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Equipping God’s people

Gail Ayre is commissioned as a Lay Pastor. From left: Clive Ayre, Gail Ayre, Colleen Geyer and John Cox. Photo courtesy of Phil Smith
THE APOSTLE Paul promised the churches in need of good leadership in his day that “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 11-13 NIV)

Christ promised to build his church, but how does the Uniting Church identify the gifts of the Holy Spirit and see them expressed in congregations throughout Queensland?

This is a serious question for a church that recognises the ministry of all believers, specifies ministries across its membership, and has limited ordained and other paid staff .

Pilgrim Learning Community (PLC) provides training and teaching across the state, looking confidently for people’s gifts and exploring how they are manifested in congregations today.

“God will raise up the right people with the right gifts in each place,” said PLC Director Rev Dr Robert Bos.

Paul always spoke of developing spiritual gifts to increase connectivity in the church.

The Uniting Church expresses that as discipleship formation: equipping followers to serve in their workplaces, families and surrounding communities.

At a time when many congregations cannot afford a full-time minister, developing lay ministries means much more than
keeping buildings open, according to Dr Bos.

“We must equip people for discipleship instead of only maintaining church structures,” he said.

And the structures are changing quickly.

Director of Continuing Education in the Synod of NSW/ACT Rev Dr Robert McFarlane identified four
common congregational shapes or expressions of church.

Large regional churches with more than 200 members can sustain at least one minister.

However, in a faith community of that size, an ordained minister cannot carry out the ministry alone.

In a “resource ministry cluster” a number of small congregations share the energies of one paid minister and that minister’s primary role is supporting, training and equipping lay people.

In the growing field of chaplaincy, the local church goes out to other communities such as schools, hospitals and aged care homes.

New faith communities are forming to worship away from the pews and procedures of Sunday morning gathering.

Dr Bos said that means that the most common form of church in the past, the congregation of 30-70 members, will disappear.

Large or small, every congregation is dependant on the church’s commitment in the Basis of Union: “The Uniting Church affirms that every member of the Church is engaged to confess the faith of Christ crucified and to be his faithful servant.

It acknowledges with thanksgiving that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ.”

Lay ministries are much wider than lay preaching.

Presbyteries are working closely with PLC to develop the skills of volunteers called to serve as elders, pastoral carers, visiting chaplains.

While Presbyteries carry the responsibility of accrediting qualified lay preachers, the decision of who can preach to a
congregation rests with the parish minister.

Best estimates indicate around 200 lay preachers, accredited or otherwise, are speaking from Uniting Church pulpits in

At a national level, the Assembly’s Ministerial Education Commission is conducting a review of the ministry of Lay

A report is expected in the middle of next year.

Around 40 people are currently employed as a pastor within the Queensland Synod.

Their roles range from full-time congregational pastors to school chaplains and lay ministry workers in community.

Photo : Gail Ayre is commissioned as a Lay Pastor. From left: Clive Ayre, Gail Ayre, Colleen Geyer and John Cox. Photo courtesy of Phil Smith