Reflections on a ministers’ conference

Taken from the intimation sheet: 30 March 2014

I’m just back from a few days in Pitlochry with 22 fellow Scottish Baptist Ministers. Here are a few observations:

Most of us don’t want to be ministers

When asked to share our call to ministry, there was great diversity in our stories, yet a common thread ran through them all; we never imagined in childhood that we would ever become ministers. The call was unexpected, and truth be told, often unwelcome. But we went further still, not only were we reluctant to accept the call, we still are!

We are not blind to the honour and the privilege of pastoral ministry: “Has God called you to preach the Gospel? Do not stoop to become a king!” said Spurgeon. But there is a sense in which we really don’t do it because we want to, we do it because we feel compelled to. We do it because the draw is something we just can’t resist. The call will not be silenced, and so we serve as his under-shepherds.

Most of us don’t know where we’re going

There may be some ‘career pastors’ out there, with a clear plan for moving to bigger, more influential churches and so on. But (happily in my opinion) they are few and far between. Most of us are just trying to be faithful in the settings to which the Lord has called, we see the church we serve as a family of God’s people, not a stone to be stepped on as we clamber ever ‘upwards’.

This actually is also true for the churches we lead too; most of us have a clear idea of the next step, the next stage. But when asked where our churches should be in 5 or 10 years’ time, even the most ‘visionary’ pastors amongst us seemed unable to be clear. Isn’t this the way the Lord normally leads though? He tells us the next step, and expects us to follow in it.

Most of us don’t know what we’re doing

Or we don’t know what we’re expected to be doing. It’s never been harder. There was a time when the role and remit of the Scottish Baptist pastor was fairly clear and reasonably consistent across our churches. Now patterns of ministry have changed, many of our members have come from other denominations and bring different expectations.

A pastor may move churches and find himself lost in a sea of surprising expectations. Biblical literacy has fallen. Terminology has changed. There is little agreement on the pastor’s role, remit or authority. I wonder if you could answer these questions:

  • What are the biblical non-negotiables that all pastors should be doing?
  • In what way does the pastor get held accountable, and by whom – the Union, deacons, members?
  • Is the pastor an elder?
  • What is the difference between an elder’s authority and a deacon’s authority?
  • If all members are expected to help discern the mind of Christ for His church, in what way should our leaders, lead?
  • Can a deacon fulfil a pastoral visit, can a member?

Lack of clarity on these questions amongst church members leads to many of our pastors feeling quite overwhelmed by the different expectations that surround them. And guilty because we’re the ones who really need to be teaching these things!

Many of us are hurting deeply

It would of course, be wrong for me to share stories, but there were a number of our group who have been very deeply wounded by their experiences in church ministry. Some move to other churches, some to other forms of ministry, some back to the jobs they did before. Whatever the transition, the wounds don’t heal quickly, or easily.

There are burdens that we must bear in pastoral ministry – the spiritual battle, the way in which you never really get to clock off, the responsibility and so on – but what was deeply saddening was to hear of stories where pastors have been badly mistreated by people in their own church family. (Needless to say, myself and Deborah are very thankful for the way in which we’ve been treated over the last 6 years in Airdrie.)

I’m not sure why I chose to share these reflections, it just seemed like the natural thing to do for me this week – but I do hope having read them that you will commit to pray for myself, Edwin and all the other pastors you know – that the Lord would guard us and guide us into long, faithful and fruitful ministries for Him and his Church.

Trusting in His Grace