Pastoral complexity and a dose of realism
Mrs R and I got to enjoy a film night recently: Eye in the Sky starring Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman (and a host of other well known stars). It was a compelling film, based on the moral decision to send a missile from a drone to destroy three terrorists and two suicide bombers.
The film was exciting, tense and thought-provoking, though not without its flaws. Key amongst these was the switch in moral dilemma. Towards the beginning of the film, the issue at stake was whether the British government should be killing two British citizens without trial, a kind of Judge Dread scenario. This is an interesting line of thought and needed to be developed more.
However, once a young girl sets up stall next to the targeted compound the moral issue switches to whether her possible death is acceptable collateral damage. You’ll have to watch the film to see how it pans out.
The film simplified things, focusing for the main part on the second issue. But for me the first issue is just as troubling and needs some more assessment. It interested me that the movie was only really able to deal with one moral issue at a time. Presumably that makes for a good script (or is all we audiences can cope with)?
However, in the real work, complexity is the norm. We find this pastoring. In the classroom, pastoral ethics on, say, marriage, seem very straightfoward. But in the real world, where there are kids and multiple layers, things are much messier. The classroom rarely prepares us for the real complexity of life.
But we must not stick our heads in the sand. Part of preparation for ministry has to be determininng a settled position on what we do with competing ethical choices and whether we take a graded view (where we choose the lesser of two evils) or whether we view life more in terms of absolutes. Once the situations are upon us, it’s generally too late to make a choice.
For, as the film does aptly portray, decisions made in split second are very often not the best ones.
Carson at the EMA
Don Carson is a good friend of PT and has served us well in the past, but amazingly it was 2009 that he last came to speak at the EMA. It was a joy to have him back with two typically forthright and helpful sessions on a biblical theology of perseverance.
John Newton and perseverance in ministry
Vaughan’s pen portraits are becoming something of a regular feature of the EMA (though we’re switching to another expert next year for a take on Luther in the Reformation 500th year). This year’s Newton bio was top of the class. Make yourself a coffee, watch (or listen) and be encouraged to persevere.
Some [personal] staff news
Here’s our latest staff announcement which has a particularly personal angle, as you will see.
The Trustees of The Proclamation Trust (PT) today announce that Adrian Reynolds, Director of Ministry for the Trust since 2009, will be leaving his post at Easter 2017 to take up a role as Training Director for the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).
Adrian and his wife Celia, together with their family, moved to London from Hampshire to serve the Trust.
In his time at PT Adrian has delivered and taught on over 100 conferences, including overseeing the move of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly from its historic location at St Helen, Bishopsgate to its new home at the Barbican Centre in London. He has also been responsible for our book editing, writing two volumes himself and editing a further ten. Adrian has been a regular teacher on the PT Cornhill training course and has, along with Celia his wife, tutored many of the students. Adrian has also overseen our backroom work in the office, drawing on his previous experience in the business sector.
The Trustees want to express their sincere thanks to Adrian for his contribution to the ongoing ministry of the Trust. Vaughan Roberts, Chairman-Elect, said, “We are hugely grateful to Adrian for his enormous contribution to the work of the Proclamation Trust over the last seven years, and also to Celia for helping in so many ways. Adrian’s servant leadership, faithful teaching, administrative skills and godly example have been greatly appreciated by the whole PT family.”
Adrian’s new role – which does not begin until Easter 2017 – will be to oversee the training ministry of the FIEC. The FIEC is a family of over 500 independent churches located throughout the United Kingdom. He will be working alongside the existing Directors and training providers to serve local churches as they seek to train and equip men and women for ministry.
Please pray for Adrian & Celia and their daughter Isabel as they plan for this move. Roberts asked: “Please also pray for the trustees and staff at the Trust as we make plans for the future and seek to build on Adrian’s superb work.”
EMA audio and video now online
You may have noticed this already, but all our audio and video from the EMA 2016: Leaders who last is now up and online. Over the next couple of weeks I want to highlight some of the, well, highlights. It’s all accessible through the website, and all worth some of your time. I particularly enjoyed Simon Manchester’s morning expositions from Exodus 34, 1 Kings 19 and Mark 6. For me, this middle one was the stand out.
