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Ministry Today UK 1994-2018 Legacy Volumes

A message from Chair of CBM Board Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray

Ministry Today UK

 

As you will know, one of the ‘perks’ of belonging to the College of Baptist Ministers is that members receive three times a year the journal, Ministry Today UK.   Alas, I am writing to let you know that there will be only two more issues of the journal – Issue 71 (Autumn 2017) and Issue 72 (Spring 2018).

 

I confess that I feel a little sad, for I have been the General Editor ever since the first issue came out in March 1994.  However, nothing in life is permanent. I have always felt proud that Ministry Today UK was a group run by working ministers for working ministers.  Having retired from stipendiary ministry in March 2014, I felt that a younger person should take over. We looked for a younger person, but unfortunately were not successful.  As a result, even although the number of subscribers has been increasing, Ministry Today UK will close as from Easter 2018 and the journal will be no more.

 

 

Ministry Today UK 1994-2018

 

As part of ending well the Board of Ministry Today UK has decided to leave a legacy for future generations of ministers and church leaders.   After the final issue of Ministry Today UK in Spring 2018 – all 520 articles which have appeared in the journal (but not the reviews) will be republished in eight fully-indexed hard-back volumes.  I will serve as General Editor, and Peter Thomas, the CBM Treasurer, has nobly agreed to serve as Compiler.  These legacy volumes will be entitled Ministry Today UK 1994-2018 and will be on sale from May 2018 at £95 per set + postage.   However, there will be a special pre-publication price of just £48 + £10 postage and packing.

 

As some of you may know, over the years topics covered have been amazingly wide-ranging and included:  a building project; a call to excellence; abuse in the church; adolescence, popular culture and the church; appraisals; all-age worship; the art of preaching; building visions; care for the dying and the living; care for those struggling with terminal illness;  blogging; celebrating families;  cathedrals and growth; Celtic spirituality; chaplaincy;  children and communion;  children in the church; Christian grandparenting; chronic illness and the church; church design; church growth; competency;  creating a learning community; creating safe community; Damascus or Emmaus; depression; developing a health cell movement; digital faith; dreaming dreams; ending and beginning well; fishing nets or safety nets; forgiveness and faith; disability; finding holy ground in dull terrain; forty days of purpose; funeral of a baby;  gathering a harvest of righteousness; funerals are not always celebrations; goal setting; God gave rock’n roll to you;  grave inscriptions; growing old; helping large congregations to stop the right;  home groups; imagination and fun; immortal longings;  inviting a response; is Allah God? Jubilee ethics; keeping sermons fresh; lay ministry; leadership; leadership in the Book of Esther;  lessons in leadership failure; liberation theology and the local church; losing a staff member;  lost souls – who we do think we are?;  loving God and nation; managing is not enough; ministry and revivalism; ministry and technology; ministry burnout; ministry from the margins; ministry in a small community;  ministry stages; ministry to survivors of sexual abuse; multi-ethnic worship; pastoral counselling; pastoral visiting;  prayer; prayer and midlife ministry;  preaching amidst the ruins of Christendom; preaching the messianic prophecies; the preacher as poet; race, class and the Gospel in multi-cultural Britain;  real men don’t do church;  reforming worship; reliability in ministry; reshaping worship for evangelism in a missionary church; responsibility without authority;  retirement; resolving difficulties in the local church; rural evangelism; same gender relationships; seven keys for survival in ministry; spiritual accountability; suburban and urban spirituality; suicide; supervision;  surviving the culture of criticism; the care of seniors; the challenge of assimilation; the Christian leader as contemplative; the cultural context of mission;  the Gospel-driven church;  the long-term pastorate; the Lord’s prayer and terrorism;  the male identity crisis in the church; the ministry of little things; the care of the homeless; the violence of language;  theological reflection and stress management; time to move on; transition planning; turning leavers into returners; understanding the changing patterns of church attendance; where have all  the prophets gone?; why we should not commemorate World War 1; working with asylum seekers; working with young people.

 

To take advantage of this early bird offer payment needs to be received by the end of November.  The Ministry Today UK Treasurer would prefer payment by bank transfer in the sum of £58 (£48 + £10 postage & packing). The details are:  sort code 30-00-05 (Lloyds TSB: Park Row Leeds Branch); account number 02979946 (account name: Ministry Today UK). At the same time name and address needs to be confirmed by email to rev.william.ruddle@gmail.com.  Alternatively, cheques can be made out to Ministry Today UK and sent to Rev William Ruddle Northgate House, Northgate, Pinchbeck, Spalding, Lincs PE11 1SQ.

 

 

Future resources for ministers

 

Clearly nothing can fully replace Ministry Today UK.  However, right from the start the College of Baptist Ministers has been committed to providing resources for ministers.  In the first instance, such resources are to be found on the CBM web-site (www.collegeofbaptistministers.com) – and nothing would please us more if members were to submit resources that they had created or developed.  If you have something to offer, then please contact Peter Thomas at peter@pbthomas.com.

