connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
The end of 2016 has signalled for me another year of ministry done and dusted. I’ve now been at this particular work for five years now. Two years ago I was up for renomination as Pastor and I’m thankful to God, and to my church, for their confidence vote in the ministries I’ve been involved in.
The past five years have also reminded me of Gary Millar’s favourite John Chapman story. Gary’s ministry in Ireland wasn’t always swimmingly great. In fact, if you ever sit down with Gary to hear how ministry was for him you’d be utterly surprised that he didn’t throw in the towel sooner. There were some pretty bad things said about him and done to his family (though, thankfully, nothing physical).
But Chappo was always telling Gary, “Brother, they killed our Lord Jesus. Don’t expect anything less! And remember, the first 50 years of ministry are the hardest.”
I’ve been at it now for five years. That’s 45 more to go before it gets any easier…
So with five years under my belt here are some of the bigger personal reflections.
Preaching is hard work. I came out of College bustling with energy and ideas and convictions that had been freshly laid. The tendency in my early sermons was to preach what I had just learnt (and was wowed by, and wanted people wowed by) and what I wanted to say and show these points from the text before us. By the steady guidance and feedback of my friend and co-pastor Ben I’ve made greater strides in my preaching – to speak clearer on what scripture itself is saying and being a little more discerning (though I often still fail) of what to leave in and take out. Five years on the task is still hard and filled with plenty of ‘woulda shoulda coulda’ moments and reflections.
Another aspect of preaching which is daunting is the sheer responsibility of being clear and faithful. Clarity wasn’t something I was always good at. Points within my sermons were sometimes jumbled and a confused mess. The saying ‘mist in the pulpit means a fog in the pew’ has been apt on many occasions. I’ve been working the hardest on this aspect of my preaching the most over the last five years. But what has struck me more recently is how weighty the responsibility is when the scriptures are clearly and faithfully preached.
For instance, I recently preached on the topic of loving your enemies. It was a hard sermon to chew on and preach on – because Jesus words seem so black and white that to caveat everything would be to miss the point of the radical nature of his words. A few short weeks later and I hear of a family in church which were struggling to cope with a difficult neighbour – an enemy. They had heard God’s word to them and were wrestling with the implications of it. It struck me how weighty those words of mine were. And it drives me to my knees to cry out that my words be faithful, and that the people I have oversight over will faithfully apply the words they hear.
The administrative side of church work can be quite mind-boggling. My first few years oversaw some major changes in the structure and organisation of my church. Basically, it came down to one of the elders in my church to sort out – and wow, the amount of work that went into it was incredible. I’m even more thankful today for God gifting men and women for this task.
Part of the reorganisation of our church brought up a stark reminder on what unity in the church looks like. Unity is not just about doing things together under the same roof happily. Unity not only needs relationships, but must also be grounded in theology and ministry philosophy – because eventually differences over these things will come to the surface and reveal a distinct lack of unity.
Here are some other short reflections. Starting with some negative personal experiences over the past five years:
There’s quite a few negatives and challenges listed there. I find it easy to remember and repeat these things. But over the past five years there has also been immense joys:
I’ve shed the tears of joy as I sat with someone who finally saw how beautiful the gospel is. I can remember those excited moments shared with a team of leaders who have seen a group converted after a camp talk. There’s just nothing like it.
In the first five years there have been some hard and discouraging moments. And there have been wonderful joys. I’m glad that the joys have far outweighed the negatives. Here’s to another 45 years.
And I know for some of my readers: I’m really looking forward to those 45 with you.
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