< Preacher Development - Leeds NE Programme
The Methodist Church - Leeds (North East) Circuit

Preacher Development

Growing Preachers



by George Lovell

A creative preachers’ in-service training programme, known as a Continuing Local Preachers’ Development (CLPD) Programme has now been running in the Leeds North-East Methodist Circuit since January 2000.

Essentially, the programme is home-grown, grounded in the realities of the local churches in a large circuit. It is facilitated through what can broadly be described as the use of community development and adult education approaches and methods. So far a wide range of lectures, conferences, self-organizing groups, preaching projects, workshops, consultations with every church in the circuit and social events have evolved. The approach is interactive; the subject matter is all embracing. It has included, for instance, basic dynamics in the vocational lives of preachers, the nature of congregations, biblical studies, hermeneutics, preaching to diversity on tricky social issues, congregational prayer and practical sessions on the uses of IT in worship. A data bank of papers was developed. (Concurrently, an extensive preacher’s library was organized.)

Throughout, the programme was developed and owned locally by the circuit preachers and ministers through Local Preachers’ meetings. (Lay and ordained preachers training together is seen to be important.) It was their programme, not a standard product from above: they formed it through thinking their way through a widely based agenda and the input of biblical, development and theological experts.

Information about this worked example could help anyone seriously interested in the continuing training of lay and/or ordained preachers to take personal responsibility for their in-service training and to design and develop programmes, which meet their needs and those of their congregations through locally relevant, grounded and controlled training programmes.

The plan of this part of the website is given below.

I The Outer and Inner Contexts

IV Publications

  1. Published articles
  2. Occasional paper
  3. Article bank

Leeds (North-East) Circuit's Ongoing CLPD Programme

II Programme design and praxis

III The programme

  1. Phases
  2. Group work
  3. Congregational perspectives
  4. Subject matter
  5. Exchange and Mart
  6. Outcomes

To follow the evolution and structure of the Programme systematically examine the sections and the sub-sections in order. You can, of course, dip into the sections as your interest takes you. Clearly, this can be useful and enlightening but you could miss out by failing to get a coherent picture of the overall pattern.


This part is about aspects of preachers’ vocational lives. Further information is given in four subsections:

1. The circuit and its preaching staff
2. The nature of congregations
3. Personal and collective vocations
4. Preaching cycles and reflective practice

Serious attention was given to topics 2 to 4 in session at an early stage in the programme and this had a significant impact on its subsequent development. Preachers of course knew the content of the first topic but, later, as a direct consequence of the discussion on the second topic, decided to find out what people in each local church actually felt about their experiences of congregational life and worship (see Section III: 3, Congregational Perspectives).

The topics covered four interrelated aspects of the outer and inner contexts to the ministry of preaching and demonstrate their importance in preacher development programmes.

The first and second subsections are about important outer given realities of the preacher’s working life. The first is about the Circuit preaching task force and the local preaching places in which this particular CLDP Programme began and continues to operate. This is, of course, well known to the preachers. The second is about the nature of congregations – the characteristics, qualities and attributes, which make them what they are. Preachers realised that it is as important for them to understand the nature of congregations as it is for engineers to understand the properties of the materials they use and for doctors to understand human anatomy. They saw that understanding the constitution of congregations and how they work, preachers are better equipped to achieve their vocational purposes in and through them.

The third and fourth subsections are about inner or personal aspects of preachers’ lives: their personal and collective vocations and the cycles of work through which preachers pursue their vocations.

Through these sessions the preachers became more aware of these outer and inner aspects of their preaching context and the importance of working contextually.


In 2000 The Leeds North-East Circuit had twelve churches (now eleven, one of the inner city churches has closed), six Circuit presbyteral ministers (now four and one probationer minister), one presbyter in a sector appointment and one without appointment (now it has neither), one student minister (now none) and one supernumerary (now two). It had thirty fully accredited local preachers (now twenty three) of whom twenty-six were active (now twenty one), two on trial (still two) and three on note (now one). Together they composed a strong and able preaching force. Many are extremely able and some hold connexional offices. They were well equipped to take on a rigorous training programme and to bring to it a wealth of diverse professional experience.