Secondly, as those of you have been members for a while, in we have already sent out one ‘freebie’:  viz. The Passionate Leader by Terry Calking & myself. We will shortly be sending out another – Peter Thomas’ Prepared To Give An Answer,

Then, at our July meeting, the CBM Board agreed to publish a small book entitled Ministry FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) authored by members of the Board and offering practical advice and insights on such issues as pastoral skills, diplomacy and church politics, wisdom, leadership, administration, handling conflict, practical ministry skills, managing time and space, finance and premises.  Hopefully Ministry FAQs will appear before Christmas.  This will not be free, but will be available to members at a fairly nominal price.

 

Finally, I have begun to edit and order thematically a collection of my blogs, entitled Church Matters, which hopefully will be published early in 2018 – and there will be a special discount for CBM members.

 

So one way or another, the College of Baptist Ministers is seeking to bless its members!

 

 

Priests for Today – Does Christian Ministry have a Future?

Posted by Rev Peter Thomas – Minister of North Springfield Baptist Church and Treasurer of CBM.

The priests in the Old Testament, the Tribe of Levi, had very special duties and very special privileges. They were the cornerstone of the faith and religion of Israel. The word priest or priesthood occurs a staggering 937 times in the Bible. And the Levites are mentioned another 312 times. That’s an average of more than once every page across the Old Testament! We read about them in many different places in Deuteronomy, and just that one book it speaks about the different responsibilities of the priests.

10:8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord, to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today.

What a privilege. To carry the ark of the covenant – the box containing the stone tablets with the 10 commandments written on. To be closest to God. And to declare God’s blessings to the people in the name of the LORD. To be God’s representatives and the channels of his blessing. Alongside the ark the priests also guarded the Law of Moses.

31:24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.

So the priests were guardians of God’s truth, the commandments and the book of the Law of Moses. They taught the faith of Israel to the people.

18:3 This is the share due to the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the jowls and the inner parts. 4 You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, 5 for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.

It was the priests’ privilege to offer sacrifices to the Lord, to attend his tabernacle and stand and minister in the Lord’s name. The priests, and only the priests, had access into the very presence of God. They represented the people before God and they also God to the people. So they had a part to play in bringing God’s healing

24:8 In cases of leprous diseases be very careful to do exactly as the priests, who are Levites, instruct you. You must follow carefully what I have commanded them.

And the priests also had another function we may not be so familiar with – a legal function.

17:8 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. 9 Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Enquire of them and they will give you the verdict.

But all these privileges of the Old Testament priests came at a specific and great cost to the whole tribe of Levi. They were set apart from the ordinary people of Israel. They had no land and no inheritance of their own. They lived hand to mouth dependent entirely on the generosity of God’s people.

18 The priests, who are Levites—indeed the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the offerings made to the Lord by fire, for that is their inheritance. 2 They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

Day by day the Levites were dependent on God’s provision and the offerings his people brought.

12:11 Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. 12 And there rejoice before the Lord your God, you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites from your towns, who have no allotment or inheritance of their own. ….  19 Be careful not to neglect the Levites as long as you live in your land.

14:27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

So the priests and their families, indeed the whole tribe of Levi, were at the heart of the nation of Israel. They taught and safeguarded the Law, they offered the sacrifices, they pronounced God’s blessings and his healing, and even spoke for God in legal disputes. And in return God provided for their needs from the offerings all of Israel made to Him.

18:2 They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

This pattern of priests and people was in place for at least 1500 years before Christ. And after a short period of transition in the first century, this has been the pattern for Christianity ever since. Priests and ministers and pastors safeguarding the faith of the church, set apart by ordination and supported by the gifts the ordinary Christians made to the church. This pattern is most obvious in the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, but it has been the pattern in most Free Churches as well. I was set apart, trained, ordained and nationally recognised in the Baptist tradition to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament – to teach and preach the Word of God and to minister the sacraments especially of believer’s baptism and of the Lord’s Supper, communion.

And Priests and ministers give up a great deal to follow their vocation in terms of income and property and, in some ways security.

18:2 They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

So the Old Testament pattern of the priesthood continues even in the church today. But not, I suspect, for much longer. Because I see a number of factors diminishing the place of ordained ministers in the life of the church. Recruitment to the clergy has been decreasing over the last half century. As the churches numbers and strength have been waning resources to pay for clergy have been severely stretched. But more than that, I see at least five factors in operation which make me think that churches don’t actually want ordained priests and ministers so much any more.

1 Changes in and patterns of learning

I have seen first-hand in Uganda and read of the same in India and across the Global South, how education both for children in school and even for adults is based on rote learning. Forgive the generalisation, but in those countries the consequence is that most people only know what they have been taught. Up until the 20th century, education was the same in the Global North as it still is in the Global South. Except for intellectuals, learned classes, you only knew what you had been taught. But in UK and across the Global North education now is all about learning how to learn, independently “learning for yourself”, and problem solving.

