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Handbook of Christian Ministry, by John Pritchard, and SCM Studyguide: Church Leadership, by John Coutts

by
25 September 2020

Philip Welsh reflects on books about ministry both lay and ordained

FIFTEEN years ago, John Pritchard put the Church in his debt with The Life and Work of a Priest. Now he offers Handbook of Christian Ministry as a companion volume, quite different in character, to introduce the ministry of all Christian people.

The book is arranged into short topics from A to Z, stretching from Attentiveness and Bible to Young People and Zzzzz. X is missing (unless its absence is subtly meant to represent Exclusion).

Pritchard does not claim originality, but writes with warmth and wisdom: “The heart of Christian ministry is attentiveness. . . Responsible pastoral care doesn’t always consist of supportive affirmation. . . He left us with bread and wine on a table and a towel on the floor. . . So much teaching about prayer frustrates extroverts because it emphasises the quiet inner journey.”

His style is conversational, fond of anecdote, anxious not to look solemn and — as someone not requiring us “to believe six impossible things before breakfast” — unafraid of occasional cliché. Huge topics are quickly broken down into manageable subdivisions, with panels for “Quick ideas” and for apposite quotations.

The alphabetical arrangement enables the book to be an easily digested omnium gatherum of many aspects of Christian ministry. Its drawback is to give the appearance of organisation to what is essentially a random sequence of independent topics (. . . Mission, Narrative, Older People . . .) that do not build into a whole.

Inevitably, the breadth of treatment is at the expense of depth, and some sections read like discussion-starters or headings for talks, which perhaps they once were. Bright ideas are sometimes scattered in passing, but not taken responsibility for: “The Walk of Witness could become a street-based Passion Play; the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity could be a giant Messy Church or a teaching or training day on a topic in which all the churches have an interest; civic or national celebrations could be a community festival with main stage, children’s events, sporting opportunities, giant TV screen and hotdogs.”

Handbook of Christian Ministry is the first of his many books which Pritchard has written in retirement, after a clearly enjoyable lifetime of ministry, from youth officer to bishop. It has the feel of a project to find a good home for all the experience and material that he has accumulated, as well as one more chance to raid the huge file-card collection of useful stories and quotes which, he tells us, he has amassed over the years.

Handbook is a misnomer for the book if it suggests a systematic introduction or a work of reference. But, as a Primer, Handbook of Christian Ministry will be enjoyed by those setting out on their consideration of Christian ministry, whose appetite may be whetted to move on to some of the listed Resources. It may also be handy for clergy looking for ways to introduce its topics in their own teaching ministry.

 

THE objective of John Coutts’s introductory-level textbook is to look at church leadership theologically rather than through organisational theory. The author, who teaches at Trinity College, Bristol, affirms that “Growth is God’s problem. Our task is to be faithful.”

He begins promisingly by drawing on classical and modern theological perspectives, with thumbnail introductions to Augustine, Aquinas, and MacIntyre, but as the book proceeds this is largely replaced by reference to scripture, and with a use of scripture which will be congenial to many Evangelicals, but which others will find uncritical in its gathering of “lessons” from widely differing parts of the Old Testament and New, with little exploration of context or sense of the sheer otherness of the biblical world.

“Leader” is the term used throughout a book that is avowedly non-denominational and never refers to the clergy. Whatever this offers in generic applicability, it leaves the book feeling strangely contextless and colourless, without reference to the particular situations in which church leadership operates, with their own traditions and structures of accountability, and with little sense of the wider Church or of wider society. It also means omitting the distinctive character, however understood, of what it means to be a leader who is a priest.

Coutts provides interesting readings lists that would be easier to navigate with a few comments, as he might have offered in the lectures on which the book is based. In a chapter that gives helpful consideration to the varying dynamics that characterise churches of differing sizes, he acknowledges his debt to the work of Alice Mann, though apparently unaware that the typology that she uses — Family, Pastoral, Programme, and Corporate — was popularised in the previous decade by Arlin J. Rothauge.

A final chapter is an excellent primer on how to approach meetings, and sharply reminds us that “our ecclesiology is reflected in our approach to meetings.” His “Periodic chart of spiritual gifts” may be a tabulation too far.

 

The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.

 

Handbook of Christian Ministry: For lay and ordained Christians
John Pritchard
SPCK £12.99
(978-0-281-08439-5)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

SCM Studyguide: Church Leadership
Jon Coutts
SCM Press £19.99
(978-0-334-05778-9)
Church Times Bookshop special price £16

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