March 2007
Christian Formation

Formation Through Total Ministry

In congregations that have adopted — or are considering — a program of Total Ministry, (sometimes called mutual ministry, or ministry of the baptized) the church is working at becoming a ministering community rather than a community gathered around a minister.

And in this model the role of the vestry is crucial because serving on the vestry is as surely a ministry as preaching, or teaching (whether Sunday School or public school or home school), or helping serve meals at the soup kitchen.

It is always an interesting exercise to take stock of the ministry now being performed in a congregation. Often even obvious examples of service to others are overlooked until someone identifies it. And often the ministry in the world being performed by members of the church is not recognized as ministry by those actually doing it.

We can answer the question “Where is your church?” with a street address. But we can also respond by saying: “My church is more than a building; it’s the people that matter. Some are teaching school. Some are working in the hospital. Some are at home and sick.”

We are the church
The realization that we — all of us — are the church can lead us to begin acting in new ways. And those congregations that have developed this model have often found a renewal of energy in outreach and social justice projects. As people begin to recognize and exercise their ministries through intentional reflection and formation, a natural result is for energy to be focused on the needs in the community.

The vestry can, and should, be a central part in this process of formation of ministers within the congregation:

  • By participating in the leadership of the committee structure to help members identify and develop their own gifts; 
  • By NOT doing everything that needs to be done, but asking someone new to get involved; 
  • By assessing the strengths and gifts of their members and encouraging their use within the larger community.

As people begin to study and work together, and get to know each other better, they are likely to become more interested in the mission of the church, and less concerned about the maintenance of the church.

That doesn’t mean that maintenance is unimportant. But it does mean that as we respond to God’s call to us in baptism that our concern, our interest, will be in helping those around us who are in need of that help.

It’s a model that St. Paul tried to teach us. And it can provide a fulfilling, spirit-filled adventure for all of us on the journey.

The Rev. Richard Snyder is priest-in-charge of St. Michael’s in Brigham City, Utah, and communicator in the Diocese of Utah. Basic information about the concept of Total Ministry is available through the Congregational Development Office of the Episcopal Church and its website.

This article is part of the March 2007 Vestry Papers issue on Christian Formation