Category: ministers

where you go I will go

In the interests of recycling and saving the planet, here is a thought I had earlier in the week which I shared with the Baptist Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association… perhaps it will bless you.footprints

My daily readings this week have been based on Ruth, and on Monday I read this from Ruth 1:

 1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

 3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

 6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

 8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

 11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me-even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”

 14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.

 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

I know the story so well that it’s easy for me to skip over what happened at the beginning to get to the ­good news part of the narrative. But to do so does not do justice to what happened to Naomi and her family. Naomi starts off as a refugee – fleeing famine with her husband and sons. They settle into a foreign country and (contrary to God’s command) her sons marry local, non-Jewish women. Tragically not only Naomi’s husband but also her sons died prematurely (the flight from the famine did not preserve their lives) and eventually, hearing that the famine had lifted, Naomi decided to return home (presumably so she could die and be buried with her ancestors). Let’s remember too that this is part of Jesus’ family history and that his parents too were refugees. Perhaps that speaks loudly to us today about how refugees are being treated by our nation and across the world – an unwelcome problem to be dealt with rather than people to be saved and blessed.

We usually concentrate on Ruth (the book is named after her) but let’s not ignore that Orpah at first was willing to go with Naomi too until Naomi persuaded her to stay. That level of devotion is to be commended, but perhaps Orpah’s heart was not really in it so she was willing to stay in Moab and going back to her gods (had she adopted Naomi’s God?).

And then we get to some of my favourite words in the Bible: Ruth’s response to Naomi’s attempt to get her to stay behind. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried…” It’s an astonishing lifelong commitment to her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law’s God. As the story unfolds we find that these words were not only a promise, they were also a prophecy. These words are some of my favourite words in the Bible because we used them in our marriage vows. They imply a letting go of the past and a leaving behind, but more than that they announce a new beginning and a new level of commitment.

At a recent Induction I reflected that in some ways an Induction is a bit like a wedding: there are mutual promises made in a church. But we know that these promises are not ‘until death do us part’ but ‘until God calls me somewhere new’. However, can we say Ruth’s words about the people to whom God has called us for this season? Even the ones we love but struggle to like? Even our strongest critics? Are we any less committed to these people than Ruth was to Naomi – right up to the moment when we say the final ‘amen’ on the closing benediction of our season in that church?

Be blessed, be a blessing

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nothing succeeds like a toothless budgie

Each week in the Eastern Baptist Association one of the Regional Ministers will share a ‘Thought for the Week’ and some prayer requests. This week it was my turn and I thought that in the interests of recycling I would share it with you too. It was written to Ministers but may have a wider application. (Apologies to any of you who got the ‘Thought for the Week’ too).

iStock_000008192999SmallRecently I have been pondering again how to measure success in a church. The traditional, and rather crude, measure of success is the number of people attending Sunday services (or “bums on pews” if you are less cultured). That may give attendance figures but is that the same as success? I don’t think so. We are certainly encouraged when will people turn up, especially if we are preaching, and even more encouraged if new people turn up and come back again the next week. We are rightly pleased when people come together to worship God, meet with him and encounter him. But again I don’t think that his success: it’s an aspect of Ministry. But I remind myself that no matter how many people turn up on a Sunday there are still many more who have not darkened the doors of the church for months, years, or perhaps even at all.

So what is success in Ministry? What does it look like? Do we think we have had a successful meeting if everybody has agreed with the final outcome? Was it a successful visit if we had chocolate biscuits alongside our cup of tea? Were we successful in preaching when everybody smiled and said thank you at the end? Is balancing the budget a measure of success, or increased giving? There are many possible measures.

One of the difficulties is that success in Ministry is not easy to measure because we are talking about God at work in people’s lives. In fact often what God is doing is hidden in the lives of those with whom we Minister and serve so we don’t ever find out about it. We often do not know the full impact for them of a visit to someone who has not been able to get to church. We usually do not know the significance of what we might have said in a sermon through which God spoke to somebody. God is sufficiently gracious that we may see some of the answers to our prayers but many will remain hidden from us (and anyway it was his answer not our prayer so can’t really claim success for it). We may not know how the way we led a funeral may have blessed the bereaved family. We do (please God) have the joy of seeing people come to faith and baptising them but many times will not know the full extent of the part we have played in someone’s journey of faith or to faith in Jesus.

If we’re being honest with ourselves and with God from time to time we would like to know that we are doing okay and would like to think that we are being successful in the Ministry to which he has called us. And, if we are being honest, sometimes it is rather annoying that we can’t measure it ‘successfully’.

