Convictions about ministry
We’ve just finished our small Cornhill+ conference for Cornhillers who are in ministry and want to do some extra training, but for whom college is not appropriate or practicable. We had a great time in Ezekiel 1-2, 2 Cor 4-5 and 1 Thess. It was also good to have Trevor Archer with us, and we had a ‘fireside chat’ session where he shared some convictions about ministry that he said he wished he had learnt earlier in life. Here they are. Not rocket science. Nor Bible exposition, per se. But foundational and challenging nonetheless.
- Need for personal holiness. Character comes before gifting. 1 Tim 4.16.
- Personal relationships of care and accountability, including those within the church. Isolationalism is the seedbed of failure and scandal. Even Christ did not work alone. The NT is replete with ‘one anothers’.
- Personal attitude of servanthood, Mark 9.35. Leadership is not about me.
- Expectation and experience of weakness, 2 Cor 4.12. This is in the inescapable equation of Christian ministry.
- Resolve to invest in people. If we are to be faithful under-shepherds, following the Great Shepherd, we have to love the flock. But this also means investing in the next generation, 2 Tim 2.
- A personal responsibility to lead. Leaders are called to lead. That is the biblical pattern.
- A personal commitment to the teaching of the word of God. This is the lifeblood of ministry. It is not the only thing, but it is the main thing and the agenda setting thing.
Food for thought.
Not everyone is a preacher and that’s fine
This week has been the first week back for our Cornhill students. I love working with them – even though it’s not the main part of my job. I have the job of tutoring some, teaching a little, and leading a small preaching group. In the group, I regularly think that there are those whose ministry I would happily and healthily sit under. Thank God for raising up such preachers.
There are others who will serve the church well. But they’re not preachers. Sometimes, it’s only when you get going and try it out that you discover this. It’s part of the process we have. Some churches are so eager to raise up workers (perhaps this is their first) that they sometimes can’t see this. They haven’t had a worker off to college in 50 years: this guy must be the one! Not always.
We need to be able to say in our churches that God gives different gifts and that’s fine. What is more – our theology of equality says that serving God in some unseen way is no less valuable that serving God from the front. In other words, not everyone is a preacher and that’s just fine.
When the passage overwhelms
Last week I preached Luke 4.1-13 (the temptations of Jesus). I found it an overwhelming passage. There is immense truth in it: deep, deep things which search the very nature of salvation determined for all eternity. Here is the second Adam (hence the genealogy) rejecting the way of the first Adam, tempted in the same way, but standing firm. Here is the Son of God where every temptation threatens his very sonship loudly acclaimed by the first three chapters of Luke (and also hinted at in the genealogy). Here is our High Priest being tempted as we are, in every way, yet without sin.
I had 25 minutes.
What do you do with such a rich passage where words seem barely able to convey the depth and enormity of what is going on? What do you with such a rich passage where you have been moved to tears in your preparation and you worry that you will be totally unable to convey that intensity in an evening sermon at the end of a long weekend.
Here’s what you do: you do what you always do. You prepare faithfully. You pray diligently. And you trust that the Spirit who made the text live for you will make the text live for your hearers. You don’t try to artificially stimulate a reaction. Nor do you worry that your words will be insufficient. As with every other sermon, you realise that you can’t say everything about everything, and that is OK. You don’t – in other words – prepare the purple passage in any different way than the other passages. For, you see, they are all purple. They all proclaim Christ in a deep, significant way. Perhaps you see it here more than you did in Isaiah 55. But it is the Scripture, nonetheless.
Climbing the hills
We had a great holiday away by the shores of Lake Annecy in the French Alps – highly recommended for its stunning scenery and warm water. We were at the foot of La Semnoz, a 5,500 ft mountain used as an HC (beyond-categorisation) climb in the Tour de France. It is 20 km long with an average gradient of about 8% but some 22% ramps.
Why not, I thought? After all, as my keen cyclist neighbour David pointed out to me, all you’ve got to do is get in a low gear and churn away. He is, I should point out, a slim, lithe solicitor, untroubled by the cares of ministry.
