’ to
stretch and embed skills (e.g. in pastoral counselling) that can also be credited toward the new awards above; and (iii) a program of in-house formation, where St Mark’s staff will more overtly join with Diocesan officers in preparing
candidates for ministry.

These initiatives are in addition to our highly successful Diploma of Christian Ministry and Theology that enables the nucleus of lay people, without whom no church can exist, to lead and speak up-front, to welcome with more awareness, to know the Bible in overview and generally to strengthen and amplify their contribution to church life.

The best way you can support us is to come learn with us and to send others. We’d love to work with you, wherever you are at, to shine as lights in the world.

by Reverend Dr Andrew Cameron