17 July, 2014 Ken Armstrong
The question was asked at a regional training course, “What quality does a young minister most need?” Various answers were offered: courage; compassion; wisdom; perseverance – and you could make a good case for all of these. The questioner, however, was looking for something else. “The quality a young minister most needs is an infinite capacity to cope with discouragement.”
Jesus’ parables of the word (Matthew 13) offer assurance to sowers of the harvest, but they also warn of huge waste and the presence of a fruitless crop. In his most personal of letters, Paul reveals to Timothy what lies behind his evangelistic endeavours: ‘I endure everything for the sake of the elect that they too might obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.’ (2 Tim 2:10) Written in a letter reporting that ‘everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me...’ those words carry considerable weight.
A church planter working in a Muslim culture has written of the sort of endurance involved in seeing people come to Christ. He likens the experience to welcoming someone to church who arrives with two large suitcases. All suggestions that the baggage be left behind are resisted and the next few years are employed in going through all this material. The ensuing rollercoaster ride is not comfortable.
In personal ministry it can be hard to say tough things to people, as graciously as you know how, only to have them respond negatively. Seeking to apply the Bible faithfully to the lives of individuals carries with it no guarantee of a happy ending.
One pastor has written like this of his ‘after service’ condition. “I often feel so deflated after preaching that I have to try very hard to switch off from the burden of preaching and tune into the concerns of the congregation. Only another pastor will understand the pain of receiving a sincere but trivial compliment that suggests the person has been completely untouched by the message.”
The emergence of Gospel Partnerships around the country has led to widespread training opportunities and some excellent conferences. The hope has to be that it will result in strengthened relationships between Gospel workers.
Preaching groups provide ‘iron-sharpening’ opportunities for younger men to benefit from the experience of those who have been around for a bit longer. We need to be concerned for those working in isolated situations. For some preachers, these groups may seem to be less of a priority, but they ought to consider them important for the sake of others. The hope is that such times create friendships that lead to help and encouragement in less formal ways.
Alongside preaching groups here in Yorkshire, we have found it helpful to organise study days specifically designed to help us teach the Bible better and to understand the lives of those we endeavour to preach to week by week.
There remains a long way to go in all this, but if the assessment at the start of this post is correct, then working at better Gospel partnership is not merely a nice option – it is essential.