Out of the Frying Pan

LORD BRIDGE has taken a good hard look at Synodical Government in the Church of England and it is no surprise that there is a lot that he would like to change. Fortunately we don’t have to deal with his proposals at York this July, so there will be time to ponder and reflect on the proposals contained in the report.

The Review Group were not short of advice. They received submissions from nearly 300 individuals and 30 dioceses and as a result they are recommending changes to parishes, Deanery Synods, Diocesan Synods and General Synod.

A first glance suggests that parishes and Diocesan Synods come out relatively unscathed, whereas Deanery Synods are stripped of their statutory functions and emerge looking rather like clergy and lay fraternals. The report coyly observes that “of the four tiers of synodical government, it is the deanery synod which attracted most attention in the evidence submitted to us.”

The deanery synod’s function of providing the lay electorate for elections to Diocesan and General Synod comes under the fiercest attack. The report notes, “Because deanery synods are thought to be irrelevant by many church members, attracting candidates to stand for election to them is sometimes difficult and elections are often uncontested. Moreover, deanery synods have a wide range of functions. Those offering themselves for election may have varied and valuable experience, but their primary interests may not lie in the exercise of the franchise at elections to the General Synod and diocesan synods. That may be a contributing factor to the further criticisms we have encountered to the effect that the views of the parishes are not adequately represented at the General Synod and that in many parishes little is known about those elected to represent them.”

Well, you can’t argue with that, but what does the report suggest we should do about defining an alternative electorate for lay elections to General Synod and diocesan synods? It dismisses the idea of a universal franchise on grounds of practicality rather than principle. Instead it proposes that every parish should elect each year a number of “synodical electors” – the number being one for each 50 (or part thereof) members of the electoral roll. This has a number of attractions. For instance the disproportionate number of electors coming from small parishes under the present system is ameliorated to a large extent, and one might hope that “synodical electors” would take their (limited) duties fairly seriously.

On the other hand, I am concerned on three counts:

1. “Synodical electors” would be elected annually, and while the pious hope is expressed that there would be some continuity, this cannot be guaranteed. Indeed these electors may become disillusioned, if they are not called upon to exercise their functions in two years out of three.

2. Since they would not be members of the PCC ex-officio (as Deanery Synod members are), there is a real possibility that while every parish would have electors in their midst, the PCC might not “own” them in quite the way they do now.

3. As a member of General Synod, I get to know my electorate over a quinquennium. I know where to find them – at deanery synods and diocesan synod. I report back to them what goes on at General Synod. How am I going to find “synodical electors” who may not even be members of their PCCs? And if I do succeed in tracking them down, will they still be in office when the next elections are held?

So, full marks for identifying an important issue to address, but Synod needs to come up with a better proposal than the one this report offers.

When the report turns its attention to General Synod, if indeed there will be much left to argue about if the Turnbull proposals succeed in filleting the Synod and abolishing its Standing Committee, the guns are turned with gusto on the rotten boroughs. Out go the 15 reserved places for Deans and Provosts. Out go the 43 reserved places for Archdeacons. Out go the reserved places for the three senior chaplains of the armed forces and the representatives of the Channel Islands. Out go the reserved places for the Chaplain General of Prisons, members of religious communities, the six clergy representatives of certain Universities. All the dispossessed would in future be able to put up for election like the rest of us.

There is also a proposal to reduce the overall size of Synod by a third. Some doubtless would think that was a good idea per se. Others might fear that the surviving Synod members would have to take on 150% of their current commitments as members of Boards, Councils, Working Parties and Committees. I will reserve my position on the actual number of Synod members for the moment, but the mechanism for the reduction is what worries me.

Mindful that the system of proportional representation used in General Synod elections works most satisfactorily in constituencies returning three or more members, the Report proposes that within an overall reduction of one third in the number of Synod members, every diocese should return at least three clerical and three lay members (as at present).

In practice a large number of dioceses would fail to qualify for three representatives and their representation therefore has to be rounded up to three. The effect of this is that larger dioceses have to suffer a cut of more than one third in their representation.

Under the report’s proposals, of the 42 dioceses (excluding Sodor and Man and Europe who have one and two representatives respectively in each house) 34 dioceses would have 3 clerical representatives and 25 dioceses would have 3 lay representatives – so much for the representation being proportional. It certainly won’t be proportional to the size of the electorate.