I didn’t make it. There are lots of reasons for that:
- I ran out of water
- I was on my own, it’s better to do these climbs with somebody else
- I have a lot of baggage to get up a mountain and basic physics tells you that requires more energy
Excuses I know. Bottom line is that I wasn’t fit enough or able enough. It was just too hard. I felt a bit cross with myself (especially when passed by someone wearing flip flops), but more than that a little stupid to think I could do it anyway. I’m a sprinter, not a climber! It’s the same with ministry – and often mine, if I’m honest.
Ministry hills do come. They’re thankfully not all like La Semnoz. When they do come, they are not best faced alone, nor unprepared. Sure – some of us are climbers, we can get in the bottom gear and just churn away. But many (myself included) are not. Steep hills finish us off if we are not careful. I’ve learnt the hard way to make sure there are mechanisms and protections in place to ensure I don’t go off hill climbing on my own. It’s unwise, at best, deadly, at worst.
And next year, we’re going on holiday to the Netherlands.
What to make of Elihu?
One of the most perplexing things about the book of Job (and there are many) is what to make of Elihu, the “fourth” friend. His speeches are long and involved and it is therefore important, in the sweep of the whole book, to have some grasp of what he is doing here.
I’ve found Christopher’s new commentary on Job superb when it comes to this question (and many others). You might say, I would say this. But his new volume has been one of the most helpful devotional and pastoral things I have read in recent years. It really is. And he’s helpful on this point too.
He points out that most modern commentators take a critical view of Elihu:
Most recent commentators have been more inclined to respect [these chapters] place as integral to the book but have regarded Elihu’s role as essentially negative, perhaps a clown or a jester to provide comic relief after the intensity of chapters 29-31 or whose protestations are undermined by the author of the book.
Slightly hesitatingly (as he is going against the majority), Christopher takes the opposite view. There are a number of reasons, he argues, to take Elihu seriously:
- he is the only “friend” who is granted a backstory, a genealogy (Job 32:2)
- He is given four speeches to the others’ three
- No one is able to answer, he is not interrupted
- His speeches come at a critical position in the book and naturally prepare for the Lord’s speeches, there is an almost seamless transition
the natural reading of the text is that we should believe Elihu’s claims and take his words at their face value, as true prophecy from God.
And finally, another book what I read
Amongst some biographies I read was that of Sir Edward Pellew, naval captain in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, made famous today because he features heavily in the fictional Hornblower series. In fact, many of the Hornblower and Aubrey stories (if you know them at all) are based on his true life exploits. Pellew was not without his faults, chief amongst them was promoting his own relatives above their ability (a not uncommon fault in Nelson’s Navy).
I won’t bore you with naval history if you’re not interested, don’t worry. I loved it, but was left feeling a little cheated. Here’s why. Pellew was a great captain. But he was also, there are hints, a man of faith. Towards the end of his career, his official portrait contains “symbols of his career and his faith” says the author. No more is said.
After the Battle of Algiers (one of the Navy’s finest victories against incredible odds), Lord Exmouth (as he was by then) hosted an impromptu prayer meeting in his cabin for anyone who wanted to attend. At 2am. Hardly the sign of someone nominally Christian.
These two veiled references are the only ones made to a Christian faith that, I guess, might or might not have been. But I wanted to know more. It’s as though it was a subject that was hardly worthy of merit. A curio left over from a previous generation, perhaps?
We should not be surprised to see Christianity so marginalised. Increasingly we are not just a minority but a small minority. That brings with it great challenges but it’s good to remember that for most of history for most of the world, so has it ever been.
Some books what I read (2)
I also enjoyed Churchill and the Secret Service by David Stafford. Using recently released material, Stafford surveys the role and relationship Churchill had with the intelligence services, in particular. There is considerable focus on how Churchill used intelligence to bolster his own ideas. He particularly liked the raw data which he was want to interpret in his own way, not trusting those from within the services (sometimes rightly) to interpret it well. It follows Churchill from the Boer War through WWI, Churchill’s wilderness years (when he still had access to intelligence sources), through WWII and on into his last premiership.
