I want to engage with Kathryn's comment on my 'doomed' post. Kathryn writes: "I'm just wondering what, under the "membership" model of church, happens to those who don't see themselves as members anywhere, but who clearly value and engage with the ministry of their vicar. Far more of my time, & by far the most fruitful spiritual encounters here are with those outside the church, who see me as "their vicar" because they have a strong sense of local community. I totally understand that we have passed the point of no return with the current situation - but I cling to the idea that I am here above all to serve those who are not members of the church."
This provokes several thoughts from me. Firstly I very much agree with Tim that "in New Testament Christianity the entity which is supposed to serve the whole community is the church, not the vicar" - in other words, it is the common vocation of all Christians to carry out such service, not the separate vocation of the ordained.
I don't believe that it is possible to understand the role of the priest separately from that of the mission of the church as a whole, and specifically the function of the laity within the world. To understand the priestly role distinct from that of the laity is like trying to understand the purpose of a shoe without considering the sole, that which actually makes contact with the ground. I think this is a problem with many of the discussions about 'models of ministry' (including some of my own thoughts).
What then is the priority of the priest? Inside or out? By which I mean, should the work of the priest be centred upon those who gather for worship and teaching, or on those who have yet to hear the message? Not so long ago, within a culture which still assumed and shared much of the teaching of Christianity it was possible to do both - and this is reflected in the ordinal. Yet in the present context it is radically destructive to pretend that the ordained can carry out the same tasks in the same way as before. We need to choose, and to choose wisely.
According to Scripture (mediated here) the Biblical model for leadership involves three things, and three things only: being of good character, maintaining sound doctrine, and having the ability to teach. I believe that the church is suffering from a lack of focus on these elements, and that the poverty of sound teaching is one of the principal reasons for the withering away of faith.
Perhaps the point is to discriminate between those who are called to work within a church to ensure that the members are formed for discipleship, and those who are called to work outside the church as missionaries and evangelists. Both sorts might be priests, but let us call the first 'pastors' and the second 'missionaries'. This ministry might overlap on occasion, but there are different gifts needed for each, and continuing to expect the one person to excel in all areas is likely to continue to contribute to our decline.
There is another element to be pondered here, which is the cost of such work. For how long should a particular congregation be expected to pay for work to be done outside of the church at the expense of work inside the church, if this means that the church itself is shrinking? (I take shrinkage to be the natural consequence of either insufficient or inappropriate pastoring.) Of course, the church must engage in missionary work - and such work is especially essential in England at this time - but missionary work is a sign and product of a spiritually healthy community, and the decline of the Church is eloquent testimony that such a description does not apply.
I would want to argue that the most effective missionary work is done on a small scale, from a Christian to a non-Christian, person by person. Such work can be fostered and encouraged by the right sort of leadership, but it cannot be carried out by them. It is when each individual Christian is given all joy and hope in believing the gospel that the gospel is inevitably shared and allowed to grow. I would see that as the expected consequence of a healthy 'pastor' type ministry, and that is why I would want to argue that the principal focus of the stipendiary priest of the Church of England needs to be internal work with the "membership" rather than external work into the community.
Taking forward the logic of this, however, causes much pain.