Here we go again… and three old friends back again
I know it’s still August, but we’re back. In the UK we’ve had a bank holiday (public holiday) so today is the first working day of the autumn/winter (gulp!) stretch. Hard to write when the sun is shining and Miss R is still to go back to school. But for the most part, it’s business as usual. Praying. Reading. Studying. Preaching. Pastoring.
Don’t you ever get bored of it, someone once asked me? Simple answer: no. I get tired sometimes, but not of the task. I am often wearied by the hard-hearted response that ministering seems to bring. But my heart is always livened by three ministry truths, old friends really.
1. Jesus has saved me by grace. My ministry work is not going to make a jot of difference to my salvation. Of course, I have to work hard, and I have to work out my salvation – and that will sometimes be wearisome for all kinds of reasons. But I am not – thank God – working for my salvation.
2. It is Jesus’ church and not mine. Caught up in the business of ministry, it’s easy to forget that I’m nothing more than an under-shepherd serving the great Shepherd of the sheep. It’s his church. I am – at best – a caretaker. When people reject the word they are rejecting him. When people flourish under ministry they are flourishing under Christ. Not me.
3. Jesus sustains all things by his powerful hand. I serve and love an absolutely sovereign God. Nothing I experience or manage to achieve is outside of his loving control. That does not make everything easy, but ultimately it makes everything right.
Three old friends; three old truths that always sustain me in ministry, whatever the season.
My brother used to work in an electronics factory that had a summer shutdown. Everyone took two weeks off at the same time. That was the way it worked. Frankly, it’s not dissimilar to PT Towers. Things quieten down considerably over the summer as we recover from Cornhill and conferences. We all need a break. In order to keep the blog fresh, that means a summer shutdown, starting today. There’s lots to go back over, lots to catch up with (particularly on the resources tab), and lots of other people to read. So go on, take a break. We are.
See you in the autumn.
Eight lessons on leadership from 1 Timothy 3
1 Timothy 3.1-13 is a reasonably straightforward passage. There are one or two exegetical questions (perhaps particularly in v11). But given that it is found in a letter addressed to an individual with a church listening in (note the plural “you” in 6:21), what are we to learn from this great list of qualifications? Here are eight truths which every church member needs to grasp.
1. Christ appoints leaders; it is the church’s role to discern his mind (1.18; 3.1-13 and Eph 4.11). We have to hold the tension between the supernatural calling of leaders (seen explicitly in Ephesians 4 and implicitly in the prophetic setting apart of Timothy) and the fact that the church is given a checklist of sorts in 1 Tim 3.1-13. This almost certainly means we need to make a deliberate change in some of the language we use – we are not, for example, “choosing” leaders but, rather, applying wisdom to seek the man of God’s choosing.
2. If the church is to fight false teaching, it needs godly leaders in appropriate roles (3.1-13). The thrust of the letter is that Timothy is to lead the charge against heresy. This is done by having godly praying (which occupies the bulk of chapter 3) and godly living (chapter 4 onwards), underpinned by godly leaders (chapter 3).
3. It does not necessarily follow that the most gifted men and women are the most suitable (1.20; 2 Tim 2.17; 2 Tim 4.14). Our natural inclination is always to look to gifts before character. Of course, we want a man who can preach! However, that is not the emphasis of the passage. Although see (6) below.
4. It is clear that those who start well do not always continue well, and so we must use this text to encourage leaders and pray (1.20). Alexander and Hymenaeus are sobering reminders that leaders who start well do not necessarily continue. In other words, a church should not see 3.1-13 as a static entry point to leadership, but a means of bearing leaders up in prayer and deliberately and intentionally encouraging them.
5. We are not looking for perfectly formed leaders, but we should see godliness and progress (3.1-13; 4.15). There is a danger, of course, that this could lead us to look for the perfect leaders who never sin. I only know a couple of people like that. (That is a joke, for the uninitiated). Timothy himself is to make public progress and we should expect the same in all our leaders. There will be some sins which disbar them from leadership; but in other areas, we should expect to see growth as leaders grapple with sin.