Two of the churches have black majority congregations, one is a small inner city church, three are village churches, and one is on a large housing estate, and four are strong suburban churches. Most of them have sizeable congregations. Three churches now host growing foreign national congregations (the two with black majority congregations and the small inner city church).


At an early stage in this Programme we, the preachers, took an analytical look at congregations as entities in their own right with a life of their own. We considered their nature, attributes and functions and implications of ministering to and through them. Congregations are the public human face of churches and their predominant and most persistent activity, but they are not to be confused with them. Congregations, large or small, are open but structured groups, each with their own culture, behavioural norms and ethos. Churches, on the other hand, are variously seen as buildings and organized Christian societies with their legal and ecclesiastical constitutions. These points were made to distinguish congregations from churches and to help the preachers to focus on them. Congregations, not churches, are the entities through which local preachers pursue their vocational ministry; presbyters and deacons do so through congregations and churches. The chart below, which gives an overview of the nature of congregations, was used to promote discussion.

Distinguishing between a church and a congregation is, we felt, of fundamental importance to the ministry and mission of the church. “Secondary congregations” are formed when members of congregations use what we have said in services in their conversations (and arguments) with family members, friends, workmates, colleagues and total strangers. In this way we help members of congregations to be secondary preachers and advocates and apologists of Christianity.

CONGREGATIONS: Their Nature, Attributes, Potential, Functions and Contemporary Challenges
Formation and Challenges
Functions and Potential

Congregations are:

  • essential structures of the church and instruments of worship, ministry and mission
  • heterogeneous free associations of people with open physical access and therefore unpredictable in size and mood
  • physically open but access to the inner life and fellowship is controlled by core members and preachers
  • human and divine meeting points and touching places, means of audiences with God
  • places to experience the real presence of Christ
  • examples of the collective socio-spiritual nature of Christianity and thus antidotes to individualism
  • hubs of human networks and grape vines and therefore they have the potential for widespread communication of Christianity
  • a means of evangelism and apologetic instruments in the wider community
  • not audiences for preachers.

Congregational Formation

Congregations are variously formed by divine and human action and interaction and by society, culture over time, tradition and history.

Life cycles of members and ministers pulse through them, sometimes creatively, at other times destructively.

Congregations provide opportunities for preachers to:

assist members and enable them to:

  • worship and adore God
  • seek forgiveness and renew their relationships with God and people
  • be challenged and confronted
  • be called and commissioned
  • reposition themselves and take their bearings in the Kingdom, the Church and the world
  • equip themselves for their Christian lives and vocations in the Church and in the world.

Congregations have the potential to:

  • witness and proclaim the gospel publicly
  • bring people to faith and nurture them in it
  • inform and educate people
  • engage in Christian apologetics in relation to societal development and contemporary events
  • provide pastoral care
  • build up Christian relationships through creating communities and networks

Congregations collect the Church’s principal source of revenue

Contemporary Challenges

Congregations need to model inclusive socio-religious communities in an age of prejudice and xenophobia.

They need to represent passionate, practical and theological concern for justice.

They need to take on the theological and apologetic challenges of post modernity, missiology and evangelism.

They need to be God’s agents of mission and ministry and thereby fulfil their vocation in contemporary society.

The following questions are offered as aids for further reflection about congregations and preaching to them.


1. What strikes you about this profile of congregations?
2. What needs further thought/work?
3. Are there other questions can you suggest?

On the Nature

4. What kind of congregations do we wish to see develop in our circuit?
5. What are the characteristics of the congregations to which we minister?
6. What changes would you like to see?
7. What can you/we do to make them nearer to what we believe they should be?

On Function and Potential

8. What is the output from/effect of our preaching/conducting services that we most value and aim for?
9. What is the output that is needed?
10. What is the nature of your interaction with congregations?

On Contemporary Challenges

11. What do you consider to be the most striking, important, demanding contemporary challenges to those engaged with Christian congregations as preachers and ministers?