The injustice of the downsizing proposed in individual cases is quite outrageous. For instance, the small Canterbury diocese has three lay representatives and will continue to have three. Its larger neighbour Rochester currently has six, but these will be reduced to three.

In the Northern province, Bradford currently has six representatives (3 clergy, 3 lay), Newcastle has seven (3 clergy, 4 lay), Sheffield has eight (4 clergy, 4 lay), Wakefield has nine (4 clergy, 5 lay) and Durham has eleven (5 clergy and 6 lay). These figures were all agreed before the last Synod elections on the basis of the number of clerical electors and the number of laity on electoral rolls. However under the Bridge proposals all these dioceses would, in future, have the same representation (3 clergy and 3 lay).

Clearly this will not do. If we want to reduce the size of Synod, smaller dioceses will have to join together to form constituencies of a reasonable size so that the proportionality between electoral rolls and the number of representatives elected is maintained. That won’t be popular in small dioceses, but why should Durham’s representation be savaged, while Bradford’s goes untouched?

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.

(1175 words)

Article 2 Children’s Ministry – the Messenger

The teacher (messenger) is a key element in children’s ministry. Not more important than the Bible (the message), nor than the child (the beneficiary of the message), but so fundamental in the conduct of children’s ministry, that to ignore their importance is to do so at our own peril.

What do John D. Rockefeller (multi-millionaire), H. J. Heinze (of Pickle and Ketchup Fame) and Jimmy Carter (ex-President of U.S.A.) have in common?

What is the largest volunteer force in the world with 4.1 million members?

The answer to both questions is Sunday school teachers. These three famous people all taught Sunday school, and Sunday school teachers comprise the largest volunteer force in the world today.

So why choose these three individuals? After all, there have been more famous workers in children’s ministry in this country and elsewhere – Robert Raikes, Lord Shaftsbury, D. L. Moody, C. H. Spurgeon and Henrietta Mears, to name just a few. The reason is that the work these individuals did in Sunday school teaching will have eternal consequences, whereas their success in worldly terms is temporal. Jimmy Carter has been replaced as President of the USA and business empires do not go on forever.

Volunteer or conscript?

Perhaps the word ‘volunteer’ is a misnomer for it will not stand the test of reality. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines ‘volunteer’ as “1. n. Person who spontaneously undertakes task, etc. person who voluntarily enters military or other service, esp member of any corps of voluntary soldiers formerly organised in UK and provided with instructors, arms, etc. by the State; 3. v.i. Make voluntary offer of one’s services (for campaign, purpose); be a volunteer.”

Three key elements in the definition are spontaneously, service and instructors provided. In reality at least two of the three elements are usually missing from the profile of a children’s ministry teacher. Many say that they were volunteered rather than offering spontaneously!

Secondly, the theological concept of service is generally underdeveloped or under development. As this is the foundation for all Christian ministry it is important that we all have a mature view of service. This is one of the great themes of Mark’s gospel – For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV). If Jesus came to serve his church, so should his followers. The servant is not greater than his master (Matthew 20:24-28, John 13:15-16).

It is imperative that people in ministry do it for the right reasons. Are we there to glorify God or ourselves? (1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1) How can directors in children’s ministry foster the right motivation? One director has used the following test to determine the attitude of prospective teachers. People interested in teaching children are invited to watch a Sunday school in full operation. During the programme they are asked to go into the kitchen and make drinks for the children and teachers and take them around to the groups. At the end of the programme they are asked to clear up any mess, The director then watches the reaction of the trainee teachers to his request.

The issues of service are: * Am I prepared to do an apparently menial task, e.g. wipe runny noses, clean gluey hands, wash the children’s feet? (John 13:1-9) Do not be misled, there are no menial tasks in Christian service. * Am I prepared to do it cheerfully and to the best of my ability? * Do I appreciate and acknowledge how others serve me? * Which is more important – my ego or my desire to serve the Church family?

The third key element in the definition deals with instructors being provided. This is uncommon. Too many times volunteers are given a teacher’s manual, pointed towards a group of children and told to get on with it. No one takes the time to find out what skills the volunteer has, the general view being that ‘anyone can teach children’. Even in America, where there is a high view of children’s ministry, only 57% of churches offer leadership training for Christian education volunteers (Children’s Ministry that Works! – The Basics & Beyond Group Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-931529-69-7). Consequently, teaching teams tend to be weak or unbalanced, because no one has identified the individual and corporate skill levels. Effective training programmes cannot be implemented until this problem is addressed.

