To my younger brethren
I was reminded recently that Handley Moule’s book To my younger brethren is a really useful classic on pastoral ministry. It has a context, naturally, which is ministry in an Anglican context (Moule was Bishop of Durham). Read it with that in mind. But even for the most rabid of non-conformist, there is pastoral wisdom and challenge here that, even 100 years on is necessary. It’s free online and Project Gutenberg helpfully supplies it ready formatted for kindles or other e-readers.
I’ve been very moved in the last few days reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s account of the last few weeks of the life of Thomas Cranmer, in his biography of the great man (Thomas Cranmer, Yale University Press, 1996). It’s a well known story, of course, of Cranmer’s apparent recantation of his Protestant convictions and then his dramatic recantation of the recantation.
What struck me was one of the primary reasons MacCulloch suggests for Cranmer’s apparent capitulation back into the Catholicism out of which he had expended so much energy dragging himself and his country.
The reason was friendship. Towards the end, in his confinement, he was very isolated from his Protestant friends. They had mostly either fled to the Continent or been jailed. Indeed two of the most prominent, Latimer and Ridley, had been burned at the stake and he had been forced watch their sufferings.
At this point, says MacCulloch: ‘In isolation which was spiritual rather than physical, he cast in the role of friend and confidant the attendant who was guarding him, a simple but devout traditionalist Catholic called Nicholas Woodson. Woodson’s friendship came to be his only support, and to please Woodson he began giving way to everything that he had fought for twenty years and more’ (pp.588-89).
Some very sharp Catholic minds had turned up during his imprisonment to try to argue him out of his Protestantism, but he held firm. Yet put him in a position where his only possible friend in all the world was a simple-minded Catholic and he weakened. I think it is only the most foolhardy of us who conclude that Cranmer was just one of life’s pushovers and that we would have been stronger.
What do I conclude?
I conclude that a desire to please my friends may well be deeper in me than I imagine it is.
I conclude that therefore those deep friendships that I do have with brothers in the Lord are likely to be a far more powerful means by which the Lord keeps me true to him than I imagine they are.
I conclude, finally, that choosing to sacrifice some other things in order to invest in those friendships is a very wise thing to do. According to MacCulloch it was spiritual isolation that did for Cranmer – although mercifully not permanently so. We are fools, I think, if we imagine that we are different.
My PT colleague, Adrian Reynolds, might well add at this point: so when, Mr Pastor, did you last go to a conference where you knew you would be spending time with like-minded brothers? He puts on some pretty good ones, you know.
Theology of suffering in the life of the church
As Andy Byfield was teaching at the Cornhill + conference, I thought about suffering again. We generally (and our people in particular) have a poor theology of suffering. That’s because we’ve many of us been raised in a culture where it’s been relatively easy to be a believer. You see this worked out in the way we pray our prayers of petition, which are often a kind of prosperity-lite (‘Lord make n better. Amen’).
I don’t think you can minister in a church unless you have a more developed theology of suffering – both personally (i.e. in your own life) and in how it works out corporately. It is such a key theme of the New Testament that a pastor who says ‘Hmm, I’ve never really thought that through’ makes you wonder if he’s actually ever read the Bible and wrestled with the difficult things (‘filling up the afflictions of Christ’ anyone?).
For the record, I think Christopher Ash’s commentary on Job (the longer one, from Crossway) is superb in this. Job, of course, is the go-to book for this issue, but many commentaries just treat Job as go-to rather than go-to-from, for unless you see suffering in the context of the cross, resurrection and ascension, you cannot possibly hope to develop a theology of suffering which will equip you for service in the church.
The preacher at prayer
It is possible in a church of 200 to pray for every member of the church by name once a week and every member by name early on each Sunday morning. That’s certainly Alec Motyer’s practice which he outlines in his excellent little book on preaching.
I wonder how that makes you feel? Perhaps you feel convicted? It may be an ideal to which you would like to aspire but you’ve never quite made the grade. Perhaps you feel a bit aggrieved? That sounds to you like a rather legalistic, worksy kind of approach to prayer. Perhaps you feel self-righteous? Only once a week, Alec….?
There’s surely no doubt that a preacher should be a man of prayer (Acts 6 anyone). But what kind of prayer? All kinds, surely, but at the very least, a preacher is a pastor, he is concerned to connect the ministry of the word to those to whom he is called to minister and so a preacher who never prays for his people would be a very odd preacher indeed. Sub-standard, in fact.
So the question is not so much whether one ought to pray for one’s people, but how and how much. In terms of ‘how’ I happen to believe and have experienced that praying in your sermon – both before and after the event – is the best way to ensure you are thinking pastorally in your preparation.
But it surely goes deeper than this, does it not? I don’t pray to make my preaching better, as though that were an end in itself. I pray because I want to see my people built up in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus. Which, of course, leads to ‘how much?’ Alec’s strategy may be out of reach at present for all kinds of reasons, but it should surely be the heart’s desire of every pastor-teacher.
