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How to go for growth

14 February 2012

It’s all about mission rather than vision, Philip Welsh learns


Ministry Rediscovered: Shaping a unique and creative church
Mike Starkey
BRF £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20

MIKE STARKEY’s basic contention is that top-down prescriptions for church growth are misplaced, and his book “has been born, in part, out of frustration at the standard­ised models of successful church leadership”. The approach to ministry he advocates is “creative, unique, locally specific”, and is highlighted by the book’s Spanish epigraph: “Traveller, there is no road; the road is made by walking.”

Starkey writes in an engaging and personal way, and confessedly as a recovering church-growth enthus­iast. By virtue of its thesis, the book is more explicit about the grounds for detachment from church-growth orthodoxies than in mapping out the way ahead. He is particularly good on the potentially narrowing effect of over-attachment to a stated “vision”; on the danger that preset goals and objectives will instrumental­ise the human beings expected to implement them; and on the mixed blessing of Mission Action Plans.

He counsels churches to concentrate on clarifying their purpose and character (mission) rather than predetermining their goals (vision). He recommends paying attention to the cyclical, seasonal rhythms characteristic of rural life instead of what he sees as the linear trajectory of urban time — reflecting possibly his own re­loca­tion in ministry from inner London to mid-Wales.

The book’s title, Ministry Rediscovered, is a homage to Vincent Donovan’s classic (and far more theologically searching) Christianity Rediscovered, and yet thereafter the word ministry is hardly used in Starkey’s book. Instead, the terms he constantly uses are leadership and leaders. Without doubt, leadership is an important element in ministry, but surely the fullness referred to by that rich term “ministry” — in­cluding its basis in servanthood — cannot simply be collapsed into the language of leadership. Starkey characterises himself as a commun­icator rather than a pastor, and there is surprisingly little reference in the book to prayer.

That said, it concludes magnificently: “We should not expect our church leaders to be heroic, entrepreneurial CEOs who confidently lead the way and have a clear route in mind. Rather, we should expect them to be listeners, people who create safe spaces for conversation about what God is doing in the everyday and mundane, people who release the imagination and creativity in others.”

Now let’s have a book for ministers on the question that remains: Where are the sources of your creativity?

The Revd Philip Welsh is the Vicar of St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, in Westminster.

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