A typical teacher

In the course of training over 1,000 teachers some common characteristics have been noted which could form a teacher profile: * mostly female (generally 80% to 20% male) * average age 35-40 * works at a stressful job 5 days a week * very little to moderate teaching experience, mostly acquired on the job * teaches 3 – 4 times per month * only occasionally gets into church for teaching and worship * has a great love for the children and is committed to children’s ministry * often feels tired, overworked, frustrated, insecure, imposed upon * often lacks confidence in a teaching situation * wants to be a better teacher and have their ministry acknowledged by the church hierarchy, parents, peers and children.

The effective teacher

How can we help our children’s ministry teachers become more effective in their ministry? The following five points should be addressed: * Everyone involved in ministry should be taught regularly from God’s Word. No one will get to the stage when they do not need teaching. This involves daily personal devotions as well as getting to church. * The teacher should be demonstrably in control of the class. This authority should be exercised courteously and consistently, with no favouritism. This gives the children security as well as ensuring the children’s compliance in the event of an emergency. * The Bible (the message) should be at the centre of the programme and be taught accurately, in an appropriate way for the age group being taught. * The teacher should be encouraged to form healthy relationships with the children. * The teacher’s life and attitudes should back up their teaching.

The church’s attitude

One reason why teachers have such a low view of themselves and hence their ministry is directly related to the church’s view of children’s ministry. In reality children’s ministry is at the bottom of the ladder of importance and is assigned minimal financial and people resources. Very few churches have a philosophy or strategy for children’s work or the workers. Youth work (i.e. teenagers) gets a slightly better deal. How many paid, full-time children’s workers do you know? There are some, but the number is insignificant in relation to youth workers. Yet the quality of the youth/teenage ministry is directly dependent upon the quality of the children’s ministry that precedes it.

However, children’s ministry is only one of a number of equally important ministries within a church so it is imperative that the church’s strategy reflects that. Beware, children’s ministry should not dominate – but be part of the overall integrated strategy of preaching, teaching and living the gospel in the church and the community.

Assuming that your church has an agreed strategy for all its ministries, which it has communicated to all its members, and has a philosophy for its children’s ministry, which it has communicated to its teachers and helpers, how then does it maintain, provide or acquire people to implement that philosophy? How does it select teachers and helpers? How does it equip them to achieve their goals?

Historically, churches have adopted crisis management – only fix it when it breaks. When a major problem occurs, form a committee, write a paper, pray and put the squeeze (albeit ever so nicely) on someone who, in most cases, is already under pressure but has a good track record for getting things done. Of course there are a number of people who have a ‘calling’, (so often misunderstood and consequently abused), and respond to it willingly.

The professional teacher

The issue of using professionally qualified teachers, who are teaching 5 days a week, is a major one. When do they get a day off from teaching? If they teach every Sunday there is a very real danger of ‘burn-out’, ‘stale-out’ or ‘drop-out’. If we are genuinely concerned for the teacher we must not pressure them, through guilt or other ways, to do something that is in our best interest but not theirs. This does not preclude professional teachers from being used effectively in children’s ministry. They are an invaluable resource for evaluating the work and training the unqualified teachers. Consult them on current teaching practices, discipline, child development, behavioural problems, etc.

This sounds nice in theory, but many churches are forced to use professionally qualified, working teachers because there is no one else. So how can teachers and helpers be recruited?

Team size and composition

Firstly, determine the size and make up of the teaching team in conjunction with your philosophy for children’s ministry. The Children Act 1989 Diocesan Guidelines for Parishes gives the following minimum ratios of leaders to children: 1:3 for under 2 year olds 1:4 for 2 – 3 year olds 1:8 for 3 – 5 year olds 1:12/15 for 5 – 7 year olds. If the children are to be taught rather than minded the ratios should be increased to the following: 1:4 for 3 – 5 year olds 1:5 for 5 – 7 year olds 1:6 for 7 – 11 year olds.

The make up of the team should include the female:male ratio, as well as special skills like musicians, up-front leaders, artists, administrators, etc.