Some books for those who wish to study the subject further:

During the past fifty years there has been a growing interest in surveying local churches. In the 60’s, for instance, The Board of Lay Training of the Methodist Church produced booklets to help local people to carry out amateur sociological surveys of their churches, congregations and communities. More professional methods evolved through drawing upon the burgeoning literature on social and community studies and research. For some time interest has been directed to congregations – and it is congregations rather than churches with which preachers engage. Congregational profiling is in vogue. Methods have evolved of describing and interpreting congregations, which draws upon semiology (i.e. signs given by rituals, architecture etc). Some of this is done from the perspective of ministers but as far as one knows not from that of the preacher. The approach in this Programme reflects this growing interest in congregations as congregations and draws upon the growing body of literature and especially the following.

Friedman, Edwin (1985) Generation to Generation – Family Process in Church and Synagogue (The Guilford Press)
Tisdale, Leonora Tubbs (1997) Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art (Fortress Press, Minneapolis) see particularly Chapter 3, “Exegeting the Congregation”
Grundy, Malcolm (1998) Understanding Congregations: A New Shape for the Local Church (Mowbray)
Harris, Margaret (1998) Organizing God’s Work : Challenges for Churches and Synagogues (Macmillan Press Ltd)

But even in this literature, frustratingly and confusingly, “congregation” is sometimes used as a synonym for “church”.

See section III. 3, congregational perspectives


A group of eighteen of us (fourteen local preachers and four ministers) spent a Saturday considering our personal and collective vocations. Each of us had prepared ourselves for the day by reflecting beforehand on the following prompts.

This private preparation greatly enriched our conversation in small groups and our sharing in the full group. The preachers had not previously thought in terms of the collective vocation of the Circuit preachers. Through considering this concept and ways and means in which we might pursue it broke new ground. Ideas poured out excitedly at far too fast a rate to tidy them up on the spot! Full notes were taken (our standard practice) and later the ideas were classified and presented in a written report to the next quarterly Local Preachers’ Meeting for their careful consideration and decision- making. (An example of an ad hoc group doing some creative thinking and then submitting it to a constitutional group not to be rubber-stamped but for rigorous consideration and thoughtful decision-making.) This explosion of thinking and the accompanying surge of interest and commitment affected all the subsequent phases of the Programme. The ideas that emerged and were later adopted and acted upon are summarized below under two headings used at the time. What is striking is the inescapable conclusion that pursuing our personal vocations in the way we said we wanted to do necessarily (not optionally) involves discovering and pursuing our collective vocation. Doing that means, inter alia, adding developmental collaboration to the constitutional, administrative and organizational cooperation in Local Preachers ‘ Meetings.

Preachers, Preaching and their Development
Ways and Means of Preachers Pursuing their Collective Vocation


During one of their CLDP sessions we, the preachers, discussed recurring “preaching cycles”. We considered three sequences which form principal activities of these cycles:

We discussed the range of abilities and personal and spiritual resources and disciplines required to pursue these sequences creatively and noted how the sequences can sometimes flow excitedly and satisfyingly and at other times they can be painful, disturbing and trying. In considering preparation, our discussions focussed on the diverse ways in which we forge sermons through prayer, spiritual preparation and private study of complex religious and secular material. (In other professions, tasks undertaken by a team of researchers, scriptwriters and producers!) When the discussion moved from considering private preparation to the public conduct of worship we noted that the luxury of leisurely revision had been left behind in the study! Our discussion about the final sequence which merges into the first sequence of the next round of the cycle, was about the ways in which we preachers, personally and privately, have to try to make creative responses to the post-preaching emotions we experience such as joy, euphoria, painful self-consciousness resulting from soul-sharing in public and despair at ever being able to get it right.

