The Greatest Christmas Present – a booklet you can give away

“Read the wonderful story of the greatest Christmas present of all — God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ.”

It is hard to find an inexpensive booklet to give away widely which explains the meaning of Christmas. So I created one. In 24 pages it combines the Christmas stories from the royalty-free NET Bible with reflections on Christmas and a simple gospel message. Produced in bulk they cost just 20p each (using to give to Toddler Groups, Drop In and  Cafe Customers as well as for our church members to give away to their friends and neighbours and even include with Christmas cards to send to their families.

Feel free to print copies or adapt to your own situation. You will need to find a suitable front cover image. Please remember to include the NET Bible copyright information from the inside back cover and if you include bits I have written then also my copyright information from the same page.

I pray that this will be useful to you.

The booklet can be downloaded as a PDF file here The Greatest Christmas Present BOOK 4 PDF


What do clergy do all week?

Ministers are sometimes unkindly described as “six days invisible, on the seventh day incomprehensible.” This month I am celebrating thirty years in ministry. Back when I began, veteran ministers advised me that a minister’s time would usually be spent in the study in the mornings, out visiting in the afternoons and at meetings in the evenings. How the lives of ministers have changed! This week I rediscovered “Pulpit and Pew”, a programme of in-depth research on pastoral leadership in the USA undertaken between 2001 and 2005. In particular I appreciated the report by Becky R. McMillan discussing just how clergy use their time, available online at

Half of those full-time ministers surveyed report working between 35 and 60 hours a week with one quarter less and the other quarter more than that range. I paused to reflect on the hours I work as a minister. In the spirit of openness, I share that during my first 10 years it was probably 60 hours a week. For the second decade the average would have been closer to 55. Nowadays I typically spend around 50 hours a week in the tasks of ministry and sleep ten hours a week more than I did when I first started. I am content to be average. I fondly believe that my church would rather have quality than quantity. I look back really wishing that I had taken this approach from the beginning (and so do my wife, my now-grown-up children and my spaniels).

The studies report that a minister’s typical working week is divided between planning worship including writing sermons (a median value of 33% of the time) providing pastoral care (19%) administration and attending meetings (15%) teaching and training others for ministry (13%) and denominational and community affairs (6%). Other common tasks include writing articles, fund-raising, correspondence and chaplaincy. Women ministers work the same number of hours as men but report spending less of their time in preparing sermons and more in administration and pastoral care. Ministers describing themselves as conservative (as I would) typically give more time to preaching and prayer and less time to administration. In churches with more than one minister, the senior pastors usually work more hours than their colleagues but curiously their time is used in similar proportion.

For myself, I found this analysis quite affirming, even recognising that there are significant differences in patterns of ministry in the USA. For me, still preaching two sermons every Sunday (all six years’ worth from my current church are online for anybody to read and borrow at –  you are very welcome), around one third of my time is spent preparing and delivering those messages alongside preparing for and leading worship. Similarly, roughly one fifth of my time is spent in pastoral care, although over the years an increasing element of this is expressed using phone calls, emails, texts and social media such as Facebook and Messenger rather than in face-to-face conversations.

Preaching, teaching and pastoral care have always seemed to me to be the heart of pastoral ministry. We are called to be pastor-teachers (literally “teaching shepherds,” one phrase, not two in Ephesians 4:11). By the lakeside the Risen Jesus commissioned Peter, “Feed my lambs. … Take care of my sheep. … Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17). Once could even argue from this that nourishing our flocks by preaching and teaching is the highest priority in ministry and “taking care” of them was the next. I recently found myself puzzled by an advert I saw. A church was looking to recruit an Associate Minister to join their team to take responsibility for the teaching, preaching and pastoral care in order that the Senior Minister could be released for the tasks of “leadership, vision-building and disciple-making.” Surely the principal ways that ministers lead and build vision and make disciples is precisely through preaching, teaching and pastoral care? We must guard against devaluing these vital expressions of ministry or allowing other worthwhile activities to squeeze them out. Somebody once asked old Joe what he thought of their new minister. “He’s got foot and mouth disease,” Joe replied. “He can’t preach and he don’t visit.”

