Quote for the Day

C.S. Lewis in the introduction to his book The Problem of Pain:

‘I must add, too, that the only purpose of the book is to solve the intellectual problem raised by suffering; for the far higher task of teaching fortitude and patience I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.’

Actually, Mr. Lewis, I think you might have something to teach us after all…

Pastoral Evangelism

I was trained as an evangelist in the Church Army in Canada (now Threshold Ministries) and served in this role for twelve years before my ordination in 1990. As a Church Army officer I exercised my evangelistic ministry in a parish context, and I’ve continued to do that since then as a deacon and priest. My dad was a parish priest with a wonderful evangelistic ministry, and he gave me a great example of how the two vocations (pastor and evangelist) – often seen as distinct and indeed somewhat different from each other – can be brought together in a life-giving way.

So I was thrilled yesterday to read a very fine short sermon from Bishop David Chillingworth on this subject. Bishop David is bishop of St. Andrew’s, Dunkeld and Dunblane, and he is also Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He blogs regularly about his ministry at Thinking Out Loud. The sermon below was preached at a service of the restoration of the commission of a Church Army evangelist who had resigned from the Church Army on his ordination (as used to be the requirement), but had since decided to take up the offer of the restoration of his commission. I have been present on similar occasions here in Canada and they are very moving for all concerned; the sense of healing can be very powerful indeed.

I love the way Bishop David expresses so succinctly what I have always tried to live out in my ministry, and more intentionally in the last few years: the refusal to accept the idea that the gifts of pastor and evangelist cannot co-exist in the same person. Of course they can! I saw it clearly in my dad, and I like to think it’s true for me too. I’m very grateful to Bishop David for giving me permission to reproduce this short sermon. Here it is.

Re-commissioning of Revd Nick Green

12.9.15

‘He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through  him’

Our Service this evening – the re-commissioning of Nick as a Church Army Officer – celebrates and affirms that work of evangelism.  It’s the great tradition of John the Baptist who came to bear witness to the one who would come after him – to proclaim the coming of Christ and to call people to repentance.  And St Paul declares the centrality of faith – but reminds us that faith needs to be proclaimed.  It needs those who are called to proclaim it and respond in obedience.

I was delighted when Nick told me that he had decided to accept the invitation to receive back his Church Army Commission.  I know that he thought and prayed deeply about that.  In these moments, the question is, ‘Is this something of the past which I have now left behind – or do I carry it forward as a guiding principle of my life wherever the call of God may lead me?’  And I think it is the latter.  So there is in our worship this evening more than a touch of the gospel of reconciliation – a reintegrating of Nick’s calling to be an evangelist with his ministry as Rector of St Mary’s, Dunblane.  And what is the gospel if it is not about reconciliation – the breaking down of the barriers between us and the breaking down of the barriers between God and his people.

But there is more to this.  There seems to have been a time in the life of the church when decisions tended to be presented in binary – or adversarial – or straightforward ‘yes and no’ terms.  I constantly meet the legacy of that in my own ministry.  And I think that the time when the Church Army said to its evangelists that if they sought ordination in the church they would have to give up their commission as evangelists.  It had to be one or the other – it couldn’t be both and.

I believe passionately that there are many circumstances in which both/and is just what we need and what the gospel requires.  And my experience is that much of the energy which we need comes when we bring things together rather than keeping them apart.  Wasn’t the ministry of Jesus like that – healing, teaching, feeding, caring – all wrapped up together?  As Nick goes about his ministry in Dunblane – caring, teaching, shaping worship, building relationships in the community – what could be more creative than that he brings to that the heart and passion of an evangelist?

So it’s going to be both/and for Nick.  And I think it’s going to be inside and outside the church.  The Priest and Pastor is at the heart of the community of God’s people.  The evangelist is with those without faith – the evangelist is often outside – like John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness.

So Nick the Rector – and Nick the evangelist – bring together that inside/outside understanding of the church.  The tendency of the church to tame and domesticate is offset by the call of the evangelist to be with those who are not part of the church.

This is a really important moment.  I am delighted and honoured to be part of it.  I am delighted to be part of the growing partnership between the Church Army and the Scottish Episcopal Church.  I pray that God will bless us as Church and Church Army do both/and and inside/outside in his name.

**********

Note: For a good example of how the ministries of evangelism and pastoral care can be combined, it’s hard to beat David Hansen’s superb book The Art of Pastoring. David is a Baptist pastor, and his book gives many examples of how witness and evangelism can be built right into the daily work of pastoral care in an ordinary congregation (the book was written in the context of a multi-point charge in rural Montana). I highly recommend it.

