The default position of the frustrated minister
- Written by: Simon Manchester
After almost 30 years as Senior Minister of St Thomas’ North Sydney, Simon Manchester reflects back on the vital importance of a ministry characterised by grace rather than frustration at stubborn sheep.
I have often said publicly that I was rescued by a friend from a joyless ministry. He had the courage to tell me that though grace drove my evangelism it did not drive my ministry. I thought his comment was nonsense at first, but he was right.
My message, to put it crassly, was “to the lost there is grace…. to the found ‘lift your game’.” The only way you can do that kind of ministry is in short bursts-five years will drive people to submission or rebellion, then you move on to the next place.
Having said that, I notice preaching grace often does not get all the cooperation from a congregation that a pastor would like. You can preach the loveliness of Christ and the privilege of believing, and still find that people are frustratingly inconsistent. What is going on? We lift the burdens off their backs and give them all the freedom of the gospel and it just does not turn our people into cooperative members of our pastoral cause.
It is here that we so easily go back to the law to get things done. After all what is left to do if the gospel is not doing it? Have we not all noticed that the “searching application” (also known as cutting to the bone of congregational non-cooperation) has a strange power that people often feel? Are there not a few parishioners who love and encourage a good whack every now and again? Can we lurch like that from gospel to law?
Whatever may be said for a sermon with proper reproof or correction (and there is a time for this) the big question is, what is driving the ministry? If you think this is irrelevant simply ask yourself what your people consider to be the driving message of your ministry. Once a term I meet with the Sunday School teachers (God bless them) to talk through what gospel ministry to children – not moralising – looks like. When I meet with the youth leaders (could there be a finer group?) it is to keep them in the love of Christ. We want the young people of the church to go home from their group saying, “How great is Jesus!”.
So it is with our people. The pastor-teacher needs to take great care that the congregation hears the sufficiency of Christ for salvation and service all the time. As Paul infuses his letters with sentences like “the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” so we must allow this grace to infuse our ministry also. Too often I hear sermons where the preacher loses the roots of the gospel and calls for the fruits. We not only need to show people what righteous living looks like but where it comes from.
The “strange power” of reproof that I mentioned above is a temporary and surface power. The real power is gospel deep and gospel strong. You may be called to abandon the happy side of the faith for the sad side of correction but it should never be cut off from Jesus Christ. People who hear us should leave saying, “what I am called to do he will enable me to do”.
Nothing else will give your people joy in their fellowship with each other. If you lay a big burden on your burdened people with no good news of his power at work then they will begin to wonder if the bar of performance is too high and there is little to share.
Nothing else will give your people joy in their witness through the week. Do you want to see your people overflow with the desire to see people saved? Do not send them out with a miserable message. Send them out with a proper sense of privilege which causes them to say to themselves “there is hope for me” and to think for their friends “you need to get this”. I’m reminded of the young man who refused to become a Christian because he refused to be an annoying witness. Finally, a shrewd old saint told him that he should forget about witnessing and just become a Christian. The young man believes in Christ and runs outside yelling “I’m a Christian and I don’t have to tell anybody!”.
I am not suggesting a “positive” gospel. I am not suggesting a “half” gospel. I am simply urging a present gospel not an absent gospel. You may say this is obvious, but I have noticed that in a day of harder ministry, people are being given either nothing to rejoice in (because it’s so predictably bland) or something to struggle in (because it is so frustrating for the preacher).
Are you teaching on David and Goliath? Let your people leave with joy in a greater David. Are you teaching on Jonah? Let your people leave with gratitude for a compassionate Saviour. Are you teaching the Sermon on the Mount? Let your people leave with gratitude for a new life through the One who died. Are you teaching the Epistles? Let your people leave with the same love that the author wrote with.
And if you think that such a gospel-driven ministry is all too soft and all too ineffective ask yourself whether in those times where the condition of your soul felt dead and hopeless you were grateful for another guilty feeling – or the realisation that the love of Jesus was deeper, wider, longer and higher than you’d felt possible. Then pass on to others what really works.
“To him who is able to do more than we ask or imagine” – this is the fuel for the work.
Becoming a better reader of the Bible
- Written by: Ben Underwood
Becoming a better reader of the Bible:
An approach to Bible Study preparation
We have about 4 different names for small group Bible studies at my church. I mostly call them
growth groups, and I regard them as the backbone of the congregations. What follows is part of
training I ran focussed on the core of the activity of such groups: helping others engage with what
the Bible says. Ben Underwood is Associate Minister at St Matthew’s Shenton Park.
Pastoring through helping others read the Bible well.
Since pastors teach the Bible as a central act of leadership, the best resource we have to be pastors and teachers, is the word of God written in the Bible. Thus we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
- Written by: Jonathan Holt
Why that book about ministry burn-out you’re reading may be doing more harm than good
There is an expanding section at your local Christian bookshop dedicated to helping pastors to avoid or recover from burn out. I have read a few of these myself, but with a growing sense of disquiet. I began to notice a certain pattern to these books: firstly, they were written by someone who had experienced burn-out themselves. We respond to this experience-based knowledge, and you’ll often find the opening chapters of the book tell the story. You get to hear about the wide-eyed ministry novice, brimming with confidence and ready to see the world changed for Jesus. But the story soon spirals downward and the crash at the bottom is terrible. And yet there is hope, because the author learns hard truths about themselves, they find the mistakes and miscalculations. The slow and determined work of repair and rebuilding then unfolds. They grow into a new phase of ministry: sharing what they have learned, to help others.