Reflecting on this linear time line of the cycle and the movements from private to public and public to private was revealing. Amongst other things it led us to see that the interaction between private and public are much more complex and continuous than the time line of the private-public-private sequences would suggest. Our discussion ranged over the following aspects of our experience of this phenomenon. Private and public and inner and outer experiences are not independent sealed domains in our lives, they interpenetrate continuously in our consciousness. Perspectives of our public lives are a continuing part of our private lives. For instance, public aspects of ministry are very much with us in our preparation for future preaching events and in our reflection on past events. This can be energizing or enervating; our private perspective on our public performance can be idealized or distorted, pleasurable or disturbing or distorted or painful. Our inner private lives are always with us in the most public of places and activities. Our feelings can affect us quite dramatically, positively or negatively, even though they are not always a reliable guide of the value of our public performance in worship and preaching. These inner and outer dimensions of our experience oscillate somewhat unpredictably; we can be acutely aware of our inner world in public and of the public world in private. Their respective dominance rises and falls in our consciousness, sometimes through deliberate choice of focus at other times the change is unbidden and unwanted. At best, we know from experience, the tension between the private and public dimensions in our preaching ministry can be creative and enriching even when it causes anxiety and pain. In such circumstance it generates energy (physical, mental and spiritual) within us and finely tunes both our preaching performances and us as preachers. At its worst, however, tension can debilitate us by undermining, sapping and squandering our energy, undermining our confidence and generally impairing our performance.

As we considered this, we realized that our deliberate attempts to focus attention on the private or the public dimensions of our experience are percolated intermittently by the spontaneous unpredictable free flow in our consciousness of the continuous and unpredictable interaction between the inner (subjective) and the outer (objective). It follows the cycle’s time line; it adds personal psycho-spiritual dimensions to the cyclical process. As it attaches itself to the time line tenaciously it profoundly affects its flow, positively and negatively. It constitutes a vital part of our continuing experience of our vocational calling. What we found ourselves doing was conceptualizing well-known vital parts of a complex dynamic process which moves forwards through preaching events and deep into the preacher’s psyche. Of itself this helped us to be better able to deal with them creatively. (Attempts to represent it diagrammatically have failed! It is reminiscent of, but not equal to, the field force around a cable carrying an electric current.)

In one-way or another we have to form these activities into preaching cycles which sustain and satisfy us and contribute to our continuing development. Amongst other things, this means habitually working at and through the cycles thoughtfully, meditatively and prayerfully. Such an approach makes us into “reflective preaching practitioners”. And that is as vital to our development as preachers as it is to that of our preaching praxis. Our CLPD Programme is helping many of us to do just that. (There is a note about reflective practice in section II: 3.)

Following the “pastoral circle” or “hermeneutical circle” concepts they could be referred to as “hermeneutical preaching circles”.


This part has four subsections:
1. Guiding principles
2. Characteristics
3. Approach methods and processes
4. Programme facilitators


The following guiding principles shaped the Programme and determined the approaches and methods used in developing and running it.


The Rev Dr Neil Richardson, a leading participant in the programme, has said that it has three outstanding characteristics which he describes and discusses in an article, “For Such A Time As This” (Epworth Review … ).


The main emphasis in this section is about how we practised the approach, which is easier to state than to do. Possibly its nature is best described through the practice and the several styles and thinking modes and moods deployed.

The Approach

The approaches and methods described in this section are those, which the original facilitating team (Catherine Frieze, George Lovell and Anne Vautrey), used during the first six years of the Programme and which the preachers, by and large, found most acceptable (See Section II: 4). They are associated with the non-directive approach to church and community development, which have been used extensively and written up (see http://www.avecresources.org). As they are designed to get individuals and groups actively engaged in their own development and that of others, they are at one with the guiding principles (Section II: 1) and the aims of the Programme. Amongst other things this approach and the method associated with it stimulate and enable people to examine critically their own thoughts, feelings and ideas and those of others – especially those which are important to them but which they do not want to face. This non-directive approach induces holistic processes, which promote self-help or self-determination in individuals and groups oriented to the common good. It avoids being narcissistic by getting people to reflect inwardly and outwardly.

Practising the Approach

The following bullet points highlight the things that the facilitating team did to put the theory described above into effective practice in the Leeds NE Circuit CLPD Programme. In other words, it lists the methodological equipment used by the team. As such, it must not be taken as a systematic statement of the methods associated with the approach.

