To many, the differences between Christian denominations are more obvious than the similarities: styles of worship, the ways we interpret the Bible as the Word of God, who decides what, buildings for worship…
Then we discover how much we have in common – how much we share a sense of obligation to help vulnerable people. So we provide meals for hungry people, shelter for homeless people and support for young people who are not coping well on a Friday night. Our faith is about putting God’s love for all into action.
Perhaps we have re-read Jesus’s manifesto when in Luke 4 he preaches on Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue; or we have taken on board the implications of the sheep and goats parable in Matthew 25, not forgetting James 2. The ministries quoted above have a cast-iron basis.
Why then do Christians used to ordained ministry feel the need for a priest or minister – especially during a vacancy? Why not just get on with the practical tasks of being active for God? That is what ‘ministry’ means. Our reformed tradition emphasises this, but so do all churches really, in whatever way they express the fact that faith is empty if not expressed in action. So what is ordained ministry for?
There are obvious answers, e.g. tradition, setting a person apart and the need to administer the sacraments – but none of these is conclusive because some Christians have no ordained ministry at all.
Whether defined by ordination or not, leadership is required, as most of us are followers – and there is nothing shameful about that. We need stimulus, example, inspiration, encouragement, support, guidance, the directing of energies, fresh ideas: someone to put the claims of Christ constantly before us. If we pause to reflect on ourselves and on our church: leadership of that kind is a need, but also a privilege.