6. Having said all this, gifting is not unimportant (v2, v4, v10, v12). It is tempting to make so much of the character qualities that we end up making leaders of godly incompetents. There are explicit references to gifting the passage and there is an implied (particularly from the negative commands in chapter 2) context that those being considered are gifted to lead.
7. Good leaders benefit the church AND “save themselves” (3.13; 4.16). We can sometimes make leadership a real burden which implies that those who lead do so at great personal cost with no benefit whatsoever. Not so. Verse 13 is clear and reinforced by 4:16. Serving as a leader is a joy and delight and does us good!
8. Leaders also teach by example, so their flourishing is for our good (3.1-13; 4.12). Timothy is to make himself an example, and so when we wisely apply 1 Tim 3 to our own leadership selections, we are actually making decisions about what we want to look like ourselves.
1 Timothy 3 – preaching implications
How do you preach a passage like 1 Timothy 3.1-13? At one level it is just a list of qualifications for eldership and diaconal roles. In a normal sermon I would preach a good proportion of exegesis and then some application (although not in so linear a way). In this sermon, my approach is reversed. I’m going to do a very little exegesis (it’s for a normal church congregation). But for the most part I’m going to concentrate on the implications that arise from the passage set in its context. I’m not making that my normal diet of preaching, but in this case, it is more appropriate to church members (amongst whom are a scattering of leaders) to spend a good amount of time helping them draw out the implications that arise directly from the passage and its wider setting in the context of 1 Timothy.
Let’s be honest about porn
I’ve just finished reading one of the most traumatic books I’ve ever read. Kat Banyard’s Pimp Nation is an assessment of the sexualised culture we live in as seen through the scope of prostitution, pornography and associated issues. Banyard is not a Christian. She works for an aggressive feminist lobby group called Feminista UK. I’m guessing we don’t have a whole heap in common. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book (Note: it’s not for the faint-hearted; I feel I have read it so you don’t have to!)
In it, Banyard lays bare some of the myths of the adult world. She demolishes several arguments about prostitution (showing, along the way, how those who pimp prostitutes often win support craftily by using language of sex ‘trade’ or sex ‘workers’ thereby legitismising it). I think some of what she writes about prostitution would find agreement amongst our evangelical constituency (though I’m guessing many of us would be shocked to know exactly what goes on and how abusive it is; for the record she nails prostitution as a clear form of sexual abuse which would not be tolerated in other parts of society).
However, it is her writing about porn which is especially helpful, demolishing the notion, often bandied around that porn is fantasy. She points out the absurdity of a school education programme which encourages pupils to play ‘real sex/fantasy sex’ putting porn acts into two categories to try to show pupils that some thing that they see on screen are not for real relationships. But, argues Banyard, the very fact that they are on screen, graphically enacted, means that they are real for some.
We have thus anonymised porn and made it ‘a little harmless fun.’ “Pornography isn’t fantasy – it’s a corporeal trade that extracts profits from sexual abuse, fulfilling a demand that sex inequality created.” Porn is sexual abuse. She writes “maintaining that the porn trade is not an industrialised form of sexual abuse relies on the fantastical notion that porn studios have somehow managed to create a kind of economic and sexual nirvana: a place where a woman’s desire to have sex is miraculously in sync with the director’s schedule; where she happens to want and like all the sexual acts required by the director and which just happen to be the same acts which are most profitable for said director.”
I really appreciated this direct analysis. We’re far too easy on porn. We’re wanting to help those caught up in it in our churches, but we tend to do so in terms of what is good for them. Of course, a porn addiction is ungodly and no good for those caught up in it. But there is more. It is participation in this monetised abuse, what Banyard calls “filmed prostitution.”
Perhaps what interests me most about all of this is that Banyard lays the blame for this entire culture at the door of what she calls sex inequality. In part, she blames the church for this. Fair point, the church has been guilty of sexual misogyny in the past. But for me the deep irony is that it is the Bible, God’s word, which makes the best argument for sex equality. 1 Corinthians 7 anybody! It’s radical stuff.
We have something positive to say and we must not be coy about saying it. But even deeper than this, in the church today, we must be honest about porn.