Various Learning Styles

Many different learning styles and methods were used in the Programme. Some learning was experiential drawing on the preachers’ own experience and that of other preachers and members of congregations. Some was through teaching and instruction e.g. study days on the NT and sessions on IT. And some was through studying books and theological concepts. All of it was interactive. As already noted, emphasis was placed on preachers accepting responsibility for their own learning and engaging in collaborative learning.

The Different Thinking Moods and Modes of Reflective Praxis in Play

One of the initial Programme items was, “self-reflection which enables preachers to grow”. In all phases the preachers had experiences of various ways and means of reflecting and soul-searching, both individually and collectively, in relation to the practice of preaching. A notable feature of the sessions was that increasingly preachers listened to each other more carefully and helped each other express and work at the points they were trying to make. This was a significant departure from people making their point and arguing their case and debating. This movement was, I am convinced, the result of using the non-directive approach in sessions and in reporting out and back. Progress made in promoting reflective practice was through experiencing its use in this Programme through the following different but complementary activities, rather than through precepts about it.

Analysing and designing which are in the active mood and mode through the disciplined application of mind and heart to the job of exploring, questioning and working things out systematically. It is carried out in various ways through logical dialogues informed by intuitions and hunches; by submitting the product of the imagination to critical scrutiny.

Reflecting is in a relaxed rather than active mood and mode. It allows the free wheeling association of mind and heart with all that is happening in the widest possible context. Reflection is one of a cluster of words such as contemplation, meditation, rumination, and cogitation. They are often used interchangeably to point to a psycho-spiritual activity of taking time out, standing back, to find another take on things; to discover insights that come from seeing things from a different, more objective, open and revealing perspective. This Programme emphasised these processes which helped us to develop our inner vocational lives as “reflective practitioners”, to use Donald Schon’s widely used concept. There are an infinite number of approaches to reflecting. Some of them are highly schematised. You will have your own. None of them are necessarily better than others –they are simply more or less appropriate to people, their temperaments and moods and the situation in which they have to reflect. (As we saw earlier you could be reflecting in detachment or in the quick fire of a public confrontation in a meeting!)

Meditating and reflecting are in quite different moods and modes, relaxed rather than active. They involve concentrating and waiting upon things expectantly, mulling things over, contemplating and cogitating, "listening" to what they might say, pursuing thoughts that arise. Meditation, reflection and prayer are activities, which allow the free wheeling association of mind and heart with all that is happening in the widest possible context. Prayer is a listening to and a dialogue with God.

Formulating learning is in a reflective, reflexive, searching, active, disciplined mood and mode. It involves standing back from things, looking for connections, surveying and scanning for anything that might emerge and finding ways of expressing it accurately.

Doing theology is variously in the active and reflective moods and modes. Applied or practical theology is actively putting beliefs into practice. Experiential theology is reflecting on events. Emergent theology is discovering God working in situations.

These different thoughtful activities range from "direct thinking" to what Koestler calls "thinking aside". They draw and feed upon one another. Working at things systematically and praying about them integrates them, creates a spirituality of its own, generates and releases energy and enables consultors to work more creatively for human and spiritual development. It enhanced the quality of our preaching; it gave us a better grasp on our thoughts and inner feelings and outer circumstances; it deepened and widened our learning.

Sometimes the movement from one mood and mode of thinking to another occurs quite naturally. When that happens it has to be recognised, accepted, respected and used. It happens, for instance, when conversation gives way to a comfortable quietness in which participants are quite clearly thinking deeply. An analytical… conversation merges into a meditative silence. At other times it has to be effected. One of the skills of the art…is to discern which approach to [use]… a structured analytical approach; a meditative reflective period to mull over what has emerged; a time of prayer or to use St Ignatius of Loyola's expressive phrase, “a colloquy with the Lord”.

A Creative Triangle: study; praxis and fellowship

At times there was the danger of aspects of the Programme becoming too “intellectual” or “academic” for some people. This was averted without losing the necessary intellectual content by ensuring that rigorous study was praxis-based and of itself an act of fellowship supported by the koinonia of the Preachers’ Meeting and the study groups. This helped to give the awareness which provided the affective and pastoral support required to engage in collaborative reflection on difficult themes related to the precious vocation of ministry which could be emotive.


