7 August, 2014 Darren Jones
A quick read of Jonah is enough to remind you that you shouldn’t run and hide, but how do you go about testing your feelings? How can you know if you are being called to something new, when you might actually just be fed up with your current situation? How can you even tell how you measure up to what you think you might be called to do? What are you to think when you realise that the abilities you have at work are regarded by others as gifts to be used in church?
For people with family and/or financial commitments, it can be difficult enough juggling home, job and church activity without trying to explore possible changes in direction. There is also an inbuilt fear of failure for most of us too, so that we don’t want to be seen to have tried something out but then have to back-track.
On the other hand, if God really is calling you to do something then he will cause you to succeed precisely because he is at work through you.
On that basis, back in 2009 I started an evening ministry training course with the North West Partnership. As an elder at church, I found that serving the church was becoming more and more satisfying while my successful career felt less and less fulfilling. The Bible Overview and Bible-teaching Skills elements of the course would, at the very least, benefit my role as elder; but I would also have an opportunity to gauge my feelings about ministry in a more objective setting than my local church.
As it turned out, both objectives of the course were met. Firstly, skills honed on the course were immediately beneficial in the church environment. I found that when I was preparing sermons for church I would be using skills learnt and, at times, almost hearing my fellow students critiquing my efforts even as I wrote! Iron sharpens iron, and so it proved for all of us on that course; you could observe people making significant steps forward in their understanding and preaching of Bible texts. Secondly, the course (including the subsequent second year) built on and supported other events and situations that led me further and further away from secular work and towards ministry. Such courses do, however, also make you realise how little you know if you are contemplating the step into ministry. While they offer powerful tools and skills for improving personal study, lay preaching, small group leading, Sunday school teaching, etc, etc, they fall short of the breadth and depth required for pastoral ministry.
Thankfully, for those with family and/or financial commitments, distance learning options are now available that simply didn’t exist only a few years ago. While studying to this greater depth requires the effort you would expect of any degree-level academic endeavour, the personal and pastoral benefits are enormous.
In summary, whatever ministry we find ourselves in, training is beneficial both for the present and for exploring the future; and there have never been so many accessible and brilliant training resources as there are today.