The Methodist Church - Leeds (North East) Circuit

Preacher Development


A personal view by John S. Summerwill

What is CLPD?

Every local preacher admitted since 1995 has a duty under Standing Order 568 to participate in ‘a programme of continuing local preacher development’ (CLPD), and all preachers have a duty ‘to continue to develop and study by appropriate means’.

Annually, in my role as District Local Preachers’ Secretary, I circulate to the Circuit Local Preachers’ Secretaries a questionnaire supplied by the Local Preachers’ Office which they are required to complete. It asks, among other things, how many local preachers are involved in a CLPD programme. For years, the number of preachers reported as involved has borne no relation to what one might expect from the standing order. I suspect that if people associate CLPD with individualised programmes and one-to-one appraisal, they report nothing happening: if they associate it with retreats, study days, book sharing, etc, they see most preachers as participating. Very few circuits have a regular programme, but very few have no study day or other opportunity for preachers to share in activities that assist their development. Discussions with my counterparts in other Districts have confirmed my view that this difference of interpretation is widespread. My feeling is that there is little agreement in the Connexion about what CLPD is, and very little enthusiasm for the type of programme that the Local Preachers’ Office has, for more than a decade, encouraged (and which—ironically—has been little appraised and hardly improved in that time).

Seed growing secretly

This must not be taken to indicate that preachers are complacent, set in their ways of thinking and acting, unable or unwilling to learn anything new, to change and to grow. No doubt some are, some have grown weary, and many would do more reflecting and study if they were not so overwhelmed by the demands of work, family responsibilities and a diary full of other church-related activities. Most, though, are engaged in CLPD in ways different from the connexional model. If we limit CLPD to refer only to a systematic programme of further training, we may overlook the fact that development and growth may be happening in a whole variety of ways—and almost certainly is—even in the lives of busy preachers who have no time for serious reading.

What should be distinctive about the ministry of local preachers is that they live simultaneously in the church and in the secular world and seek to communicate to the one what they have learned and experienced in the other, and the interaction between them. It is a ministry that takes to its heart the principle of incarnation, seeking to find Christ in the workplace as well as in the sanctuary. What local preachers should be able to bring to the pulpit is their theological reflection on their own experience of life, seen from their own unique perspective: that of mother, doctor, retiree, manual worker, teacher, shop assistant, student, farmer, accountant, or whatever. We may learn from all manner of sources and resources: from the obvious theological sources—the Bible, hymns, devotional books, theological textbooks, etc—but from secular sources too, such as newspapers and TV documentaries, films, plays, novels, conversations and arguments, meetings and discussions—and even from other preachers’ sermons. Whether we learn, and what we learn, depends perhaps less on the source and the method than on our openness of mind and spirit. Much may come to us, if we are open to receive it, without any effort or planning. We learn and grow much more, though, if we make time for it, put effort into it, and work systematically at it. Some organisation and discipline, some cooperation with other preachers to create opportunities for reflection and sharing of ideas, can help us to see what we might otherwise miss, and so a programmed approach to CLPD can be of value. The question is, how best to organise it so that it is manageable, attractive and effective.

Doing CLPD by the book

The connexional CLPD scheme is one way of organising and promoting CLPD. It is not well known except to newly accredited preachers because it is only available in printed form as Unit 18 of the Faith & Worship course (published 2004, £4.95 + postage from MPH). It is not on the connexional website.

This model for CLPD identifies three broad areas in which growth needs to take place:

It recognises that each of us has different needs, and says:

‘…the Local Preachers’ Office felt it would be inappropriate for the CLPD programme to be a prescribed study course or a series of books for all to follow. CLPD is a process rather than a content. The need for flexibility is recognised, and a general framework is offered rather than a detailed syllabus.’

What one would expect to follow from such a commendable principle would be a range of examples of different ways in which growth might be encouraged. Unfortunately, that is not what Unit 18 offers. We soon find that there is, apparently, one and only one way of doing CLPD, which requires:

  1. self-evaluation
  2. initial meeting with our supporter
  3. a service upon which there is feedback on the aspects we ask for comment upon
  4. feedback
  5. identification, with the help of our supporter, of the work we would like to undertake in relation to the three key aspects of our ministry during the next two to three years
  6. beginning the work
  7. ongoing support and modification of the work we have set ourselves to do.

This ‘framework’ is then explained in detail, but with very few examples, and those of a rather banal and unimaginative kind (e.g. read a gospel with the aid of a commentary; follow a guide book to a particular approach to prayer; attend the circuit retreat day). The only flexibility is a limited choice of emphasis and options within this single appraisal model. Although the model does recognise that there is scope for sharing parts of the program with other preachers, its primary focus is on the individual, and much of it is given over to introspection.

An appraisal of appraisal

I have no doubt that this model does appeal to those preachers who appreciate the discipline provided by a focused, systematic approach, based on realistic goal-setting and enabling recognisable and satisfying achievement. They may derive much benefit from it. It has much to commend it. As I have already indicated, though, it does not suit everyone, and it is not the only way in which preachers can continue to develop; these are some of the reasons why it has not been widely welcomed and implemented. There is remarkably little in it to feed the imagination, and little recognition that if preaching is to engage with the lives and concerns of our congregations, the knowledge, understanding and theological reflection in which preachers need to grow is to be found outside the church, not only within it; in non-religious books, as well as in gospel commentaries; in interfaith dialogue as much as in church housegroups; in learning from science, history, sociology, biography, ethics, philosophy, as well as from books of theology. For many of us, I suspect, our preaching would be more effective if we spent less time in ecclesiastical company and devotionalism, and ‘got a life’, as they say.

An alternative

This website offers an alternative to the connexional model of how to do CLPD. We did not set out to find an alternative. It has grown upon us as we have reflected on our needs and on the ways in which we have sought to meet them. We want to share it not so that others can imitate it (—every circuit team of preachers needs to find its own way—) but so that others can see that there are many ways of doing CLPD and be inspired as we have been.

We commend it as an approach that is:

For the background to our approach and what we have done, see CLPD in Leeds NE

For what we are doing, see Current Programmes

For ideas on implementing a programme in your own circuit, see How to Develop Training

Ways and means

I am certain that none of my preaching colleagues would consider our programme to be the only way in which we personally engage in CLPD. In addition to what, in our circuit, we do together as preachers, like preachers everywhere we also learn and grow through preparation for preaching, worship in other preachers’ services, involvement in the life of the local church and circuit, in family life and social relationships, in work, community and political involvement, charitable work, reading and devotional life, formal and informal studies for qualifications, self-improvement or recreation, and in various other ways. The privileges, opportunities and responsibilities that come with our calling to be preachers are ones we dare not take lightly. We seek always to ‘improve our talent with due care’ so that what we offer to God and God’s people is the best that we can give.

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