Many people were involved in facilitating aspects of the Programme through convening and leading groups, conversing with congregational groups and writing notes and papers on various topics. The following were variously involved in facilitating the whole Programme and writing it up and organizing the website.

Mr John Clay, a local preacher and Secretary to the Leeds North-East Circuit. In 2006 he assumed responsibility with the Superintendent for co-ordinating the Circuit CLPD Programme.

Mrs Catherine Frieze and Mrs Anne Vautrey, Circuit local preachers, facilitated the Programme with the Revd Dr George Lovell for the first six years or so. They have written an article on it for Ichthus.

Revd Dr Jane Craske became superintendent of the circuit in 2007. She is actively involved in the development of the next phase of the programme.

The Revd Dr George Lovell is a supernumerary minister in the circuit. To facilitate the programme he used his extensive experience in non-directive ecumenical church and community training programmes and consultancy work for people at all levels (see www.avecresources.org ). This was the first time he had applied this approach to the in-service training of preachers.

Revd Dr Neil Richardson, Superintendent of the circuit from 2001-2007. He made significant contributions to the biblical and theological study session. He has written an article on the first seven years of this CLPD Programme.

Mr John Summerwill, District Local Preachers’ Secretary who has participated in the programme throughout and convened the group on “preaching to diversity”. He designed, organized and set up this website.


The programme was sparked off spontaneously in January 2000 when a facilitating team was appointed. It is about to enter its fifth phase in January 2008.

Community development processes were used in the first four phases of this Programme to get at apposite subject matter, and adult educational processes to work at it. The fifth phase is at the planning stage.

Essentially it is a self-development programme originally for preachers (lay and ordained) and, latterly, for worship leaders. For the main part, it is planned, and resourced locally by preachers and ministers who are able to draw upon several disciplines. Visiting lecturers have helped with some, but not all, the day conferences. The emergence and evolution of this programme has not been without its difficulties and risks. Certainly it has involved a lot of hard but ultimately satisfying work. Many aspects and events have buzzed with intellectual and spiritual excitement, revealed new insights, and given new momentum to preaching.

This part has six subsections:

1. Phases
2. Group work
3. Congregational perspectives
4. Subject matter
5. Exchange and Mart
6. Outcomes


To date there have been four phases.

Phase One: working systems in which preachers operate, the nature of congregations and helping them to pray, and the individual and collective vocations of preachers, March 2000 to March 2001.

Phase Two: learning about a local black majority church and a NT study day, July 2001 to July 2003.

Phase Three: obtaining and considering perspectives of circuit congregations, and self-organizing study groups, August 2003 to October 2004.

Phase Four: a range of self-organizing study groups on, inter alia, preaching to diversity, on tricky social issues, hermeneutics, NT studies and socializing, October 2004-July 2007.

Phase Five is at the planning stage, January 2008.

[In October 2009 an extraordinary meeting discussed the possibility/advisability of using forms of consultancy for preacher development. See report]

Further details of Phases 1 to 4 are charted in the following flow chart.

Figure 1: Chart of events and developments of the Continuing Local Preachers’ Development Programme Leeds North East Circuit 2000-2007
Phase 1
Phase 2
Phase 3
Phase 4
January-March 2000
March 2000 - March 200
1 July 2001 - July 2003
August 2003 - October 2004
October 2004 - July 2007
Basic dynamics in the vocational lives of preachers and congregations
Local ethnic congregations and a NT study day
Perspectives on circuit congregations, study day and self-organising groups
Self-organising study groups and projects: NT studies and socialising
  • Spontaneous origins
  • Facilitating team formed
  • Preparatory work
  • Building pictures of 12 congregations and discussing them in LP Meeting
  • Study day on Gospel of Luke
  • Introduction of self-organising groups on NT and Reading Group
  • Racial & Ethnic Issues weekend workshop
  • Sessions on designing new programme in LP Meetings
  • 2 NT study days (Mark and Paul)
  • Self-organising groups:
    • 2 study groups
    • 4 developmental preaching project groups
  • 2 social events
  • Exchange and Mart