Time was that in church Christians only knew what the priest or minister taught them. Most ordinary Christians couldn’t read (and if they could, as in many parts of the world today, they couldn’t afford their own Bible) – they were entirely dependent on faith handed down to them through the church.

Throughout history, the nation of Israel and then the church have needed an educated elite entrusted with passing on the faith to everybody else. But nowadays all Christians are educated there is not that need. Or at least, many people think there isn’t.

2 Increasing involvement by “lay Christians”

Alongside universal education, churches (and especially Baptists) have also rightly been keen to release the members of the churches to exercise their own spiritual gifts. So whereas there was a time when only those ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament would preach, or lead prayers, or lead worship, or preside at communion, or counsel those in distress, certainly in Baptist circles we would say that any Christian is allowed do any of these things. The minister is not the “one man/woman band” So we have the rise of worship leaders, and homegroups where ordinary Christians are taught by each other, not just by the minister. This is entirely right! Leadership shared between Minister and Deacons. Absolutely! Every Christian reading the Bible for themselves, and thinking for themselves! Quite right!

But now we have education, books, internet – people learn for themselves. Now ordinary church members are doing things which for many years only clergy would do – so what is a minister for?

3 Growing distrust of “experts”

An article in The Telegraph listed “50 things which are being killed by the Internet”. At number 28 was “Respect for doctors and other professionals”. The proliferation of health websites has undermined the status of GPs, whose diagnoses are now challenged by patients armed with printouts. But most people are still happy to go to a doctor or a dentist. Most people go to a solicitor. Many use a financial advisor. We are happy to consult specialists because they have years of study, years of training, years of experience. Why is it that in church people are decreasingly likely to trust the minister?

A doctor undertakes three years of academic study and then at least two years of practical training before they are able to practise medicine. A lawyer takes three years studying law and a further year of specific training before they begin to practise as a solicitor. In the same way a Baptist Minister nowadays will usually take three or four years of academic theology and then three or four years as a “Newly Accredited Minister” still training while serving a church before he or she is recognised as a fully “accredited minister.” Many ministers will have postgraduate degrees in theology, not to mention any qualifications, skills and experience which many bring from their previous careers in industry or social work or education. Not forgetting that ministers were commended for training by their sending church because they were highly respected as gifted and leading lay-members of that original church in the first place.

And then it one of the major tasks of ministry to continue to study, more even than for doctors or lawyers. Before speaking on a particular topic, or before counselling a person with a specific problem, a minister will have spent hours and sometimes days researching that issue. Not only in personal study of relevant books and journals but often also learning from discussion with fellow ministers.

All this being the case, it is hard to understand why, but it is nevertheless the case that priests and ministers have a decreasing influence in churches. At a minister’s meeting, one Baptist minister put it this way.

“We ministers spend our lives working for the church. We may give hours or days or even weeks of thought to what we say. Then people come along to a meeting and after just 5 minutes thought on a particular issue believe they know better than the minister.”

Time was when the minister was the local church’s “parish theologian”. Nowadays Christians are more likely to put their trust in things they heard from big-name speakers on Christian radio or God TV or at Spring Harvest than they are to trust the considered beliefs of their own minister. Some Christians will put more trust in the latest internet site or blog of some American or Australian or African evangelist nobody has ever heard of than they are in the study and experience of their own minister. “It must be true – I read it on the internet. And that site gets lots more hits than our minister’s own website does – so it must be true!”

Changes in patterns of learning, increased lay-participation and lay-leadership, distrust of “experts in every area of society. The fourth issue which I think is diminishing the influence of priests and ministers in the church today is one simple question.

4 Who pays the bills?

In the Old Testament the people gave their offerings to God and the priests were paid (or at least fed) from the gifts which were given to God

In contrast, in Baptist churches today, people give money to the church and some focus on the fact that the minister is paid by the church from the gifts given by members, a fact emphasised by presenting the annual accounts to the church meeting who can see that by far the greatest area of expenditure is “ministry”. This is not so much a problem for Roman Catholics and Anglicans where gifts are given to “the church” as a national/worldwide entity, and “the church” pays the priest or vicar from a central payroll. But this an issue in free churches, and especially congregationally-governed churches where each independent congregation has to pay its own minister.

This affects priests and ministers in at least two ways.

(a) “He who pays the piper calls the tune”. Many Christians think they are entitled to a say in what their minister says and does, how he or she spends his time and even the things he or she preaches about, or should not preach about.

