Geoff Moore: A fuller unity
Asking, “What can we learn from other denominations?” Geoff Moore applies receptive ecumenism to the practice of building healthy churches.
March 30, 2010 | Editor’s note: As the Christian landscape changes, leaders must ask and answer a new question: What’s the future of denominations? This interview is part of an occasional series that offers insight on this vital issue. To see the entire series, click here.
Geoff Moore, a professor of business ethics at Durham University, Durham, U.K., says churches need to create institutional structures that reflect well on their core faith. As a member of the “Receptive Ecumenism and the Local Church” research project in the northeast region of England, Moore works to understand how lessons and practices from one denomination might apply to others in ways that strengthen both. The project began about two and a half years ago.
Moore is a founding member and former chair (2002-2004) of the UK Association of European Business Ethics Network. He serves on the editorial boards of “Business Ethics Quarterly,” “Journal of Business Ethics” and “Business Ethics: A European Review.”
Q: You’ve been involved with a research project on receptive ecumenism in the local church. What is receptive ecumenism?
The basic idea is that ecumenical relationships tend to be “What have we got that others need to learn from us?” The receptive ecumenist says, “What could we learn from the others?” What could the Catholic Church learn from the Methodist Church and vice versa? What could they both learn from the Anglican Church? If the churches [approach dialogue] from a learning mode rather than a teaching mode, that might affect their practice. As that progresses you might find the churches coming closer together.
Q: How did you become involved in the project?
The Centre for Catholic Studies in Durham got this project going. The idea was for theologians in northeast England to get together and produce a book. Different Christian denominations would state what they were about, in theology and practice and so forth. The idea was that if the denominations begin to compare and contrast, there will be the opportunity for learning.
As part of that project, they had to think about church as an organization. At that point they turned to the business school and said, “Is there anybody up there who might be interested in engaging with us?” And I was certainly one who was interested.
Q: Can you tell us about the particular areas the project is looking at?
The group I’m involved in is looking at governance and finance. The other two are leadership and ministry, and learning and formation.
The leadership and ministry one is looking at the role of ordained ministers -- their leadership styles and how appropriate they are for the different denominations.
The learning and formation one has to do with how both laity and ordained are formed. What training do the ordained ministers go through? How is laity formed in the faith? What’s the process people use for catechism, for ordained education and so forth?
The governance and finance group is looking at the organizational perspective. How do these different churches govern themselves? What’s the structure, and where is the decision-making power? Is it with individual groups? Who looks after what? We’re also looking at what sort of strategies they’re coming up with.
On the finances side of it, we looked at how well-resourced these different churches are. Are they running a surplus or a deficit? What’s the link between the different levels of the church? We look at the financial situation in local congregations, at the intermediate levels and then the regional levels such as dioceses.
Q: What are you finding out?
The churches are struggling with two interrelated issues. Many of these churches are in decline numerically; as a result, many of them are struggling financially. Also, a number of them haven’t got enough people coming forward to be ordained ministers. Even if they had enough people coming forward, they wouldn’t necessarily have enough money to train them, to ordain them and then pay them when they got out there in ministry.
The churches are struggling with decline in different ways. In many cases, local congregations merge. Increasingly you’ve got a minister looking after four, five, six or more rural parishes. That changes what you can expect from the minister. One clear thing coming out of this is that the laity are being encouraged to take on more roles in the church, both practical and spiritual. They’re not only running the Sunday school, they’re also leading worship.
In the Anglican Durham Diocese we now have more readers than we have ordained clergy. They’re lay people who are trained theologically to lead worship. A number of churches are training lay people to take on roles around pastoral care. There’s no longer an expectation that the minister will be the person who does all the visiting within the church. It can be done by a layperson.
Q: Are you hoping that people will look to other traditions for solutions, to ask if they have something that might help?
That’s right. We’re trying to understand what that means at the local level, how the churches are handling it. The minister was somebody who worked alone, as it were, a one-man band. Now, the minister is part of the team. Ministers are not expected to run the show but to be the conductor of the orchestra. Maybe they’ve got a number of parishes to look after and they’re working collaboratively with other ministers and with lay people.
The decline context is very familiar across the different denominations. That forces churches to think strategically. If the income and expenditure are pretty much in balance and you’ve got a minister, then you don’t need to think strategically about the church as an organization. From the work that we’ve done so far, it’s clear that most churches are struggling with what it means to think strategically.
Q: Why is that?
It’s not been a factor in the past, so we’re not used to doing it; we haven’t got ministers who are trained to do it. We don’t want to do strategy, because it feels uncomfortable. Strategy is something that businesses do. It feels like the wrong terminology. We want the church to be church. We don’t want the church to be a business. I can quite understand that.
At the same time, a relatively senior-level person in the diocese said to me, “If we don’t have a strategy, then I don’t know how to deploy the resources.” We’ve got limited resources. We’ve got to make some choices. Can we develop material that might help churches do strategy in ways appropriate for church?