It is designed to be appropriate for all kinds of churches, especially small ones whose members are not confident about having anything spiritual to offer. The course is very flexible, and can be offered in a wide variety of settings; the key elements it looks at are: spiritual gifts, motivation, abilities & skills, personality and experiences. It is applicable well beyond the boundaries of the Anglican church.
The materials are deliberately offered in a simple and flexible form, so that the programme can be tailored and adapted to suit the context.
Carlisle Diocese have kindly given the Arthur Rank Centre permission to make all the materials freely available to download for anyone who would like to use it.
Revd David Keen from Bath & Wells Diocese writes here very positively about how Your SHAPE for God’s Service has already been used, and its particular strengths. He describes it as excellent, plans to use it again in the future and highly recommends it to others.
Revd Canon Amiel Osmaston writes about the course’s relevance & use in rural churches.
Do you wish your congregation were more aware of their gifts and more confident about using them? Your SHAPE for God’s Service offers material for six sessions for church groups, to help people understand the unique ‘shape’ God has made them, the gifts he has given them, and how he might want to use them. This can be useful in rural areas where modesty and ‘keeping your head down’ may be so valued that we fail to affirm and encourage each other.
It is appropriate for many churches, including small congregations whose members are not confident about ‘having anything to offer’. Similar courses that already exist are designed for large congregations, are mostly American, and often have a narrower focus, dealing with Spiritual gifts. This may not suit many rural churches. Your SHAPE looks at the whole person, helping people explore their:
- Spiritual gifts
- Heart’s desire
Originating in 2006, Your SHAPE is deliberately made available cheaply and simply, so anyone can adapt it to suit their context (with no copyright restrictions). It is great to hear all the creative ways people have done this. To my surprise, the materials have spread widely, with well over 500 groups having used them, including numerous rural churches.
Revd Dr Anne Tomlinson, Ministry Development Officer in the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway (which includes large rural areas) says: The reasons I keep recommending the course Your SHAPE to people are:
- It speaks to congregations in a language they can understand and it works well with small congregations.
- It aims to help people grow in their Christian discipleship in every area of their lives. This is about mission and God’s Kingdom, not merely about ‘doing things in church.’
- It is very approachable. The way it begins with what is easiest for people to access (their own experience) is very helpful.
But however good the course is, we can’t grow disciples just by doing courses! We must create opportunities for people to use their gifts. Many churches ask people to volunteer time and talents, making lists of gifts and abilities, but then do little with this; which is very frustrating for people, leaving them feeling undervalued and rejected.
So it is essential that everyone who does Your SHAPE, is given individual encouragement afterwards, to help discern ways of using their gifts. This only works if the minister is open to sharing ministry, and not threatened by others’ gifts. One rural parishioner wrote wryly, ‘Some folk found the SHAPE course very helpful, but having discovered their gift they weren’t able to exercise it within the church – or not to date! Unless the vicar is prepared to allow people to exercise their gifts it rather blunts the effects.’
Yet we must also remember that discipleship is more about being than doing. Revd Elizabeth Jordan, Lay Education and Training Adviser in the Diocese of Chelmsford, writes, ‘This course is an excellent way to get to know members of the congregation. A church member said to me, ‘I think the most important thing for a new incumbent to do is to be interested in people as people, not as doers of jobs in the church’. SHAPE does this admirably’.
Revd Canon Amiel Osmaston
Ministry Development Officer, Diocese of Carlisle