It’s fascinating reading. Stafford is no Churchill acolyte. The leader is presented fairly I think – not always in a good light in the specifics, but overwhelmingly the leader Britain needed at various junctures.
It did get me thinking about how politicians today use data. I did some statistics training and I know how numbers can be manipulated. I also know that if I had a pound for every time there’s a statistical report on the effects of a glass of red wine a day, I would be able to afford a glass of red wine a day.
It’s easy to make things say what they do not. And that includes the Scriptures. It’s easy to promote a church vision by telling people that without a vision the people will perish when we know full well that’s not what the proverb means, and so on. Often our people are in no position to argue. We are, after all, the ones trained.
Twisting Scripture to suit our own ends is a terrible practice. We do it – on occasion – consciously. But sometimes we do it subconsciously to bolster a particular view. It’s too easy, in other words, to read into Scripture something we expect to see there, when it is not really there at all. If we need to show integrity in our relationships with others, we certainly need to show it in relation to the text.
Some books what I read (1)
Summer is my reading time. Not Christian books, particularly. I load up the kindle (cheaper and lighter than loading the suitcase) with some novels, biographies and histories and off on holiday I go. Mrs R says I rarely emerge from behind a book on holiday. I don’t think that’s quite true, but I do enjoy switching off by reading. And even though I don’t take Christian books away (I spend all year reading them!) I do try and reflect in a Christian way on what I’m reading. Here are three of the highlights amongst some of more trashy novels!
First, I really enjoyed Mud, Blood and Poppycock by Gordon Corrigan. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and it was every bit as good. It’s a series of relatively short chapters debunking various WWI myths – one example will suffice, the idea that troops spent months on end in sodden trenches. The average number of days in the front trench for any regiment was just under 4 days. Some call this kind of history revisionist, but as it happens, Corrigan shows how the original understanding of the war was like this – revised only in the 1930s following Basil Liddell Hart’s history of the war.
As we were stopping off at the Somme on the way home, it was fascinating – not least that battle which understood from an Anglocentric point of view made little sense, but when seen in the light of what was happening at Verdun – though immensely costly – made perfect military sense. Interestingly, this was also the view of the Somme museum at Thiepval.
I liked the book, because I like history and I like military history. But it did get me thinking of how events and people (especially Haig) can be misrepresented so easily. I guess we as evangelical Christians are often on the wrong end of such misrepresentations and find it frustrating when the media, for example, portray us unfairly.
There is not much, perhaps, that we can do about that. We need to be prepared for it. But we must be careful not to do the same to those we stand against. It is very easy to misrepresent others. Christian integrity and truthfulness demands that we do not.
Why reading is so good for me. And you?
I love reading. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to many who know me or visit my office where I am trying to cultivate a Polytechnic version of a Oxbridge Don’s study with various piles of books scattered around. I can’t help it. I love reading.
But you may be surprised to know why.
I had a day off this week to do some home things with Mrs R, getting ready for our holiday in a few weeks time. Afternoon came around and England were bowled out. What next?
I’m really very bad at doing nothing. I can’t stand it, in fact. That, coupled with the Messiah complex that all of us have, at least in part, could be very bad news. It would make me a workaholic. Someone who can’t switch off but constantly needs to be checking emails and the like. That could easily be me.
Neither can I just zone out. I love sitting by the pool, but I can’t do that with nothing in my head. I’m always mulling over things, checking them over in my mind, rehearsing and repeating events of this day and tomorrow. That’s a real hiding to nothing, I can tell you for free. Or, worse still, my attempts to empty my head lead to all kinds of unhelpful stuff drifting in that I do well to avoid. You get the drift.
And so I read. It helps me fill my mind with useful stuff. Not junk. And not sin. And not work. It’s a switch off. And for that reason alone (even though there are others), I love it.
So I commend reading to you. A guard against too high a view of self, sinful thoughts and workaholic-ism. It’s why I’m taking away a few books this holiday.
2 Cor 4.7-18
Here’s part III of Mike Cain’s excellent expositions. They’ll not stretch you exegetically: they’re not supposed to. But the stretch is in warm, encouraging, convicting and challenging application for anybody in word ministry. Watch and pass on. Well worth 40 minutes.