But, and this is what I keep reminding myself, Jesus never called us to be successful. He called us to be faithful. He called us to be servants. He called us to be prophetic (and think how unpopular the Old Testament prophets were!). He called us to teach. He called us to make disciples. And he uses all of that to transform lives and bring people into the kingdom of God (his job, not ours). But (unless you know better) I don’t think there are any passages in the Bible where Jesus told us to be successful.

It may be semantics or perhaps a nuanced distinction but for me there is a difference between seeking success and receiving encouragement. Jesus has given us his power and authority and partners with us by his Spirit in the process of making disciples, baptising them and teaching them. That is our aim, that is what we are called to do, with his power and authority. Any encouragements we receive along the way are a blessing from him. Treasure each encouragement he gives you as you continue to fulfil his Ministry and thank him for them without yearning for success.

I hope and pray that you are encouraged this week.

20?!

TwentyIt’s been a season of anniversaries. Silver Wedding last week. Today it is the 20th anniversary of my Ordination as a Baptist Minister (and also my Mum’s ahemth birthday today). When I was ordained 20 years ago I had no sense of where God would lead me.

I had no idea that he would provide me with such amazing colleagues in Ministry everywhere I have served.

I didn’t know the people to whom he would call me to minister. I knew the first church in which I would serve but had no idea about where I would be called from there. I didn’t realise how much they (you) would all mean to me.

I did not know the wide range of circumstances in which I would be ministering with people – from extreme joys to the depths of sorrow, with most points in between.

I had no sense that I would be posting reflections online (I didn’t know what online meant) on an almost daily basis.

Yet what I was sure of then and have been blessed by ever since is God’s promise of his presence with me, his Spirit’s generous gifts and the opportunity to follow Jesus and serve his people in this special way. That’s still true 20 years on.

What a privilege!

Thank you to you for being a part of that, if only by reading this bloggage!

Be blessed, be a blessing

and here’s a joke for all those both of you who have missed them recently:

An old man came up to me at the cash machine and asked me to help him check his balance … so I pushed him over.

 

 

sand art

I will try to tread carefully today. That’s because the subject of this bloggage is still an active court case and I do not want to be guilty of contempt of court.

Yesterday, shortly before his trial for perverting the course of justice was due to begin, Chris Huhne changed his plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘guilty’. At first I was indignant. Why didn’t he ‘put his hands up to it’ when he was first confronted with the allegation? Then I was annoyed. Why has he wasted so much time and money (his own and that of us taxpayers) in protesting his innocence and having a trial set up only to change his plea at the last minute?

I found myself clambering onto a high horse and clothing myself in self-righteousness. He should have known better. If he knew he was guilty why has he thrown so much away over 3 points on his driving licence and a fine? I could feel myself getting quite ‘harumphy’ about it. And it didn’t help when other politicians were interviewed on TV and said that he had done the right thing by resigning as an MP. I was thinking that he should have done the right thing long before rather than playing this brinkmanship game of ‘chicken’ with the Crown Prosecution Service to see who would give in first.

true loveAnd then, to make matters even worse, an image of a man drawing in the sand came into my mind. He had been presented with someone who was clearly guilty and asked what to do. The Jewish Law said that the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (and yes, where was the man?) should be stoned to death. But the accusers knew that Jesus would want to show compassion. They thought they had him. He either had to break the Law or condemn a woman to death.

The sand-drawing stopped. The man stood up and gently said, “The one who is without sin can throw the first stone.” Then he crouched back down and started drawing.

The baying mob went silent and slowly, one by one, they melted away until it was just the sand artist and the woman left. There was nobody to accuse, condemn, convict. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Where did she go? Did she go back home? Did she join the other women who were part of Jesus’ nomadic group?

As I watched the doodling in the sand I thought of Chris Huhne – desperately trying to cover up a mistake with lies. I thought of how I have tried to avoid blame, how I have lied to cover my back, how I have tried to cover up my own sinfulness and present a perfect image (see yesterday’s bloggage).

I did not have a stone in my hand but I gently climbed down off my high horse, went and stood next to the man in the sand and asked him for forgiveness – and to say the same to me as he had said to the woman.

He did.

He does.

He will.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

clergy carol, verse 3

Spending time in preparation
Fa la la la la la la la.
Searching for the inspiration
Fa la la la la la la la.
Reading books and praying hard
Fa la la la la la la la.
‘Til services are all prepared
Fa la la la la la la laaaa.
 
Time is passing far too quickly
Fa la la la la la la la.
Deadlines looming, feeling sickly
Fa la la la la la la la.
Can’t I use last year’s sermon?
Fa la la la la la la la.
None recall it that’s for certain
Fa la la la la la la la.
 