(b) With growing “professionalism” ministry is being seen as a profession, not a vocation. Changes in Employment law mean that in some church ministers are treated as employees, not as leaders. The whole point of the Levites being supported by the gifts of the people is that they were accountable to God and not to the people. That is the principle underlying the provision of a manse for a Minister and the payment of a stipend, not a salary. The purpose of Ministers being “Office Holders” and not employees is so they can be completely free to do and what they believe God is leading them to do and say, without any pressure from individuals in the church. Ministers are servants – but servants of GOD, not employees of the church. For all kinds of reasons that fundamental principle is being eroded.

Of course Priests and Ministers are accountable – but accountable to a much higher authority than the church they serve or even their denominational authorities. Any minister recognises that they are accountable to God for the way they exercise their ministry. The day that any Christian thinks that “their” minister should do what they say because they are paying his stipend is the day that individual ceases to benefit from that ministry.

5 The rise of bivocational ministry

The final factor which may end up being the nail in the coffin for full-time ministry is the widespread rise of what is called “bi-vocational ministry.” It is true that there have always been some ministers following two vocations at the same time by serving a local church and at the same time serving as a hospital chaplain, or prison chaplain, or teaching in theological college, or serving the local Baptist Association or the Baptist Union at the Central Resource in Didcot. At the same time there have always been some so called “lay-pastors” or “locally recognised ministers” working in full time secular employment who have been called to lead usually very small churches. But what we have been seeing in the last 10 years or so is the rise of trained accredited ministers who are bivocational in the sense that they work only part-time for the church and earn the rest of their living in a secular job. One obvious reason for this is that fewer and fewer churches can afford to pay the going rate for a full-time minister. Many ministers are having to supplement their income with other paid work. The ministry of these bivocational ministers is immensely important and valuable.

But we must be careful of making a virtue out of a necessity. In particular the argument that ministers will be better ministers if they have to hold down a day job as well is fatally flawed. We need to think through very carefully any proposals that ministerial training should become angled towards the expectation that all ministry will become bivocational, that is, part-time.

Being a Minister in the church today is never going to be the same as being a priest in Old Testament Israel. But I do believe there is still a future for full time ordained ministry in the churches of the 21st Century. It seems to me that a number of verses of the New testament bear this out!

1 Thessalonians 5:12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

I believe there is still a place for paid full time Ministers of Word and Sacrament, set apart to devote their lives to teaching and prayer, and supported by the church to do so.

2 Timothy 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Ga 6:6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.

I believe there is still a vital place for priests and ministers in the church. 18:2 They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

That’s the way it always has been and that’s the way I believe it always should be. But I do fear for the future of the ministry. I do wonder whether by the middle of the 21st century any Baptist churches will be served full-time by Ministers of Word and Sacrament any more.

 

The value of Pastoral Supervision

Member of CBM Board, Rev Dr Paul Goodliff introduces Pastoral Supervision.

I have been indebted to pastoral supervision from 2010–2014 in my then role as Head of Ministry for BUGB, and before that throughout the nineteen-nineties when last in pastoral charge in Hertfordshire. When I began my current pastorate in Abingdon in 2015 I immediately resumed pastoral supervision with my existing supervisor, and have found his wisdom and understanding of incalculable worth. I do not know where I would be without it, which is one reason why I have taken the opportunity of half-time pastoral ministry to give me space to offer this ministry to others. I have two supervisees who I see occasionally (to one I offered more of a spiritual direction role when he held a senior chaplaincy post); two college tutors and three ministers who I see regularly, with another in the offing. In an informal way, I suppose I also offer this to my colleague at Abingdon, although there is a great deal of mutuality about that ministerial relationship.

 

I have offered some training in supervision at MTh level at Spurgeon’s College, and to its placement supervisors on two occasions, so I have read quite widely in the area, as well as practicing it and receiving it. I am in a privileged position, I guess, to commend this widely to others, but I do so unashamedly. I am surprised at how others seem to manage without such support (or perhaps they do not manage?) and remind our ministerial community that in many other person-focused professions, supervision is mandatory. You cannot practice as a social-worker, a counsellor or psychotherapist without it, and it is becoming more prevalent in medicine, too. What is it about ministry that seems to suggest that it is unnecessary for us? Perhaps it is the cost (it costs my church £250 a year to pay for my supervision, for which I am very grateful, but I would pay it myself if they were unwilling or unable to do so). Or maybe it is the expectations  that surround supervision which prevents it from being more widely accessed, or perhaps there is something about Baptist ministry that has an ingrained and bloody-minded independence about it, and remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of supervision. Whichever it is, ministers are the poorer for it in their practice, even if they might be the poorer for it in their bank accounts!