In “Pulpit and Pew”, ministers reported spending an average of 10 hours a week in prayer and meditation and 4 hours on general reading not related to sermon preparation. Again, I am encouraged. My own experience would probably divide that amount of time a bit more evenly between prayer and general study, but that same weekly total has remained constant same through the decades. The Message translates Romans 12:1 “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.” Continuing study and a commitment to prayer are vital if we are to give our best in preaching, teaching and pastoral care. Of course, different ministers bring differing gifts, skills and experience to the calling and comparing our lives with others has its limitations. I am certainly not suggesting that my own patterns are appropriate for everyone. But God calls each one of us to be the very best we can be in his service. The examples of other ministers may help us avoid the extremes of sloth and burn out, which are both just as dangerous.

The Joys of GDPR

In an earlier life I was a teacher of science and computing. I entered ministry in 1986 when personal computers first began to be affordable (anybody else remember the Amstrad PCW8256?) and we were one of the very first churches to be keeping our members’ details on computer. Ever since then, other ministers, churches and charities have been asking me for advice on such things. Since I serve on the Eastern Baptist Association Council with the brief for Finance and Administration, last year EBA sent me on a training day for charity trustees run by the BU Solicitors Anthony Collins and one of the very helpful sessions was on Data Protection. So I am the logical person to write something on the General Data Protection Regulations which come into effect this month on May 25th.

These new laws replace the 1998 Data Protection Act and are in certain areas much stricter. The BU website has a very helpful guidelines document L13 on Data Protection which you can find at  I urge you to have read this leaflet carefully, since ignorance of the law will not be a defence. This brief article sums up a few of the key things you will need to have in place before May 25 in order to comply with GDPR.

GDPR is concerned with information the church and ministers may wish to store and use about members, congregation and friends of the church. It does not matter whether you keep the information electronically or on pieces of paper – the law applies equally. For some purposes you can say that you are holding the information on the grounds of necessity for their legitimate interest. Specifically you can say your church needs to keep a list of who your members are and of ways to contact them, in order to offer them appropriate care and support. However, while that allows you to use their information for those purposes, it does not allow you to use it for other purposes. So, if e.g. you want to produce a church directory to circulate among church members and congregation, or if you want to use the data to send regular emails to folk who are not currently members of the church, then you will need to get their specific permission to do those things.

Data means not only names, addresses, phone numbers etc but also anything which can be identified with a living person, including for example photographs or voice recordings of them. So it is important to have written permission before you use any photographs with recognisable faces in church publicity either in print, or online, or even pinned up on the walls of the church (since those photos might be removed by users of the church). You need to be particularly careful about kinds of information which are deemed to be “sensitive data.” This would include information on a person’s “religious affiliation,” which you are not allowed to share, which is why printing a photo of that person in a church service would need their permission.

Other “sensitive data” would include pastoral details on a person, such as any minister’s notes of pastoral visits, or reports on their medical condition etc. Such information should never be shared without explicit permission and is better not put in print on newsletters or church/deacons’ meeting minutes or in emails.

Here come the really boring bits ☹ There is a whole page on the BU website on GDPR matters, with most of the materials you will need and a useful FAQ link, at

The very legal bit – many churches will need to register as Data Controllers with the Information Commissioner’s Office. There is an exemption for not-for-profit organisations including churches, which only store data in order to establish and maintain membership. Small churches (like my own) can rely on this exemption, but many cannot. You should read the FAQ document on the BU website and then to be sure visit the ICO webpage at and take their quick self-assessment survey to see whether you need to register or not. In particular, if you use CCTV, or if you are ever keeping sensitive pastoral information (more than just membership/contact details) then you will need to register.

Below are key things every church need to do.

Each church needs to have a Data Protection Policy. There is a template on the BU page for you to adapt (it is 14 pages long!).

Each church need a Privacy Statement describing what data it holds and how it uses it. There is a sample for you to adapt, and you will probably need to vary it for the different groups of people you hold information about.

You will need a Contact and Consent Form – again the page has an example. These will need to be signed and then stored somewhere secure (e.g. a locked filing cabinet).

You can rely on the BU sample documents but you may decide you need to adapt them. Since they may be of interest, below are the versions of the Privacy Notice and Consent Forms which we are using at NSBC, together with the different versions of those which apply to our Toddler Group. We also have other versions for those who give including Gift Aid and those who pay us for use of our premises or who we pay for services from time to time.