Who are the must-reads?

Seth Godin had a great blog post on Thursday about knowing who the must-reads are in your field. It ended with these words:

We would never consent to surgery from a surgeon who hadn’t been to medical school, and perhaps even more important, from someone who hadn’t kept up on the latest medical journals and training. And yet there are people who take pride in doing their profession from a place of naivete, unaware or unlearned in the most important voices in their field.

The line between an amateur and professional keeps blurring, but for me, the posture of understanding both the pioneers and the state of the art is essential. An economist doesn’t have to agree with Keynes, but she better know who he is.

If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.

Too much doing, not enough knowing.

So the question is, for us pastors, who are the ‘must-reads’ in our field? And how do we decide?

The reason I ask this question is because we have a fair amount of latitude in our work. An old clergy friend of mine once told me that you can do the absolute non-negotiable tasks of an Anglican parish priest in about 24 hours a week. If you work twice that many (as many of my colleagues do), you have a certain amount of freedom in deciding how you’re going to spend the other 24 hours. And many of us will tend to spend it on projects and tasks that interest us, rather than asking ‘What would be of most benefit to my parish?’

Do we make decisions about our reading the same way? Instead of asking ‘Who are the must-reads to better equip me to do the work God is calling me to do in this parish?’ do we ask instead, ‘Now, what would I most like to read next?’ ?

I suspect that’s how we often make that decision. I know that’s true of me.

So my questions are:

  1. Who are the ‘must-reads’ for us as pastors?
  2. How do we decide who goes on that list?
  3. How do we make sure that we don’t neglect the classics that have stood the test of time in favour of the ones who happen to be making the waves today?

Please discuss…

True Leadership

41rL8RjBOxLI’ve been reading a really helpful little book by Matt Garvin called ‘6 Radical Decisions: How followers of Christ change the world through Kingdom Cells‘ (available as a paper book from Fusion Canada here, and as an ebook from Amazon here). It’s one of those books that needs to be read and pondered over and over again, because it’s full of little nuggets that need unpacking and thinking through in the context of daily life. I’m not finished my first read yet, but I’m about 80% of the way through, and I know I’ll be coming back to it in a few weeks.

This afternoon I was reading a chapter about leadership. Leadership is a buzz word in the contemporary world, especially in the evangelical church. There are those who will say that if you’re a pastor you can’t be a leader, and if you’re a leader you can’t be a pastor. Pastors, we’re told, spend their time building relationships and responding to the needs of people; leaders, in contrast, tend to be less sensitive individuals who don’t mind being disliked, and that’s important because their role is to be the visionaries who discern where God wants a group of people to go, and then to lead them in that direction, ignoring the complaints and criticisms of those who don’t agree with them (I exaggerate, of course, but you get the point!).

I’m refreshed and relieved beyond words to discover that Matt Garvin doesn’t believe that. I love this little section:

The Bible does indicate that leadership is a spiritual gift, and there has been a lot written and taught about the importance of leadership. The truth is, though, that leadership is quite simple. There are two things necessary: knowing where you are going, and loving people. One of the dangers in the intense focus on leadership in our modern culture is that we raise a whole lot of people who want to be leaders but don’t know where they are going and don’t love people (emphasis mine).

I think that is exactly right. Most of the time when I have consciously tried to be a leader, I have not succeeded. The times when I have been most effective as a leader have been the times when I have not been trying to lead. I have, however, had a very clear idea in my head of what my ideal is: a community of people who love Jesus and are committed to follow him, who meet together regularly to learn and encourage each other and pray together, who put Jesus first rather than their own ambitions and comfort and wealth, who make a difference in the world around them and who are not afraid to share their faith with others and join in the work of making new disciples for Jesus.

That’s my ideal, and it hasn’t really changed very much over the years I’ve been in pastoral ministry. Just having the ideal, however, isn’t going to do very much if all I do is sit in front of a laptop and struggle to find new ways to express it. I have to embody the ideal by actually loving people. As I make time to build relationships, listen to people, walk beside them in their struggles, and do what I can to be a blessing to them, then they will see that my ideal makes sense, that it works in practice, and they may be motivated to join me in working towards this vision of what Christ could do among us.

In other words, as someone once said, ‘People don’t care what you know until they know that you care’!

And, of course, this means that being a good pastor and a good leader go hand in hand. It may be possible to be a good pastor without being a good leader, but it is very, very difficult to be a good leader without being a good pastor, because love is the centre of the Christian life.

What do you think?

Shepherds or leaders or both?

Terminology is important. What we call ourselves says a lot about how we view our role.