The first prayer meeting
More on prayer. I’ve recently preached on Acts 4. I found it very personally convicting to look at one of the first recorded prayer meetings and learn about prayer. We have to be just a little cautious with Acts, of course. We can’t say that because they did this, we must to do it too. Although, in that tension between descriptive and prescriptive (which everyone accepts at some level), I think the safest road is to say that Acts is prescriptive when read in light of rest of NT, i.e. the default position should be that Acts is describing normality, unless the rest of the NT encourages us to think otherwise (and there are some clear areas where this is so). Back to chapter 4. The prayer meeting does therefore provide a helpful model.
Prayer is responsive. Prayer is an automatic response to what has happened and been reported. Not only does this challenge us to pray in an informed way (a very middle class application!) it also (and primarily) encourages a culture of spontaneous praying where a prayer is a natural response to events. We should expect and encourage people to be praying together at all sorts of moments, both those formally organised, and the ad hoc ones too.
Prayer is corporate. ‘Together’ is a key Acts word, as I’m sure you know. This is not to denigrate private prayer (see Matthew 5, for example!). But prayer in Acts is mostly a corporate activity and there is a power and significance about the church being together to pray. Shame, then, that most UK churches are reducing this opportunity. Once a month? Really?
Prayer is Scripture based. Notice how the believers pray Psalm 2 back to God.
Prayer is ambitious.
Lord, stir up in me a spirit of supplication.
Leaders who pray – shocking news for Calvinists!
Picking up on one of Andy’s points from yesterday, we watched a brief clip of Piper on James 4.2, it’s worth a few moments of your time. Here is a great challenge for me and for every church leader.
Andy Byfield at Cornhill+
I’ve just finished our Cornhill+ conference – a follow up programme for Cornhill students who don’t go to college for various reasons. It’s been an encouraging and enjoyable time with 12 others studying God’s word and simply hanging out together. We always ask a pastor to come and share some insights on leadership and this year it was great to welcome Andy Byfield, vicar of Moulton Parish Church. I thought his headings, representing challenges that he has set himself and been convicted by, were worth repeating. These are simply patterns that leaders must embrace:
– Leading without worry, 1 Cor 11.28 and Numbers 11.10-15
– Leading that gets others serving, Ephesians 4.11-13
– Leadership that s prayerful, James 4.2
– Leadership that encourages death, John 12.23-25
– Leadership as a younger man, 1 Tim 4.12.
– Leadership that doesn’t beat people up 1 Thess 2.11-12.
Proclamation Bible new editions
There are some brand new compact editions of the NIV Proclamation Bible out. This is not a study Bible as such, but a standard NIV bound with around 60,000 extra words (a standard paperback) of essays, articles and book introductions to help students of the word. It’s unique in that sense, and – I believe – a really good piece of work. The contributors are all from our bit of the woods – they know what expository ministry is and are four square behind it. The result is a really good resource.
Up to now, it’s only been available in large format, wide margin versions, but now you can get standard size Bibles too (although confusingly, they are called compact). There’s a soft tone, a leather and a standard hardback. What are you waiting for?
A pastor’s prayer
I’m just reading James Garretson’s excellent assessment of the life and ministry of Samuel Miller, one of the Princeton founders. This is the prayer from his journal after his ordination in New York in June 1793. I’ve been praying it too:
“O Lord, I have this day renewedly and, I hope, with some sincerity, given myself away to thee! I am now emphatically not my own. I am doubly thine – peculiarly thine! O Lord, accept of my dedication! Fill me with thy love; prepare me for thy service; help me to be more and more like Christ, and more and more to glorify Christ. O Lord, I have undertaken a charge which is too great for human strength. How shall I go in and out before this numerous and enlightened people? How shall I discharge the solemn and weighty duties which are incumbent upon me? Oh, the unutterable importance of having the care of precious, immortal souls committed to my hands! Father, give me knowledge, give me wisdom, give me strength, to perform my duties aright. Blessed Saviour, whom I trust I have chosen as the hope of my own soul, may I be strong in thee and in the power of thy might! Oh help me to love, and study, and preach and act like one habitually and deeply sensible that he must give account.”
Those of us who are complementarian in our view of men’s and women’s roles in the church have some confessing to do. Because we always feel we’ve been fighting a battle against egalitarianism (battle not a helpful word, really), we’ve often defined women’s roles in the church in terms of what we believe is prohibited in Scripture. I understand why we’ve done that, but we’ve made a huge mistake by not being more positive. For any kind of ministry should be primarily defined by what it is, not what it is not. If you went for a new job and they handed you a job description which listed 10 things you could not do, and none you could, you’d be aghast!
I don’t think we’ve really thought this through enough and the danger we will find is that women’s ministry in the church gets relegated to children’s work and some biblical counselling. Both of course are valuable ministries, but they are not the extent of what we believe about complementarian roles. Or they shouldn’t be.
I wonder, how does it work in your church? Have you really thought about this? Have your leadership teams sat down and considered this prayerfully and scripturally? More likely, I imagine you think this is a debate that’s been done already and we’ve moved onto other issues. But the paucity of good, thought through women’s roles in churches in the UK rather reveals that not to be the case.
It’s one of the key reasons we’ve appointed Carrie Sandom to be our new Director of Women’s Ministry – not just to help train those who come to us, but to be a help to the wider church in thinking these issues through. We have a great opportunity. Some wrong turns now could set us back years. How does it work, chez vous?