Nobody enjoys GDPR (not even us geeks) but the Information Commissioner’s Office has big teeth and in today’s world, sadly, there are people who would enjoy making mischief for churches which have failed to follow the legislation. I will be happy to give an informal response to queries by email if you need help understanding all the documents.

So I wish you well as you prepare for May 25th. That’s just 3 weeks away!

Treasurer of The College of Baptist Ministers



North Springfield Baptist Church




Under Data Protection legislation the church Charity Trustees of North Springfield Baptist Church are the Data Controller and the Minister acts as our Data Protection Officer. We are collecting this information to enable the church to keep in touch with you and provide pastoral support as appropriate. Data Protection legislation allows us to process this information as we regard it as being in the church’s legitimate interest.

Your name and contact details will be entered into our password-protected church database which is administrated by the Church Secretary and held on her personal computer, (who will also keep this form). This will be shared only with the Minister, the Church Secretary, the Trustee Responsible for Safeguarding and the Treasurer.  Your contact details will be removed from the database if you are no longer involved with the church.

The minister’s appointments diary may retain contact details for other people he has met with or visited which will not be shared with anybody else. For legal reasons this information will be retained indefinitely.

With the exception of confirming whether an individual is a member of the church and/or has been baptised as a believer, the church keeps no record of sensitive data.

NAME              ___________________________________________________________

Street Address             _________________________________________________________

Email Address             _________________________________________________________

Phone                          _________________________________________________________

Signed                         ___________________________       Date ___________


We would also like to include your name and contact details (street address, email address and phone number and whether a person is a church member) in our Church Directory listing members and friends. This will be kept electronically in a password-protected file by the Church Secretary which will only be shared with the Minister, the Church Secretary, the Trustee Responsible for Safeguarding and the Treasurer. The Church Directory will be distributed on paper to all those Church Members and friends who have given permission for their names to appear in it. We will not give copies of the Church Directory to anyone else and those who have a copy will not be allowed to share information from it with anybody else. Inclusion in the Church Directory implies permission for the church to contact you using those contact details to inform you of church events and activities. The Directory will be renewed at least once a year and previous copies destroyed. You can ask for your details to be removed from the electronic file at any time and they will not be printed from that point. Please note – you are under no obligation to agree for your details to appear in the Church Directory. If you are happy to give us consent for your details to be included in this Church Directory please indicate so below.

I am happy for my details to be included in the NSBC Church Directory.

Signed ___________________________       Date ___________

You have the right to ask to see any information we hold about you by submitting a ‘Subject Access Request’ to the Church Secretary. You also have the right to ask for information which you believe to be incorrect to be rectified. If you are concerned about the way your information is being handled please speak to our Data Protection Officer – contact Rev Peter Thomas at the church or  If you are still unhappy you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioners Office.



We may sometimes take photographs during church services, events and activities. The original digital images would be kept secure and would never be shared with anyone except in the process of the purposes below. Adults and children will never be identified by name alongside any photographs.

1 Some photographs may be shared for publicity purposes beyond the church but only if they contain no recognisable individuals: e.g. if the photo shows a rear view of a group but with no faces or identifiable garments, or if the printed or online image is too small to allow identification of individuals. We will let you know if we are wishing to take a photo for this purpose to allow you to remove yourself from the picture.

2 We may wish to use other photographs including recognisable faces in church publicity, for example on our Notice Sheet or Haven News, or online on our website or Facebook page. We will only use photographs including you or your children for this second purpose if you have given us permission which will be specific for each occasion, by signing below.

PLEASE NOTE: you are not obliged in any way to give your consent for photographs under purpose 2.

I give permission for photographs including myself and/or my children to be used in church publicity under the terms of purpose 2 above. The consent given below applies only for the specific photographs taken on       /      /      .

SIGNED                     ___________            



Registration Form



Under Data Protection legislation the church Charity Trustees of North Springfield Baptist Church are the Data Controller and the Minister acts as our Data Protection Officer for all information held by the Church. We are collecting this information to enable the church to keep in touch with you and support you as appropriate. Data Protection legislation allows us to process this information as we regard it as being in the church’s legitimate interest. Toddler Group information will be kept on these forms securely in a locked cabinet. It will only be accessible to the Toddler Group Leaders, the Minister, the Church Secretary and the Trustee Responsible for Safeguarding. Your contact details will be removed from the database once you are no longer involved with Toddler Group.