Harrie Scott Simmons: a tribute.
- Written by: Peter Adam
Peter Adam pays tribute to a great mentor of his. A shorter version of this tribute was first published in The Melbourne Anglican, September 2018.
Peter Adam is Vicar Emeritus of St Jude’s Carleton, Vic.
Harrie Scott Simmons, 5th September 1918 – 4th May 1999.
Harrie was born in Melbourne, attended Scotch College, and was converted through the Crusaders movement by Baden Gilbert, who ministered at Montague (South Melbourne). It was a slum parish, and some of the Crusaders helped with ministry in the parish, and paid for a women’s worker to assist in ministry there. Harrie also joined CMS League of Youth. He trained for the ministry at Ridley College, when Bishop Baker was the Principal, and benefitted from his Biblical preaching and emphasis on the devotional life.
Pastoral Guidelines on Same-Sex Relationships, Marriage and Gender
- Written by: Stephen Hale
With the advent of same-sex marriage, churches are seeking to articulate with grace and truth a response to the various issues this presents. Stephen Hale has generously made available the pastoral guidelines that the St Hilary’s Network in Melbourne has developed. Reading and reflecting on their efforts might prove helpful to others engaged in similar tasks.
Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister in the St Hilary’s Network
We acknowledge that developing a theological and pastoral response related to human sexuality and sexual practice in our cultural setting is complex and challenging. We offer our full assurance for all who are same sex attracted that they are loved, valued and welcome in our church. Our identity as believers is founded in the new life we live as God’s children. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
As a church, we uphold the formularies of the Anglican Church of Australia, which are grounded in the Bible’s teaching. The Christian rite of marriage is between a man and a woman. Both Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5, and St Paul affirm what God has instituted across all ages in the words of Genesis 2:24: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ The introduction to the Anglican Marriage Service (APBA Order 2) classically states it this way,
Our trouble with church buildings
- Written by: Stephen Hale
Our trouble with church buildings
Bishop Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister of the St Hilary’s Network, and Chair of EFAC, Australia.
In 2017 I had a curious experience. My mother had passed away and the funeral was held at the church of my childhood and youth. The ministry and pastoral concern of the church was faultless and the service went incredibly well. Why was it curious? The facilities were more or less the same as when I last regularly attended nearly 40 years ago.
I’ve been at St Hilary’s for 8 and half years and we are just in the process of lodging plans for the redevelopment of the Kew Site in our Network of three sites. It has been a slow and at points painful process to get to this point. Our facilities have had very heavy usage over an extended period of time and it’s a joy that we have at last reached this point with strong support. Along the way we have had people leave because they in conscience can’t support a capital program.
These two stories illustrate the tension evangelical Anglican churches seem to have with renewing their facilities. For a range of reasons we seem to baulk in this area. We all know that the church is the people and the building is there to keep the rain off and we could easily do church in a rented space. Yet we have hundreds of buildings and they each are a statement or testimony to who we are and what we value. It strikes me that to visit many of our churches is increasingly a discontinuous experience for many non-churchgoers. Everywhere else they go in their life they go to fresh contemporary spaces that are fit for purpose and easily accessible. When they come to our churches they will often come to places that look tired and dated and are freezing in winter and an oven in summer. It is said that independent schools renew their facilities every 25 to 30 years. For churches it is seemingly every 50 or more years.
In one sense I’ve been spoilt, as I was Curate in a brand new church complex at Castle Hill and Vicar at a near new renewal at Diamond Creek. This shapes you. As Bishop I was involved in several processes that led to the closure and sale of some churches. Leading services of deconsecrating a church is a challenging experience.
If we want to connect in the contemporary era we need to give careful and active consideration to what sort of facilities we currently have and the best way we can renew and refresh them. Most of us do that in our own homes, why not the church? Most of us have leveraged off the generosity of previous generations for many years yet are reluctant to commit to the renewal of those facilities. Many churches have had ministers who were involved in the deferral of maintenance from one generation to the next and the cost of catching up is now considerable.
Perhaps we have a theological problem here? Perhaps our theology of church has flaws. In every generation the church has been involved in building buildings to meet in and we marvel at the best examples of these when we play tourist in many parts of the world. Would any of us be bold enough to build something grand and dynamic in our day? Visiting Barcelona a few years ago it was striking the impact on the waves of tourists entering the Sagrada Familia Basilica. They almost all fell silent and were awed and touched by being in that remarkable space.
Why should children participate in dynamic and interesting spaces at their school and then rattle around in dreary halls on Sunday? Do we need to reflect on how we think abut buildings in more than just functional terms. Are they in fact special spaces that enable worship, community and outreach? I’ve always said that it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re hyper-liberal or hyper-reformed people seem to have an emotional attachment to their church and it’s buildings. Equally it doesn’t seem to matter if the building looks like a Telstra sub station built in the 1960’s or a beautiful gothic building built in the 1860’s people are still attached to the spaces.
In the new mission era we’re in we need facilities that are open and accessible. Facilities that can be used for all sorts of activities in all sorts of ways. Worship spaces that are flexible yet retain a sense of the sacred. We need a new culture of openness and generosity to enable our existing facilities to be refreshed and renewed as a matter of course rather than deferring it to the next generation. We need to refresh our theology of buildings.