How do I include all carols?
Fa la la la la la la la.
Miss one out at my peril
Fa la la la la la la la.
Everyone has a favourite
Fa la la la la la la la.
Hearty singing helps them savour it
Fa la la la la la la la.
 
(Well, you find a rhyme for “favourite”!)

The heart of the matter

I’ve been contemplating the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod. Personally, I was saddened and disappointed that they were unable to agree to have women as bishops. Part of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and sound exasperated.

But I keep seeing a man writing in dirt and asking those without discrimination to cast the first stone.

It is true that our denomination has ordained women for much longer than the Church of England, and we have women in National / Regional positions that are the closest equivalent we have to Bishops. But there are still far more men than women who are ordained Ministers in our denomination. And there are still churches that will not consider calling a woman to be their Minister, albeit on theological grounds (with which I disagree).

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the non church sector of society. The media has portrayed this as the Church* being out of touch with society, but I reckon that there is a bloke writing in the dirt of our culture asking those who are without discrimination to cast the first stone. The problem is that society is out of touch with God. Human beings have allowed (or deliberately introduced) discrimination to tarnish and taint all aspects of our lives. When we see differences of any sort between ourselves and others and allow them to influence us we are out of touch with God. He is the one who created human beings, male and female.

Our society is riven with discrimination. If you doubt me, look at the profile of the highest earners in our country. How many are women? How many are of non-white ethnic origin? How do the proportions relate to the actual proportions in the country as a whole?

How many Director Generals of the BBC have not been white men? How many editors and journalists are not white men? How come women earn less than men for the same jobs? What proportion of MPs and Lords at Parliament are not white men?

There may be “Yes, but…” answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the reality at the heart of our society, that human beings are selfish at heart and those who have power will not easily surrender it. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act became law. Yet while there has been progress, I do not think a change in the law can change society. Laws will be necessary, but they work best when they reflect society rather than trying to shape society.

So what can we do?

We need to recognise that while culture and society seem to have a life of their own, in fact they are the products of a collection of individual human beings. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching and be honest with ourselves. We are all subject to selfish bias. We all look out for ourselves first and foremost, and I think we allow prejudice to self-justify that (consciously or sub-consciously).

The antidote is godly selflessness motivated by godly love. When we are able to see all people as those who are loved by God, all people as those for whom Jesus made the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it is more difficult to elevate ourselves at the cost of others, or to suppress or oppress others because we consider them to be less than us. God does not discriminate. He does not even reject those who reject him, rather he respects our free will so much that reluctantly he accepts the decision of those who don’t want anything to do with him: yet he will always welcome them with open arms if they change their mind.

And while we may be able to do some things about this ourselves, actually we need God’s Spirit within us to change us, to make us more godly, more selfless, more loving, more like Jesus. We need him to bear more fruit within us. And I’m afraid that until more people in our society acknowledge their need of him, we will not eradicate the evil of discrimination from our society.

But surely those who are followers of Jesus can set an example? It can start with me and you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Once again the media have carelessly talked about ‘the church’ in their reporting, lumping all churches under the umbrella of the Church of England.

two weeks

CalendárioToday marks the end of the second week of my sabbatical leave. I am pleased with how things are going. I am ahead of schedule in my reading and am getting some helpful responses to my enquiries about growing churches. Next week I hope to sift the data coming back and start to arrange some visits.

In my sabbatical reading so far I have come across a number of very helpful and pertinent passages. Some relate to me and my faith, some relate to me as a church leader and some relate to our church. One of my tasks is to sift these prayerfully and try to discern which are more relevant at this time than others. I have decided to post some of the things I have discovered so far here and offer you the opportunity to comment on them too:

I am too busy if I lack time or space to be with God, or I justify not doing so by reference to all the things I have to do for him.

God intends churches to grow. But numerical growth is more than just attendance at Sunday Services – it’s about making disciples.

If God intends churches to grow we should be asking what we are doing that is hindering that growth.

Leadership is about influence, not position. If nobody is following you you are not a leader.

“Churches with money problems often actually have a vision problem.” (Rick Warren)

Goodness is more contagious than evil.

Laughter is more infectious than grumpiness.

Open-ended communication (perhaps through creative arts) can leave space for God to speak creatively.

What do you think?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

A little girl pointed to the dusty Bible on the shelf.

“Whose book is that?” she asked her mother.

Her mother quite startled by her daughters question replied, “Why honey, don’t you know? That is God’s book!”

The child demonstrating that she had a very practical turn to her mind said, “Don’t you think that we had better give it back to him? No one around here ever reads it.”