You have the right to ask to see any information we hold about you by submitting a ‘Subject Access Request’ to the Church Secretary. You also have the right to ask for information which you believe to be incorrect to be rectified. If you are concerned about the way your information is being handled please speak to our Data Protection Officer – contact Rev Peter Thomas at the church or  If you are still unhappy you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioners Office.


Name of Parent/Carer ………………………………..…………………

Telephone Number………………….……………………………….……..


e-mail (please print carefully)……………………………………………………

Relationship to child/children……………………………

Child 1   Name………………………………………..…….

Date of birth………………………

Address if different from above (for birthday card only)

Child 2 Name…………………………..………….

Date of birth………………………

Address if different from above (for birthday card only)

Name…………………………………………………………..…..           Signature ……………………..

If our register is full then you will be notified as soon as a place becomes available.



We may sometimes take photographs during Toddler Group activities. The original digital images would be kept secure and would never be shared with anyone except in the process of the purposes below. Adults and children will never be identified by name alongside any photographs.

1 Some photographs may be shared for publicity purposes beyond Toddler Group but only if they contain no recognisable individuals: e.g. if the photo shows a rear view of a group but with no faces or identifiable garments, or if the printed or online image is too small to allow identification of individuals. We will let you know if we are wishing to take a photo for this purpose to allow you to remove yourself from the picture.

2 We may wish to display some photographs including recognisable faces at Toddler Group sessions. These would be mounted on a board which would be securely locked away at all times except during Toddler Group sessions. These photos will never be shared with anybody either online or on paper. We will only use photographs including you or your children for this second purpose if you have given us permission.

PLEASE NOTE: you are not obliged in any way to give your consent for photographs under purpose 2.

I give permission for photographs including myself and/or my children to be displayed only at Toddler Group sessions under the terms of purpose 2 above.


Signed _________________________________

Date ________________________


Happy Ever After? and A Loved One Dies

We are happy to announce two new resources for ministers from CBM.

HAPPY EVER AFTER?  A work book for couples preparing for marriage

by Paul Beasley-Murray

A5 booklet – 48 pages in length. Third updated edition published 2017 by CBM. ISBN 978-1-9999301-1-0

A LOVED ONE DIES  Help in the first few weeks

by Paul Beasley-Murray

A5 booklet – 48 pages in length Second updated edition published 2017 by CBM ISBN 978-1-9999301-0-3


A happy and fulfilled marriage is one of the greatest of blessings men and women can ever experience. Yet it cannot be said of every couple that they lived ‘happy ever after’. Many marriages do not achieve their God-given potential: some marriages break up, while others become dull and sterile. Hence the importance of marriage preparation. For good marriages don’t just happen. Good marriages are the result of people consciously working at their relationship with one another. Your marriage will be successful to the degree that you work at it – both during the period of preparation, as also in the years that lie ahead.

The course assumes that, in addition to the initial interview with your minister, when some of the basic issues relating to the wedding day are sorted out, there will be a number of sessions when you will be helped to think though in a relaxed way what commitment to one another in marriage is all about.


There is nothing harder than losing someone you love. If only it were not so. When we have loved deeply, we hurt deeply when the object of our love is no longer with us. We ache for their presence. Our sense of loss is almost unbearable. Neither kind words from friends nor sleeping pills from the doctor seem to make much difference. Grief is something which we have to work through for ourselves.

Furthermore, it is at this hardest of times, when we have to summon up all our energies just to cope with living, that we find ourselves called upon to make all kinds of decisions relating to the funeral of our loved one. Although we differ from many other countries where the funeral normally takes place within 24 hours of the death, it still feels as if we are given little time to make those decisions. To compound matters, we find ourselves perhaps surrounded by well-meaning relatives and friends offering contradictory advice. It is not easy to deal with all these pressures when we ourselves are feeling so fragile.

At such a time we need help. We need help not just in our decision-making, but also in our coping with the first few weeks of our bereavement. This booklet sets out to supplement the help that will be given by your minister and others.


HOW TO BUY: £2.50 for a single copy including post and packing (UK),
£7 for three

SPECIAL PRICES for CBM members: £2.20 for a single copy (incl P&P) – £4.50 for three.