 

I find it interesting that The Methodist Church Conference has recently affirmed its commitment to supervision for all of its ministers, and is currently embarked upon a programme of training first its senior clergy to offer it, then others, with the expectation that at least some supervision will be offered “in-house”. Given the commitment to excellence that members of The College of Baptist Ministers embrace, I would hope that not only would some find pastoral supervision of enormous benefit, (as I write this I have just returned from my own supervision, and found this of great help in finding a way to hold a particularly complex pastoral situation at present) but some might even find ways of preparing themselves to offer this ministry to others through appropriate training. Courses that might be taken can be found at the APSE (Association of Pastoral Supervision and Education) website http://www.pastoralsupervision.org.uk/category/training/

 

Perhaps some might believe that supervision is just for those who are not quite capable enough to exercise ministry without its helping hand. However, my experience is that it is precisely those who are capable of good ministry who seek it, knowing that it assists them in maintaining those high standards, while deepening self-awareness and pastoral reflection. This is of particular significance in these times when the move to a more dominant style of political leadership is so prevalent. We see this in Turkey’s recent move from parliamentary to presidential “democracy” — but one step away from full-blown dictatorship, I suspect; the rise of hard right nationalism already in power in Hungary and Poland, and bidding for it in Germany and France; the President Trump phenomenon and not least, Putin’s government in Russia. We even have an echo of it in the Conservative Party’s election slogan “strong and stable government”, with parts of the right-wing media in Britain slavering at the prospect that Theresa May will “exterminate” the opposition (since when in a parliamentary democracy did we rejoice in moving to a one-party state, with opposition “crushed” under a landslide?). I believe that the Conservatives are fully entitled to seek the approval of the ballot box to continue to govern, but are not best served by an absence of any effective opposition.

 

All of this inevitably has an impact upon the styles of leadership that ministers adopt — either in imitation of strong leadership, or in an over-reaction to it. Supervision is one of those tools that help us stay true to appropriate leadership styles — appropriate, that is, to the service of the one who said “I have not come to be waited on, but to serve”. Ministry that is either authoritarian (even if clothed in a velvet glove of pastoral concern) or which lacks any strength of conviction and leadership altogether, inevitably weakens the body of Christ. Getting that balance right is aided by good supervision. It sheds a light upon our blind spots (how easily enamored can we become at the latest evangelistic ‘technique’ peddled by someone looking to make a name for themselves) and gives an objective sounding board for our own vision of the “good church life”, while allowing us to reflect with another skilled practitioner upon our own pastoral challenges, and the way they interact with our own sense of self and stage of life.

 

My supervisor reminds me that at my stage of life, with retirement (by which I mean, the end of stipendiary ministry) no longer some distant prospect, and approaching the next big phase of life — post-work, post-power, (if not quite “sans everything”!) — one of the tasks is to accommodate to a smaller ego. I guess some might have seen me once as a ‘big’ person (even if not in physical stature), with a national Baptist role and wide, if somewhat ambiguous, influence, but now I must discover what it means to be a ‘smaller’ person, less influential, and certainly dismissive of any messiah-like complex I might once have had! Supervision helps me to see myself as, I think, God sees me, and, I hope, others too — and less like the fantasy figure that my vanity might once have constructed! Have I whetted your appetite sufficiently to explore supervision for yourself? I hope so.

 

Further Reading

 

Jane Leach and Michael Paterson, Pastoral Supervision. A Handbook, SCM, 2010

Michael Paterson and Jessica Rose (eds.) Enriching Ministry. Pastoral Supervision in Practice, SCM, 2014

Peter Hawkins and Robin Shohet, Supervision in the Helping Professions (4th Edn.) McGraw Hill, Open University Press, 2014

Paul Goodliff, Shaped for Service. Ministerial Formation and Virtue Ethics, Pickwick, Wipf and Stock, 2017. pp. 262–269

 

Children in Church – from one of our directors Rev Dr Mike Thornton

One of our Regional Ministers recently spoke to Ministers in Training at one of our Baptist Colleges. Amongst other things, he said that unless we undertake ministry to children, we will oversee ageing and most likely, declining churches. For some students, this was a surprising assertion and I hope it caused an awakening to the opportunities and challenges good children’s ministry brings.

A few years ago the Church of England published a report with the delightfully ambiguous title, Children in the Way. Certainly, some see children as being ‘in the way’ in terms of being a distraction from the serious business of doing church, whilst it can also be seen that they have the potential to be ‘in the Way’ in terms of being followers themselves of Jesus, deserving of pastoral care and discipling, and indeed able to minister.

In my own church setting I think it would be fair to say that both views have been held and vocalised at certain points! Yet my experience is that good children’s ministry as part of a ministry aimed at the whole family, not only spiritually nourishes the flock but also provides an attractive and fruitful means of reaching out to whole families. In all the churches I have ministered in I have seen the average age of the congregation fall dramatically as we have invested in children’s ministry – and that has not been by older folks leaving us!

Yet this is not as common a pattern in the demography of our churches as we would desire. Too many are ageing and shrinking in terms of membership and even attendance. We continue to ask ourselves ‘why’? There are clear pointers as we look back at changes in society over the last few decades. Amongst the casualties of social change was the Church. A study by The Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings, now retired from stipended Anglican ministry and currently South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, confirmed that younger women from the late 1950s found new liberation in education, employment, sexual behavior and fashion and not only stopped going to church, where women had been the mainstay of congregations, but were less likely to induct the next generation into the faith and the church as they had their families.[1] Callum Brown concluded that the loss of young women also led to an exodus of men from the church.[2] The consequent loss of children has affected and will continue to affect all subsequent generations.