Traditionally children’s ministry (as opposed to youth work) has been the domain of women. Men should be encouraged to get involved for the following reasons: * There is a real danger of implying that Christianity is only for women and children. Consequently 10-11 year old boys are more likely to drop out than girls of the same age. * With the increase of single parent families in the church, as in society, we should be providing young boys with good Christian adult male role models.


Always start by identifying the need. Be specific about numbers, gender, which groups need teachers/helpers, etc. It is better if someone from the children’s ministry team makes the announcement. This should be done at a church service or prayer meeting as well as through a news sheet. Be imaginative and creative in arresting the audience’s attention so they understand the need and want to respond.

One method that proved effective involved the leader of the morning service inviting the children’s ministry director to make a brief announcement about the Sunday school. The director remained hidden from the congregation for two whole minutes. Two minutes passes very slowly when nothing is happening. People fidgeted, wondering what was happening. Finally the director came forward and announced to the congregation that “this will happen next week with your children, if I don’t get 8 teachers and helpers. Your children will be waiting in Sunday school and there will be no one to teach them!” The requested number of teachers and helpers came forward. Of course there is a danger with such an approach that people will be motivated by guilt. Sometimes seemingly unsuitable people may volunteer, but you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the most unlikely people turn out to be brilliant teachers when given appropriate guidance and training.

The director in children’s ministry must always exercise the wisdom of Solomon in recruiting and placing volunteers in the right area of ministry. This is particularly important in a society so sensitive to abuse in all its forms.

Packaging the job

Volunteers work much better in an atmosphere where they know exactly what is involved, for how long, and how much time and effort is needed to do the job. It is much easier to recruit teachers and helpers for a fixed sensible period, e.g. one or two years, than to ask them to sign up indefinitely.

Also it is more manageable for teachers and helpers if they are only required to commit themselves to one or two Sundays a month, or perhaps do a series of four Sundays on then four Sundays off. Teachers find this option very attractive. The question of continuity with the children is often raised, but experience has shown that this is more of a problem for the teacher than for the children. There are many benefits from having a teaching team for each group, not least of all if there is a personality clash between a child and teacher or helper. At least then they can have a break from each other instead of every week becoming a battlefield. Also, give the teachers an estimate of the minimum time that will be needed to prepare for each lesson so they can schedule their time efficiently.

Volunteers should start as helpers and not be placed in front of a group of children and left to sink or swim on their own. There is great security in knowing that they will be working alongside an experienced teacher while they find their feet. Potential recruits should be invited to come and see what happens before they commit themselves. Many people who are not sure they want to get involved with children are won over by coming to Sunday school, enjoying the fun and getting a vision for what can be done.


Training should be offered as part of the package. Most teachers who have taught for some time still confess that they do not feel confident in a teaching situation. Even professional teachers may need guidance on the way the Bible passage is taught. Everyone needs to know how the Sunday school operates. Regular training, designed for their situation, should be offered to all teachers so that they will become both more confident and competent. Training can be given on the job, or through a training course, but both are desirable.

For training on the job to be effective, an experienced teacher must be delegated to work alongside the recruit for a term. Lesson preparation and planning need to be done together and the recruit should gradually do more and more of the teaching as the term goes by.

It is helpful to have time for teachers to receive regular training. These times need not involve a whole day or the whole team, although this is more cost effective if you are getting an outside trainer. Members of your congregation with special skills can be asked to give the Sunday school team an evening or half a day to impart their knowledge. Sometimes it is helpful to organise something for a section of the team, e.g. how to lead into a Bible study for those working with young teens, the use of visual aids for those working with the 3-9s. It is essential for all teachers to be taught how to understand a Bible passage and how to present it appropriately.


Regular times, e.g. once a term, should be set aside for the team to critically review all areas of the ministry. Teachers should be encouraged to be honest about themselves, the children, the teaching materials and the programme. Seek their wisdom, listen to their advice and act upon it. Keep a record of the issues and action points and send copies to everyone on the teaching team.

The director of the children’s ministry should also meet regularly with each teacher and helper to discuss their performance, concerns and blessings received from the ministry. It cannot be overstated that this is a time for building up team spirit as well as the individual spirits. The reason that many teachers have such a poor view of themselves and their ministry is that few church leaders and directors take the time to sit down and discuss it with them. Consequently, misunderstandings and ignorance produce frustration. Teachers moan, whinge and complain to each other and a valuable ministry is depreciated. Church leaders must seize the initiative and start talking to their volunteer task force. When was the last time your ministry was discussed lovingly and honestly with you?