Order by email giving your name and postal address to our Treasurer paying by bank transfer to

“The College of Baptist Ministers”   Barclays Witham Branch       
Sort Code  20-97-40           Account Number 63038378

Alternatively send a cheque payable to the College of Baptist Ministers together with your name and postal address to

CBM Treasurer, 1 Mimosa Close, Chelmsford CM1 6NW


Preparing for Christmas

Encouragement for ministers from CBM Board Member Rev Dr Paul Goodliff

I have just received an email from a major DIY chain that announced (in early November, for crying out loud) that “Christmas is Here!” Already? I though Christmas was in late-December, and we have not yet endured that hell on earth that is “Black Friday”. But, you’ll have been thinking about Christmas, at least from a planning point of view, for a while already, I guess. Here’s my contribution…..

It is customary for this November CBM Newsletter to offer some sparkling fresh ideas for your Christmas sermons, or a novel variation on the traditional carol service. At Abingdon Baptist Church we try to see the Christmas story from a different perspective each year, so for the two Christmases that I have been on of its two ministers, we have looked at the song of the angels and the star that guided the Magi. Filling the sanctuary with cardboard angels and stars was fun, and it was certainly better than a Christmas tree (although that appeared too, of course) but what to do for 2017? My colleague suggested we view the story from the donkey’s point of view (and I suggested why not ‘the Christmas lobster’ — for those who know the nativity play in the film Love Actually) but I think we might just settle for Jesus’ parents. We hope it will be the final Christmas in the church sanctuary prior to our anticipated (but not yet absolutely certain) major refurbishment next year, so it will be memorable whatever character we choose. For Christmas Eve we are experimenting with a Christingle service, hoping to attract the parents from our Tots group, and there is always the pressure to make the carol service somehow ‘new.’ But as I prepared for some teaching at Spurgeon’s College — Christian Spirituality for the MA/MTh students — I was brought up in my tracks. Why this urgent need to do something new? It is certainly the spirit of our age to always be on the look-out for a novel approach, and this has more to do with the acute avoidance of boredom of our culture than any Gospel value, I fear. Researching and preparing for the lecture on Eastern Orthodox spirituality (yes, I know….. Orthodoxy in an hour is simply ambitious madness, and so we have to settle for asceticism, icons, theosis, The Philokalia and the Jesus Prayer!) I was once again struck by how Orthodoxy reverses our addiction to the novel. For us the old is out, the new is good, but for the Orthodox, the old is good — it has stood the test of time, and the new is suspect.

So, let me encourage you to do three things this Christmas. First, prepare yourself for it by finding at least a day for some retreat-like withdrawal from the rush, the urgent and the shallowness of the modern Christmas. Instead do the ‘one thing necessary’ and find space and time to sit at the Master’s feet during the Advent season and pray. If we celebrated Advent properly (and it is most definitely NOT simply preparation for Christmas) then we might find Christmas takes on its true significance. This is not simply me being in ‘grumpy-old-man’ mode (although I freely admit to some of those tendencies) but rather an appeal to find some antidote to the godlessness of our contemporary Christmas, with all of its sugar-coated avoidance of the Gospel message. If there were prophets at Jesus’ naming in the Temple, then we certainly need a few today as we attempt to name our culture for the disaster that it has become. To be able to do so we need to withdraw from its allure, and find some silence amidst all the sugary noise, some solitude amidst all of the enforced communal fun and a bracing dose of penitential cobweb-clearing of the spiritual kind.

Second, give yourself a break and return to something old and familiar this Christmas. My guess is most will not notice that you explored Christmas from the perspective of Mary, or the Magi, in living memory, and you will be returning to the heart of the message, not searching for something ‘new’ to say. You might try replacing that staple of Christmas All-Age Worship, the children’s ‘show-and-tell’ (“what did you get for Christmas?”) with asking the adults and children alike what they have given this Christmas, or during its run up. “For God so loved the world that he gave….” says the writer of the Fourth Gospel, and with plenty of ‘spoiler alerts’ for children who have yet to give their gifts, why not turn the tables in a Gospel direction?