  • Formal training of Local Preachers On Trial
  • Church and circuit Bible studies
  • Circuit consultations/conferences on worship
  • Liturgical experiments
  • Groups for re-thinking Christianity
  • Public discussions on Christianity
  • Critical issues: various natural disasters and political events



For the first phase of the CLPD Programme, sessions were an integral part of routine quarterly Local Preachers’ Meetings, apart, that is, from study days, which were on Saturdays. A major advantage of this arrangement was that all those at these meetings engaged in training sessions – and there were a small but significant number of faithful members of these meetings who did not attend training events. But the time in these meetings was limited to one or one and a half hours and even this was frequently eroded through the pressure of other urgent business. Increasingly it became clear that finding adequate time in scheduled meetings for the expanding Programme was going to be quite impossible. So the Facilitating Team suggested a two-fold approach: the formation of self-organizing and programming groups which reported progress to and shared and discussed their findings with the members of the Local Preachers’ Meetings in the quarterly sessions allocated to CLPD business. The preachers adopted this idea enthusiastically and immediately set up three groups in 2003: a reading group; a multi-media training group; a N.T study group. This meant that although not all the preachers participated in the groups, all the members of the Local Preachers’ Meeting continued to be informed and involved in the training programme.

A year later this arrangement was working extremely well but the accumulation of a large number of outstanding topics identified by the preachers caused another time problem. To tackle them serially, the Facilitating Team realized, would have taken years even with the use of self-organizing groups. This would have been tedious and drained the lifeblood from the Programme. Prioritising by selecting a few topics could sever important links between the subjects. At this point the Team came up with the idea of “developmental preaching projects” which would be undertaken by a self-programming group and share its findings in Local Preachers’ Meetings. Each of these would be a preaching praxis project. They would tackle holistically a cluster of subjects related to developmental needs identified by local churches and preachers. This approach was also accepted enthusiastically. Eight projects were outlined and four were completed between 2004-2007. They were:

The groups and projects were highly effective. Each study and project group decided on the time they could/were prepared to give to the task. Some were open groups (i.e. anyone could attend sessions) others were closed groups for the sake of continuity. Some met for a few sessions others became long-term study and project groups lasting up to three years. This arrangement had several advantages: it generated clusters of learning and project groups operating simultaneously which cross fertilized through CLPD Meetings; it generated new excitement and a buzz of expectation; it increased the depth of the work done on the subject matter; it led to an enormous increase in the time given to developmental training; it involved preachers taking responsibility for their own learning programmes and for reporting out their findings to the Local Preachers’ Meetings. These reports stimulated qualitative sharing and further discussions, which rewarded all involved. They integrated the various elements into a holistic Programme owned by the Preachers’ Meeting. Without them, the Programme could have ground to a halt.

From 2003 to 2007 the groups and the projects completed a vigorous cycle of work. The next phase of work is to be decided in January 2008.


Stimulated by the earlier discussions about the nature and potential of congregations (cf I: 2), the local preachers and ministers decided to explore what people were actually experiencing in and through congregational worship and life in each of the Circuit Churches. After consideration of various options they did this through face- to-face conversations with small groups of people rather than through a questionnaire survey of the members of each congregation.

Church councils formed groups of people with knowledge of their congregations able and willing to talk openly about their experiences with preachers. Pairs of preachers had conversations with the groups; one preacher led the conversation whilst the other observed and took notes. Twelve local preachers and one supernumerary minister took part in this exercise. They were prepared for these conversations by a briefing paper produced by the facilitating team and through an orientation session they organised.

Emphasis was placed on the use of open rather than loaded questions, on listening rather than putting words into people’s mouths or telling or arguing with them. (All this was a reversal of roles: preachers normally talk whilst members of congregations listen.) The visitors, as they were called, went for depth. They were encouraged to use what has been described as “circular questioning” which encouraged people to set their thinking and experience in relation to that of others and how they interacted with them as they agree or disagree about significant issues. They structured the conversations around a sequence of topics: the composition of congregational life; people’s feelings and attitudes to worship in its various forms; congregational energy levels, moods and ethos; world- and church- views amongst members and their effects on congregational life and values; their congregation’s response to “Our Calling”; relationships with other congregations in the Circuit and in their area.