A ministry of encouragement

Church leaders and directors in children’s ministry must be encouragers in both words and deeds. Never stop encouraging everyone in the team, no matter what their function or disposition. The leader is only as effective as the sum of those who serve under him/her. If you are not a natural encourager, find the best person in your congregation who is and start learning from them. Pray for the spirit of encouragement. Meditate upon the words of Romans 15:1-7 especially verse 5 – May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus. Leaders and teachers should exercise hospitality with each other so as to promote this spirit of unity.

The Superteacher

In recent years, two potentially dangerous trends relating to the roles of teachers in children’s ministry have emerged. The first one is the attempt to create the ‘Superteacher’, an amalgam of social worker, theologian, doctor, psychiatrist, foster parent, entertainer, fairy-god person and best friend. The teacher is being directed to deal with the needs of hurting children both in the church family and the community. This is a commendable ideal and part of the practical way we love and care for each other, but the problem is that very few teachers are qualified to deal with even the most basic hurting needs, in spite of which they are persuaded that this is part of their function as a teacher. We must not encourage amateurs to get involved in situations for which they are not qualified. It may be exciting to play Henry Kissinger (Mr Fix-It), but not at the expense of the child concerned. Yes, we should love and care for the children with all our hearts, time, money, talents, etc., but we must also know what our limits are and when it is time to call in the professionals. Therefore, directors in children’s ministry should define clearly the limits of responsibility for their team, recognising their skills and backgrounds.

Relationship is more important than truth?

The other potentially dangerous trend concerns the building of relationships with the children. Pressure is put on teacher and children to form strong, deep relationships. This is not wrong; an integral part of ministry to children is to enter into relationship with them as we teach them the Bible and live out the theology.

The danger that is emerging is that the relationship becomes more important than teaching the Bible. It is implied that if children are in relationship with their teacher, they will automatically develop a relationship with Jesus as Saviour. If we consider the way we make relationships the fallacy of this approach is evident. I may have a brilliant relationship with the children I teach, but they will have no relationship with my earthly father unless I tell them about him, take them to meet him and they spend time talking and doing things with him. In the same way, if I want the children I teach to have a relationship with my heavenly Father I must tell them about him, introduce them to him and give them time to listen to what he has to say in his Word, the Bible.

Unfortunately, many teachers are not diagnosing or correcting this misunderstanding. They are even encouraging it. The issue is that relationship has become more important than truth and this is not isolated to children’s ministry. Yes, we need to build strong, long lasting relationships with children, but we must also teach them the truth about sin, judgment and salvation through Jesus alone. Our primary desire must be for the children to come into an eternal relationship with the LORD Jesus as Saviour and friend.

If you are responsible for a teaching team or otherwise involved in children’s ministry try to answer the following questions: * How many teachers/helpers are in your team? * Is your children’s ministry understaffed? * How many men are regularly involved in your children’s/youth ministry? * How often do the teachers teach? i.e. weekly, fortnightly, monthly, 3 out of 4. * How often are your team members in church, being taught God’s Word? * How much time do they spend in prayer for the children and their teaching? * How many hours per week do the teachers spend in preparation? * How many hours have you spent with the teachers explaining Bible study or lesson planning techniques? * How many hours of teacher training have they attended? * How would you evaluate the teaching skills of your team? Excellent, good, average, poor, non-existent. * How often do you conduct review sessions with your teachers/helpers? * Do your teachers/helpers enjoy their ministry with children? * Do they feel undervalued or taken for granted? * Do they understand their gifts for ministry and are those recognised by others in the team? * Do they feel part of the teaching team? * Do they know what the other teachers are teaching or do they work in isolation from them? * How often do they organise special events with the children in their care, outside formal teaching times? * Do you have a large team turnover? * What would happen if you lost your key teacher?

In spite of the many problems and weaknesses apparent in children’s ministry, we should be encouraged by the band of faithful Christians who are getting on with the job of teaching children about our Lord Jesus.

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Trevor and Thalia Blundell run TnT (Teaching’n’Training) Ministries. For 10 years they have developed the young peoples’ work at St Helen’s Bishopsgate.