Busking the Gospel in Secular Employment

Added about a month ago by James M. M. Francis

GUEST BLOG: Self-supporting ministry is not a new phenomenon, but it has experienced renewed interest of late. Is this the model for twenty-first-century ministry? James M. M. Francis explores some of the issues.

Busking the Gospel is a book on non-stipendiary or (as a now preferable term) self-supporting ministry, which focuses specifically on ordained ministry in secular employment (MSE). The aim is twofold: to undertake some serious theological reflection on MSE, and to offer some practical help to enable such clergy (and the church generally) to grow in the awareness of the scope and potential of this ministry in the contemporary world. (As an historical note, MSE was the original impetus for the emergence of self-supporting ministry in the Church of England in the late 1960s.)

There have always been clergy (deacons and priests) who have earned a living and explored their ministry through supporting themselves. However, as the church finds itself living in a fast-changing world and is developing fresh initiatives in mission, there is a renewed interest in MSE and the vocation to unite a sacramental ministry with daily life and work.

Rosalind Brown in her foreword says:

We are called to work with God’s continuing action for the transformation of the world which has as a prerequisite, Spirit-guided, incarnational engagement with the world, expressed in part through our work. This book focuses on MSE, but, in doing so, it is about far more than that. It contains wisdom on ministry and ordination and on work, which all Christians would benefit from absorbing. As Jim Francis writes, ‘Far from being at the edge of the Church as a form of ministry, MSE is actually somewhere at the centre of what the Church is about in a vision of the gospel and purposeful living’.

The book seeks to encourage and affirm those who are exploring a vocation to, and those who have embraced, this form of ministry to understand some key themes theologically, missionally and formationally attendant upon its varied forms of expression. It thereby wishes to remind the church of the key contribution that MSEs make through their ministry within the structures and opportunities of working life, and to value some key perspectives that inform and shape ministry in secular employment. To that end those who rightly advocate for MSE recognise that at a fundamental level this is not only about a particular form of ministry but shapes how the church engages with the world of work generally. As the title suggests, the metaphor of “busking” conveys a sense of how this expression of ordained ministry is characterised by improvisation. The first chapter reviews self-supporting ministry in relation to the world of work. Chapter two then offers four characteristics of a busking style, exploring how they resonate with the ministry of Jesus. Chapters three and four explore how the dimensions of discipleship, ministry, calling (vocation) and society guide MSE in general, and suggest ways of busking with them. Chapter five examines some outcomes for mission and accountability in MSE perspective. And chapter six then returns to the initial four characteristics of a busking style of ministry and maps them to themes reflective of this ministry in its formational heart. A brief conclusion summarises the key findings. The book thereafter provides an extended essay on “Jesus, Paul and Self-Supporting Ministry. It shows how this brief but expansive time in Christian Origins was also marked by improvisation in the development of the Church’s ministry.”

MSE deserves a theological focus in its own right because it involves a number of themes that go to the very heart of the gospel and the purpose of the church. This is not to claim for MSE more than its due. But it is to recognise the issues and opportunities that it raises. These questions arise from time to time in the story of the emergence of MSE in the modern age, but as often as not become occluded or are domesticated back into the traditional life of the church. Nevertheless, these questions persist and will not go away. Attending to them is what belongs to the practice of MSE and the promise of its invitation to an inherent kind of improvisation. Throughout the book a number of MSE stories illustrate the points made.


James M. M. Francis is a self-supporting minister in the Diocese of Durham and a non-residentiary canon (emeritus) of Durham Cathedral. He was a university teacher in New Testament Studies. He was Principal of the Durham OLM Course and continues to be involved in ministry training.

His new book Busking the Gospel: Ordained Ministry in Secular Employment is an in-depth theological reflection on Ministry in Secular Employment, offering practical help to enable such clergy (and the Church generally) to grow in the awareness of the creative scope and potential of this ministry. Get your copy here.


Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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