Yet the tide is turning. Churches are adjusting and being more innovative in the way they engage children and families. Whilst the traditional Sunday School may be of a more a relic of the past, innovations such as Messy Church, holiday and after school clubs are gaining ground. Another important work is that exercised in schools, where meeting children’s spiritual needs are, by law, still to be catered for. Here, hard pressed teaching staff are very grateful to those who will sensitively come in to the school environment and address these spiritual needs.

A word of caution may need to be offered here. If we see children’s ministry as merely a way to attract adults (parents, grandparents and carers), we will have missed the point and we will miss this particular boat. The quality of our nurturing of children’s spirituality is critically important for the long-term benefit of the child, their family and the church.

In the Spring 2017 edition of The Bible in Transmission – an excellent Bible Society publication – Dr Rebecca Nye opens a wider discussion on children’s spirituality. She defines spirituality as ‘God’s ways of being with us, and our ways of being with God’. Founded on her years of work observing children and listening to their explanations of their own lives, she describes childhood as a ‘highly blessed’ stage of life, offering evidence to suggest that significant experience of God is more common in childhood than in adult years. She identifies three spiritual needs in children: to be deeply listened to when they articulate their spiritual questions and experiences; to be respected; and to have space (in every sense) for spirituality.

Our churches are ideally situated to offer that ‘space’, but it takes time, energy and commitment to offer it to them. It will not happen by accident; we must be intentional in making room for our children to be spiritually nurtured. We cannot do that effectively in isolation; we do indeed need to be churches for all ages and we need to coordinate what we do with what families can also do in their homes and we, or others, can do in schools.

[1] Billings, A., Secular Lives, Sacred Hearts, p.10;

[2] Brown, C., The Death of Christian Britain, in which he also posits that the secularising of Christian Britain was not a long process beginning with the industrial revolution but commenced and developed rapidly in the 1960s.

Let us be concerned for our brother and sister ministers: Some reflections from Paul Beasley-Murray

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I was briefly into photography. I had an uncle who had a ‘dark room’ and he taught me how to develop my own black and white photographs. He also showed me how attaching a yellow filter to the lens of my camera could bring out things of which you were not aware – clouds for instance all of a sudden would appear. I was a great fan of the yellow filter, until I put a colour film into my camera and discovered that suddenly everything was yellow!

 

When it comes to reading Scripture, all of us come with filters – filters which are the product of our context. Africans, for instance, find it highly significant that the first man to carry a cross for Jesus was an African – Simon of Cyrene. Similarly they love to read the story of another African, the Ethiopian chancellor of the exchequer whom Philip met on the road to Gaza.

 

Recently I found myself using another filter when reading Hebs 10.24, 25 – the filter of ministry. Perhaps because of my father’s influence, I have always had a sense of deep responsibility for my fellow ministers. As a result I have never allowed a pastoral engagement to stop me attending ministers’ meetings.  Long before the Baptist Union began to speak of ministers entering into a covenant with one another, I felt that the needs of my fellow ministers took precedence even over the needs of my own people.

 

So for a few moments let me encourage you to use this ministerial filter as we look at a couple of verses in Hebrews. In the NRSV version of Hebs 10.24,25 we read: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching”. As an aid to letting these words sink in, listen to these two versions in other versions

  • NIV: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
  • GNB: “Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good.. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing.  Instead let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.”
  • The Message: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching”.

 

Or if you don’t like translations and paraphrases, what about the real thing?

 

Kai katanōmen allēlous eis paroxusmon agapēs kai kalōn ergōn, mē egkataleipontes tēn episunagōogen heatōn kathōs ethos tisin, alla parakalountes, kai tosoutō mallon hosō blepete eggizōsan tēn hēmeran.

 

Incidentally, did you know that there was a brief stage when some of the early Baptist ministers in the 17th century refused to read from an English translation of the Scriptures in the pulpit – instead they took with them the original Hebrew and Greek text.  Needless to say, that practice did not last every long.

 

To go back to the passage: we know that in the first instance the Letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up and to return instead to their ancestral faith.  This is not a letter addressed to ministers. But just imagine it were addressed to ministers – not to young ministers straight out from college, but to ministers who had been around for a while – perhaps ministers who were hitting the mid-life blues – and who were being tempted to throw in the towel. In my book A Call to Excellence: an Essential Guide to Christian Leadership (Hodder & Stoughton, London 1995, 3-4) I wrote about the ‘mid-ministry blues believe that most if not all ministers, either consciously or unconsciously, experience the mid-ministry blues. Let me quote from it

 

“The fact is that most if not all pastors either consciously or unconsciously experience the mid-ministry blues… These ‘blues’ may take various forms. For some it involves a crisis of identity: ‘Who am I?’ For yet others it may involve a crisis of theology: ‘What do I believe?’  For yet others there may well be a crisis of meaning: ‘What is ministry all about?’

