When I was in my late teens I played hockey for a Canterbury Baptist team. We were a part of the B.R.A. (Baptist Recreational Association). We played in the secular hockey league of the day, our top team playing at Senior Reserve level. We had some very good players and we played to win but we were very keen to maintain a ‘Christian witness’ in the games. We met to pray before every game and generally we played a very sporting brand with, at times, some very positive results. However once a year we played the Wellington Baptists and in those games we could let our hair down and relax and all the pent up competitive male energy was released. On one occasion I remember being rebuked by a bystander for being a bit over competitive!
I’ve been engaged in pastoral ministry over a span of 36 years with a break of 8 years where I was primarily an opera singer. It’s always been a privilege and I’ve loved it but I believe being a pastor currently is as challenging as I can remember. We live with a number of tensions. It’s not necessarily the tension of whether to consciously be a ‘people pleaser’ or ‘arrogant, cunning and manipulative’ to win at all costs. I think we all have more integrity than that. Instead, how about:
I believe that we have to guard the prophetic edge to our ministry but we also need to share a gospel which is attractive, relevant and communicative. In an aggressively competitive, consumer society that’s a balance we need to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider in the company of others who are also prayerfully weighing the issues. I believe that this says to us that we will strive for excellence in the leading of our churches and we will play to win but we will not be in competition with each other. We will also recognize that people will make choices – whether to become followers of Jesus and in whose company they will explore their faith journey.
- Here’s another. How much of ourselves should we share? Most of us would recognize the power of story and in particular the power of sharing a story that we own. Preaching has shifted markedly over the past few decades. When I left college it was very rare to hear someone share something of their own story unless they were specifically sharing a testimony. In fact we were instructed not to share from our own experience and so we were always seeking out good illustrations to bring our preaching to life. We’re now much more likely to share out of our own experience and will normally find that people appreciate our humanity because they identify with it. I’ve often reflected on how we came to know that Peter denied Jesus 3 times. Surely it’s because that incident found its way into Peter’s preaching. You can imagine him telling of his failure but then going on to say but “He called me again to ministry”. However at the end of the day it’s not all about us. It’s about God’s redemptive activity in the world and through faith communities. I believe that it can be equally compelling to tell the stories which are owned by the whole community. I sometimes share about our experience of losing a baby son at term when he was due to be born. One of the great parts of that story was the part that our faith community played in our healing at that time. It was awesome. I believe we need to watch the balance. It’s good to explore the stories that are a part of our church, not simply to share our own. We really do need story at this time. Preaching which lacks story will bore people. Preaching which is just story and primarily my story, will not ultimately feed and expand people in their experience of God.
- What about self doubt and certainty. Very few of us have a cast iron faith which never wavers. Someone passed on to me one of those profound yet very simple truisms – that if we have absolute certainty then it’s not faith because faith is trusting despite. It’s a bit like the practice of ‘agape love’ in relationships. There will be times in most marriages when it rocks a little (you can put your own interpretation on that) but if agape love is a part of that relationship then we are committed to it no matter what. It’s surely like that with our faith journey. It’s a combination of our faith, the faith of the community on our behalf and God’s infinite grace that keeps us hanging in there.
That’s my take anyway and I’m glad I’ve asked advice over this one. However we do it, we have a role of great privilege which is to encourage and develop people in their faith journey. We see Jesus embracing full humanity in the
- Here’s another and related to the previous. The tension or balance between ‘heart and head’. As Baptists we believe in good theological education. Good preaching is a high value for us. In recent history most of our churches that have grown numerically will have been led by pastors who are consistently fine preachers. As much as we can, those of us working nationally seek to understand what is going on in our churches and understand trends that we can see contributing to growth. I’ve mentioned one, the preaching, another will simply be fine, visionary leadership but I believe another is strong heart connection. It’s got to be there. Music is one of God’s great gifts to us because it can release us into that heart connection with God and each other. If that heart connection is there it really doesn’t matter what the style is. I genuinely felt led to lead with a very old hymn on the Saturday night of the Gathering. I know that musically it wasn’t everyone’s taste but I had a number of people, young and older, telling me it was special for them. Why – because I think there was a combination of great truth with the focus on the cross and heart connection.
A recent trend in our movement is that some of our most strongly growing churches are not only in the upper middle class areas where we have been traditionally strong but in some of the lower socio-economic areas in our cities. I reckon that in all of those churches there is a very strong heart connection. We saw it exemplified at the Gathering as
Finally and very important – the balance between what we take in and what we give out, in other words the quality of our prayer life and all of the God’s gifts that can sustain us (and our holidays). This is an unashamedly important component of our registration processes. We know we can’t run on empty.
We need to explore all of this and much more at our
May the Lord truly bless you with great refreshment and inspiration over the months and year ahead. I look forward to sharing with you.
Your fellow traveler