Better Together

Many years ago the Bishops of Liverpool, Warlock and Shepherd wrote a book together called “Better together” that for me signifies what collaborative ministry is all about. We are practising what it means to work with multidisciplinary teams, paid and unpaid, in the circuit setting but also working in other teams in the wider community.

Warrington circuit has 11 churches, 9 fresh expressions of worship, 900 members, a community role of 5500 and on average 28 acts of worship per week. There are 10 other projects/activities within the circuit. We are on the eastern edge of the Liverpool district and are bordered by the M6, M62 and M56 The 11 churches in the circuit are grouped into five partnerships.

What does the Warrington team look like?

~**A Business manager*~~*An Administrator*~~*3 Community development workers*~~*A Youth worker*~~*An Elderly person worker*~~*3 Family workers*~~*18 Partnership enablers*~~*15 Presbyters [4 of whom are in pastoral charge]*~~*A Vicar & a Curate*~~*6 Circuit stewards**~

What some of these are are self-explanatory and I will come to Partnership enablers later.

The presbyteral staff are trying not to work in a “traditional” role with the focus being on “mission not maintenance” and their work is focused as much as possible outside of the church structures. We are trying to move away from “my church my minister” whilst still trying to offer the consistency that is required to nurture, disciple, teach and pastor at a local level and that is hard. For us collaborative practice is about lay and ordained, paid and unpaid, working together in a circuit situation, which for us is expressed in partnerships.

How does this look today?L~

The short answer to this is MESSY (!) and for me as Superintendent it feels like trying to turn a tanker 180 degrees. It contains no “norms”. It is requiring a great deal of change and collaboration from church members and the staff, both paid and unpaid, within the partnerships. The Partnership enablers are unpaid lay people who have a pivotal task in doing what the role suggests enabling the partnerships. Presbyteral staff are becoming much more responsible for facilitating and enabling mission with the Partnerships themselves taking more responsibility for their own day to day “business as usual” activities, for example with ongoing day to day pastoral care, collaborative practice means that any one of the presbyteral team might visit in hospital.

We have found in our churches a rich diversity of gifts and skills, which we have intentionally and purposefully nurtured to enable us to engage in mission. People are doing things now and functioning in roles they, and we, never thought possible and it is the same for us as presbyters. We too are having to learn new skills. The partnerships are not just ‘church to church’ but also with local schools, ecumenical groups, nursing homes, community youth workers, police, local libraries, churches together groups, i.e. nothing that many of you will not already be working with. The partnership system means that decisions are made locally and the local church members are making those decisions based on aims and objectives they have set.

We started in the partnerships with a skill audit, which enables us to fit round pegs in round holes and suggests an area of mission that people can get involved in.

Teams practising together and collaborating in this way is not a hierarchical structure. It’s flat, participative and fluid and therefore the levels of achievement are high and can lead to (if not handled well) competition in the partnerships and among the team. Presbyters used to working in a traditional model of ministry are free to pursue ‘pet’ projects but have to work in a priority setting space. Collaborative practice means praying and playing together; it means eating together and debating to come to consensus; it means accepting each others’ limitations and rejoicing in each others’ gifts and it is a place where diversity is celebrated. I have found that team members who come from secular organisations fit more readily into this way of working then those who have worked in the church in more traditional roles. Collaborative practice means not expecting as a presbyter you have to do everything.

It also means for me as superintendent that I share my role with two lay people, one a business manager the other a circuit steward. This means for me policy development, priority setting, strategy, sharing the leadership and management of the circuit and sharing in the chairing of all meetings.

We have made a lot of mistakes but on the whole have learned from them. There is a tendency to over work as there is so much enthusiasm engendered and therefore we have a charter for ministry and our business manager is now developing a similar charter for all our lay staff. Contained within the charter are a number of appointments and suggestions for time out, study and development, which take seriously work life balance. Staff with children take time out during school holidays and we don’t do August: we take a break and do not do any meetings except those we have designated priority.

What are we working on together?L~

Again, lots of projects that you will be doing. We are working with the homeless, doing multigenerational family work, and partnering with Youth for Christ. We have developed Sticky Church, a version of Messy Church with the logo of WWJS - What Would Jesus Stick? We have a ‘New Song Café’, and some ‘Stronger Together’ development groups.

Collaborative practice means identifying the gifts and skills required to achieve an objective and building the team with the necessary gifts and talents. This has to my mind implications for stationing. With Mapping A Way Forward and potentially bigger circuits, we may have the flexibility to move staff around to work on special projects for a limited time frame. In Warrington this will need to be the next stage of the collaborative process. This has started in a small way by all of our three Sticky Church teams planning together.

A Christian ministry team is a manageable group of diversely gifted people who hold one another accountable to serve joyfully together for the glory of God by

~**Sharing a common mission*~~*Embodying the loving message of Christ*~~*Accomplishing a meaningful ministry*~~*Anticipating transformative results**~

We know this to be true, but collaborative practice is hard for the presbyter who has not had a good experience of supportive colleagues or has worked in a circuit where ‘you keep to your own section’.

Collaboration means that the presbyter is a member of a team and not necessarily the leader of that team. For example I am in two teams, one where our family worker takes the lead and another where a Local Preacher takes the lead.

This sort of collaborative working needs to be underpinned with a theology of ministry for presbyters that requires us to be vulnerable and it should challenge us to reflect upon God’s grace in calling us to “ordination”.

Macchia [1993] identified five traits of a healthy team:


I would like to add another: Leadership; for collaborative practice to work well it needs to be led.

And the question that should be on your minds now is

‘Does this model of collaborative ministry work?’L~

Well, for us it is a three part answer: yes, no, maybe.

If you ask me if we have increased our membership figures since we started this, the answer is no. We have helped into heaven as many of our folk as we have made new members.

If you asked me how many more people do we have engaging with different sorts of mission, being discipled, attached in some way to the church and attending worship, I can tell you that it is in the region of 200 adults and children and rising all the time. Yes!

It is a maybe because presbyters are key to collaborative practice and we have to do things differently and we would say we are at the transitional stage of moving from a traditional model of ministry to a new one and that is an educational process.

And it is a maybe because we are only just on the starting blocks and we have much more radical change ahead of us if the tanker is to turn and the churches are to be geared up to meet the present age. But I believe by practising collaborative ministry we can do that.