 

Mid-life is the time when idealism meets realism. The former is well characterised by Ray Ragdale: ‘Most ministers begin their careers with lofty ideals and high expectations. Their commitment is to serve God and humankind, and there is just enough of the messiah complex in the young to believe they are going to change the world before they are done’.  But with the passing of the years such idealism fails to deliver the goods….

 

Part of the crisis in Christian ministry is to be found in the fact that there are a good number of pastors who have succumbed to the mid-ministry blues. Although they may not have physically left the ministry, in their hearts they have opted out. Burnt-out and disillusioned, their earlier joy and enthusiasm has long since gone…”

 

So, with ministers in general in mind, including not least with those suffering the mid-ministry blues, let us look at this passage. I freely confess that this is not an exercise in strict exegesis – but I dare to think that by extension such a reading may be justified.

 

  1. Let us think about (katanomen) those of our brother and sister ministers who need our care. According to one commentator, Peter O’Brien, it involves ‘directing the mind toward and reflecting on’. Within the context of ministry, this means thinking about other ministers in the town or in the neighbourhood. Or it might mean thinking of those with whom we trained and who are now in other parts of the county.  I wish to suggest that such a consideration of brothers and sisters in ministry leads to prayer. For over 45 years I have been a member of the Baptist Ministers Fellowship, a fellowship which describes itself as ‘a national network of ministers committed to praying for one another’; in particular we were asked to pray for one another every Sunday morning. But Sunday is not the only day for praying – indeed, in my experience on a Sunday morning there is little space for reflective thinking and praying. Instead over the years I have developed a prayer diary in which I list the names of all those ministers for whom I feel some responsibility: the ministers of the church to which I now belong; the ministers of the church of which I was pastor for 21 years; I list too all the names of those who have served with me in ministry – three from Altrincham days; seven from Chelmsford days.  In addition I list the names of all the Board members of Ministry Today UK and of the College of Baptist Ministers.  Every week I think of these colleagues in ministry.

 

  1. Let us provoke one another. The Greek noun (paroxune), from which we get our English word ‘paroxysm’ and which is present here, is a strong word full of emotion. It appears in only one another place in the New Testament. There in Acts 15.39 it is used of the ‘sharp disagreement’ which broke out between Paul and Barnabas when they could not agree on taking Mark with them on another missionary journey. The cognate verb (paroxuno)  appears twice in the New Testament: in Acts 17.16 it is used to describe Paul’s exasperation –‘his spirit was provoked’ (AV) – at the sight of so much idolatry in Athens’ while in 1 Cor 13.4 it describes how love is not easily ‘provoked’ (NRSV ‘it is not irritable’).  In all these instances the provocation concerned has a negative sense.  However, here the word is used positively. It is about stirring up our colleagues for their good. So the REB translates: “We ought to see how each of us may best arouse others”. If we look at these words through a ministerial filter, then by extension we have the thought of provoking or arousing our brother and sister ministers to fulfil their calling. For me this was the chief motivation for founding Ministry Today UK and for publishing the only cross-denominational journal devoted to pastoral care. More recently in 2011 it was the motivation for my setting up my weekly blog, Church Matters.  First and foremost I wanted to stimulate my fellow ministers.

 

  1. Let us keep meeting together. Yes, I know that in the original context this has to do with Sunday worship, but let’s switch filters and apply this to ministers meeting together. Over the years I have belonged to many groups for ministers – some Baptist and some ecumenical. Some have been great fun – but others have been tedious, while yet others have been a forum for unhelpful bragging.  When there is so much else to do, it is tempting to give them a miss, but the truth is that ‘collegiality’ should be part of our ministerial DNA.  Even if we feel we are not benefitting from such meeting, nonetheless we owe it to our peers to be there. We have a ‘duty of care’ for one another.  Just as in 1 Cor 12.25 where Paul in describing the church as a body speaks of the members having “the same care for one another”, so ministers have a responsibility to care for their fellow ministers of the Gospel – and this in turn means turning up to ministers’ meetings, whatever.