Visitors wrote records of the conversations, checked them out with the groups, let the minister in pastoral charge have a copy and invited their comments. Some groups checked them out with their Church Council and/or members. Suitably amended reports, 1-2 sides of A4, were then sent to all the preachers and subsequently carefully considered at a quarterly local preachers’ meeting. Visitors informed church groups of the Preachers’ discussion and the outcome of the Programme of Conversations.

This ambitious programme took some eighteen months to complete. The visits could have been completed in a shorter time but routine Preachers’ Meetings could do justice to only one or two of the eleven reports. In the event a special meeting proved to be necessary to complete the process.

Outstanding features of this project were the quality of the discussions with congregational groups, reports, their presentation and the conversations they kindled. Discussions that ensued in the Local Preachers’ Meetings were impressive and memorable experiences. They were profound expressions of the love and affection the preachers clearly felt for each of the congregations and their pastoral, professional and missiological concerns. An abiding memory of the discussions is of people sitting forward in their seats totally engrossed in the whole experience as sessions went over the allotted time.

The conversations and the discussions had all round positive effects. They produced information, insights and understandings, which proved to be useful not only to the preachers and to the churches but also, through them to the Circuit Stewards and the Circuit. (Frequently preachers who had ministered to congregations for a very long time said, “I never knew that”. “Goodness! That explains so many things”.) New perspectives on preaching and worship were generated which helped local church leaders, preachers, ministers and councils think more comprehensively, coherently and holistically about congregational life and worship in “our” circuit churches and become more contextually aware. All-round deeper empathic connections and vocational bonding between the preachers themselves and between them and the churches and the ministers occurred. The project revitalized the CLPD Programme and generated a new wave of energy. The ideas and insights into what was needed helped to form a comprehensive training agenda grounded in congregational realities as revealed by the conversations and the preacher’s exploration of them.

This brief and orderly presentation could leave the impression that everything went smoothly. By and large it did, but not without hesitations, hitches and some anxiety about such a demanding undertaking. Initially some preachers saw the exercise to be an unprofessional attempt to survey and profile congregations and foresaw the danger of obtaining narrow and distorted perspectives. Gradually, these concerns were allayed:

Other concerns were: danger of intimidating people by taking the lids off “cans of worms”; arousing unrealistic expectations; having demands put upon preachers which they cannot or do not want to meet; gaining information at some cost which is of little or no use. These things were carefully considered. Unavoidably there were risks in inviting people to say what they think and feel. But it was agreed that they can be reduced by explaining the nature of the exercise to participants, discussing with them how to cope with possible dangers and keeping open the possibility of further dialogue. However, it was realised that there was no guarantee that the results would be of value and worth all the effort required. Facing up to the risk factor was important but in the end deciding to go ahead was an act of faith in each other, the potential we glimmered in the project and our belief in the integrity of what we were trying to do. There were continuing anxieties about the viability of the project until reports started to come in and the invaluable insights and understandings were obtained as a broad spectrum of perspectives came into view. Fortunately, therefore, our act of faith in this many-sided interactive process was justified and the identified pitfalls avoided.

“Perspectives on Circuit Congregations” was, in fact, a practical outworkings of the theory sessions in Phase One about the private and public dynamics of the systems in which preachers operate, the nature attributes and functions of congregations and ministering in and through them and about personal and collective vocations. By enabling preachers to work at the actualities of their congregations it linked practice and theory.


This is an indicative list of the subjects which were studied arranged alphabetically. As presented the list is after the style of an index rather than a list of contents. The length of time given to these studies varied considerably. Some subjects and topics were pursued in study days with visiting lecturers. Others were studied in self-programming preaching projects. A few sessions were given to some subjects but one took over two years and involved pursuing a range of topics revealed by studying the initial theme. Eventually it is hoped to produce notes about some if not all these topics

A wide array of other topics arose in the discussions of the Reading Group.

6. Outcomes
1. Published articles
2. Occasional paper
3. Article bank



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