Thirdly, don’t start Christmas too early in your Sunday programme. The Sunday before Christmas Day is quite early enough, and that allows Advent to be Advent. No carols before the Carol Service at least! I know that you’ll have school events and other groups will want to get in early, and that will mean you can hardly be strict about no carols before Christmas, but let the Sunday services at least dance to the rhythm of the liturgical season. That means you can continue the Christmas celebrations through Epiphany, and give yourself and your congregation an opportunity to really think together about the incarnation. I suggest that neither the carol service, nor Christmas Day or the first Sunday in the New Year, are the time to teach about the incarnation in depth, but as we so often move on from Christmas so soon after Boxing Day (because we have been in full Christmas mood since the beginning of December!) where do you find the context to preach this vital doctrine if not after Christmas? I guess what I am appealing for a temporal shift, to let Advent be Advent (and its penitential and ‘stripped-down’ spirit allowed to do its proper work) so that Christmas and Epiphany can be truly themselves. That new series of sermons on the minor prophets or the Letters of John can wait a week or two, surely.



From CBM Board member Rev Dr Mike Thornton, minister of Epsom Baptist Church.

We will remember them. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, on the TV and on the radio, in magazines and newspapers, in documentaries and at the cinema, at conferences and during weekend enactments, at the Cenotaph and before war memorials, in schools and of course in our churches: we will remember them.

Remembrance Sunday is not far away. Annually, we remember them. The British do remembering. After all, we have a lot of history, though not all of it glorious. As I began to think about remembrance I soon realized that I (like everyone else) bring a load of baggage to it. Memory is notoriously selective: we choose what to remember and how to remember it. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the case of the First World War, which some see as a huge disaster in term of the vast and fruitless loss of life, while others are inclined to be more generous in their estimation of its significance. We need not be surprised by that: history has a way of dividing opinion, even among those who in other respects might be on the same side.

Remembering is political. How we conceive and narrate our past – whether nationally, locally or personally – has a direct impact on the polis, on how we live together today. It matters. Specifically, it matters whether we tend towards the narrative of shared memory and collective identity, or towards the narrative of struggle and conflict, of oppression and minorities. Certainly, we need to move to a model of inclusion rather than exclusion, of unity rather than division, though sometimes that needs an acknowledgement of past injury as well as past provision.

There is an awful lot of remembering in the Bible. The command to remember is fundamental, not only to God’s people but to God himself.

God is a God of covenant, and covenant is a form of self-binding that is made real in history. Following the flood God establishes a covenant with Noah, his descendants and, importantly, ‘with every living creature that is with you’. This he promises to remember and never again let the waters become a flood that will destroy all life. (Genesis 9:10). Abraham is engaged in a similar way and God remembers his covenant with him in Exodus 2:24, as does Moses when he appeals to God to overlook the wickedness of his people in Deuteronomy 9:27. Of course the greatest narrative of shared memory and collective identity in the Old Testament is the people of Israel remembering their slavery in Egypt and their rescue from Egypt (Deuteronomy 7-8).

This motif carries forward dramatically into the New Testament, where the act of remembrance is central to the life of the young church. The Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist is the foundational act of remembrance – remembering Christ and his sacrifice for our salvation: ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). This remembrance of Christ gives new meaning and significance to God’s promises and remembrance of Abraham, Moses and indeed David. To remember Christ in the Eucharist is to take this long-standing remembrance of God and turn it into something new.

Both Old and New Testament narratives take us on a journey of alienation, rescue and repeated, constant loving help. This is brought into sharp focus as God meets his people, all people, in the cross. As Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, Gentile Christians ‘are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of his household’ (Ephesians 2:19). In another respect, however, that simply makes them feel all the more strangers on earth. 1 Peter makes it clear that, whilst no longer being strangers to God, Christian believers remain strangers in the world, a claim that recurs throughout the epistle. This is a cohesive narrative and provides for a cohesive identity, but one based on being an outsider in receipt of hospitality and grace.

In this sense, the biblical narrative points us to a memory of vulnerability, of shared need, of the right kind of triumph that can allow us to develop an identity and celebrate a past that humanises us in a way that gives us a hope for the future built on actions and lessons past. In that way, we can be radically inclusive in our telling of the greater story.

Translating that into our Acts of Remembrance come that November Sunday morning may help us avoid the pitfall of being radically divisive. Perhaps refocussing our remembrance on the Lord’s Supper will give greater comfort and greater hope as we also ‘remember them’.

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 is still a special pre-publication price of just £60 + £10 postage and packing if you order before the end of February.


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 £70 (£60 + £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  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 ( – 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

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


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.