 

  1. Let us encourage (parakalountes) one another. The participle here is from the Greek word parakaleo from which the cognate noun parakletos is derived. This is the word used of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (parakletos), in John’s account of the Upper Room. It is a word worth reflecting upon. Literally it means ‘one who is called to the side of’. In that context of John 14-16 the underlying Greek word (parakletos) has been translated in a number of ways. In the AV, for instance, the Spirit is described as the ‘comforter’, in the sense of the one who strengthens us and makes us brave (the 17 century word comforter is derived from the Latin fortis, brave).  In the REB and the NRSV the Spirit is describe as the ‘advocate’, the one who speaks on another’s behalf and in their defence. In the RSV & NIV the Spirit is described as the ‘counsellor’, in the sense of the one who is there to give advice and act as our ‘consultant’.  As for the GNB, there the Spirit is described as the ‘helper’, in the sense of the one who is there to help us in our weakness.  To my mind the term ‘helper’ is the best of all the translations, because it is open to every nuance: the Holy Spirit can draw alongside to help us, giving us courage, defending us, advising us.  We in turn, who are called to encourage one another – and by extension ministers who are called to encourage their peers- can help in all these ways too: we can give fresh courage to our peers, stand up for their peers, give advice to our peers, offering whatever help it is they need.  As we all know, ministry can be tough – there are times when the church makes a lousy mother.  How do we help and encourage one another in practical terms?  Through a phone call or through an email – through the offer of a coffee or a meal.

 

Let me return to where I began. We are called to be concerned for one another – to be concerned not least for those who for one reasons or another are struggling with life in general, but perhaps with ministry in particular. It may be that others are at fault – or it may be that they are at fault. Whatever, there is a need – a need, perhaps, to tell them not only that we care for them and appreciate them, but that God loves them and cares for them even more.  May God give us the grace, energy and commitment so to do.

 

The passionate leader

An article from Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray, Chair of CBM, from his blog www.paulbeasleymurray.com

 

I believe that first and foremost today’s pastors need to be leaders – and passionate leaders at that. Let me quote from the introduction to The Passionate Leader: The Four Foundations of Leadership which I have just co-authored with my friend Terry Calkin:

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The perfect meeting

An article from Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray, Chair of CBM, from his blog www.paulbeasleymurray.com

 

Recently the Harvard Business Review published a list of seven ways to have a ‘perfect meeting’:

  1. Keep it small. No more than seven people should attend. In a large group it is impossible to pick up body language and subtle cues.
  2. Ban devices. They are unavoidably distracting for everyone.
  3. Keep it short. They should last no longer than an hour. The shorter the meeting, the more focused people will stay.
  4. Stand up. Research has shown that stand-up meetings achieve the same solutions as sitting-down meetings but in less than two thirds of the time.
  5. ‘Cold-call’ non participants. People like their opinions to be heard but some won’t speak unless they’re asked to.
  6. Never just update. The ultimate time-waster. Why take up valuable time saying something you could just email.
  7. Set an agenda. Be clear about the meeting’s purpose, lacking a clear plan of action is why decision-making gets derailed.

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What makes churches grow?

An article from Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray, Chair of CBM, from his blog www.paulbeasleymurray.com


Church Growth is back on the agenda – but not the 1970s variety from the USA, but rather the new style espoused by the Church of England. Last week I had the joy of reading What makes churches grow? Vision and practice in effective mission (Church House Publishing, London 2015. ISBN 978-0-7151-4474-9) by Bob Jackson, Director of the Church Growth Centre attached to St John’s College, Nottingham. It is a stimulating and challenging analysis of Anglican church growth from which every pastor of whatever denomination could learn.

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Inviting to grow


An article from Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray, Chair of CBM, from his blog www.paulbeasleymurray.com

 

Churches need to cultivate an invitational culture among their members. True, a report on Churchgoing in the UK (Tear Fund 2007) revealed that 60% of all adults say that they will not consider going to church – but that still leaves 40% who might be open to an invitation! Indeed, many people on the fringe of our churches are just waiting for an invitation from a friend.

In the light of this my custom was to encourage my people to invite five friends to one of the many carol services, in the expectation that three would accept the invitation. My experience is that many will respond to an invitation. On one occasion I said from the pulpit that I would give £5 to anybody who found that not one of their five friends would accept an invitation – but nobody came up to me later to claim a fiver!

Why are Christians so reluctant to invite friends to church? In Unlocking the Growth (Monarch 2012) Michael Harvey lists the following reasons:

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Change is vital but often time-consuming


An article from Rev Dr Paul Beasley-Murray, Chair of CBM, from his blog www.paulbeasleymurray.com

 

“Change” said John F. Kennedy, “is the law of life. And those who look to the past or present are certain to miss the future”. What is true of life in general, is true too of churches. As has often been said, the seven last words of a dying church are: “We have never done it this way”.

Bob Jackson in his recent book What makes churches grow? (Church House Publishing 2015) declares: “Churches making changes grow and those that don’t shrink”. He draws attention to a 2013 survey of Anglican churches in south-west Wales: of the 92 churches who had made no change, attendance was down by 9%; of the 67 churches had had made at least one change, attendance was up 16%. Even more significant was the impact of change upon children: where there was no change, there was a 20% loss of children; where change took place, there was a 60% increase in children. In such circumstances how dare a church resist change? My mind goes to the words of Jesus: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18.6).

Continue Reading »Change is vital but often time-consuming