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A Ministry Shaped by Mission

02 November 2006


T & T Clark £14.99 (0-567-08368-3); Church Times Bookshop £13.50

Bringing Christ to the world: John Oliver finds a book on mission excellent - in parts

PAUL AVIS writes as general secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England, and keeps the ecumenical dimension always in mind. But he also brings to the subject many years' experience of parochial ministry in rural Devon, so that his studies are rooted in practical Anglican life.

The thesis of the book is that we can understand ministry properly only if we see it as essentially defined by the Church's mission, which he summarises as "the whole Church bringing the whole Christ to the whole world".

The book is in three parts. The first is a study of mission, and depends considerably (and rather tediously) on a number of proof-texts from ecumenical statements of the past 40 years or so. There is a bold claim that the ministry of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and the provision of pastoral care are not only central to the Church's mission, but comprise that mission "exclusively and without remainder". If this were true, it would limit the Church's mission in a narrowly ecclesial way, but in the same paragraph he undermines it by recognising that social action, religious and moral education, and political activity are also vital aspects of mission.

In the second section, Avis rightly recognises that liberating ministry from clericalism has made it so broad that it is in danger of losing its meaning altogether; and he offers a useful set of criteria by which we can distinguish ministry from ordinary, everyday Christian living.

The representative nature of ministry is well analysed, as are the various forms of ministry: communal, collegial, and personal. But not much room is left for frontier ministries, such as those of the RE teacher in a comprehensive school, or a politician wrestling with the compromises and ambiguities of his calling.

The last part of the book concentrates on ordained ministry, with a wise and helpful survey of what is given in ordination. A good deal of emphasis falls on the diaconate; and Avis draws freely on, and warmly approves, John Collins's reinterpretation of diaconal ministry in terms not of humble service, but of a God-given mandate to proclaim the mystery of Christ. Avis goes on to claim, not very convincingly, that this theology requires the Church to introduce a distinctive diaconate.

It might be a good idea to skip Part One of this book, but the rest can be warmly recommended. Avis is much more interesting when writing from the heart than when quoting from ecclesiastical documents.

The Rt Revd John Oliver is a former Bishop of Hereford.

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