Marci and I do our daily Bible reading with the help of the Bible Reading Fellowship’s ‘New Daylight‘ notes. This morning the set passage was 1 Peter 5:2-4, but we read a little more than that. Here is the passage:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favour to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-8 NIV 2011)

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

In the short note in ‘New Daylight’, the author frequently used the terms ‘leader’ and ‘servant leader’, but the thing that interests me is that Peter never once uses this word in this passage. His preferred term is ‘shepherd’; he talks to the elders and tells them to see themselves as shepherds after the pattern of the Good Shepherd himself.

What am I saying – that pastors don’t lead? Of course not. But terminology matters, and Peter’s instructions in this passage actually run counter to much accepted leadership wisdom. Authoritarian leadership is not appropriate for a Christian shepherd; we’re told not to lord it over the flock, but instead to lead by example – in other words, modelling the true Christian life in the sight of the congregation so that they can see what it looks like and want to emulate it (of course, this assumes that Christian congregations are small enough for the members to know their elders well – which perhaps has something to say to our obsession with church size).

Not once in this passage are we pastors told to ‘lead’. We’re told to be shepherds, to watch over the flock, to be eager to serve, and to set a good example. Personally, i think if we do these things, the leadership will take care of itself. But I think if we focus on leadership and neglect these things, the flock will find itself without the shepherds it needs.

Terminology matters. We may lead, but leadership is not our primary calling; shepherding is. May the Lord help us to be good shepherds of the congregations we serve.

It’s a good job, is my job!

Last night I got to sit in a room of two hundred people who had gathered for the annual fundraising dinner and silent auction in support of the Anglican Chaplaincy at the University of Alberta. The guest speaker was the mayor of Edmonton, Don Iveson, who has recently invited our Bishop, Jane Alexander, to sit as co-chair with him on a city task force to end poverty. Don described himself last night as ‘spiritual’, and said that his Facebook profile described his religious beliefs as ‘It’s complicated’. But one thing of the things that he said that struck me was, “I was a little surprised – and I really shouldn’t have been – to look around the room tonight and see so many faces I recognized”. He was alluding to the fact that many of the people at the dinner are very active in supporting good causes and working tirelessly to try to make our city a better place for everyone, especially the less fortunate.

Yes, I thought, that’s what we do. We don’t tend to make a big noise about it, but when I look out over our church on a Sunday and start to think about some of the projects that some of our folks are involved in, I start to get a warm feeling. Not that we’re trying to get all boastful about how good we are (I’ve got more than enough sins to keep me busy repenting for years to come), but Paul tells us that the important thing is ‘faith working through love’, and there’s a whole lot of that in the Anglican community in this city.

I get to work with some excellent clergy colleagues, genuine people who love the Lord and want to serve him and his people. Most of them didn’t get into this work to make a name for themselves or to run big complicated organizations; they got into it to do some good in the name of Christ. Many of them are tired and some of them are burnt out, but for the most part their hearts and minds are firmly in the right place. Of course, we don’t always see eye to eye on how this work should be done, and sometimes we argue and fight about it, and when we do that, from time to time we say hurtful things to each other, and then we have to apologize and try to make things right. But I’m blessed in the people I get to call my colleagues: I can say that without any hesitation.

I’m also blessed in my church community, St. Margaret’s. Yesterday morning I met with a group of about seven men who gather every Thursday at 7 a.m. at a local coffee shop for Bible study. This is the longest standing small group in our parish, and it has become my favourite hour of the week. The leadership is shared between four or five of us, and it’s not uncommon for one of the others to say something that opens some fresh light for me on a well-known biblical text.

My parish family sometimes looks pretty chaotic on Sunday mornings; we have a lot of small children in our church, so it’s not quiet! I don’t mind that: a noisy church is a church with a future, but a quiet church is probably a dying church. I love the kids, and the love and the chaos they bring. I love that their parents go to the effort to get them up on Sundays and bring them to church. I love the seniors who have stuck with us through the years and meet once a month on a Thursday for our seniors’ ‘Lunch Bunch’ gathering. I love the busy people who volunteer their time as wardens and vestry members, musicians and Sunday School teachers and the many other jobs that need to be done to keep this little part of the family of Christ doing the things Christ has called us to do.

Last Saturday morning I got to fulfil another of my roles, as an evangelism resource person in the Diocese. Some of our parishes are using Natural Church Development, and as usual they score low in the areas of ‘passionate spirituality’ and ‘needs-oriented evangelism’. So I was asked to come and speak to their leadership teams about evangelism, and I spent a couple of hours sharing with them on the subject of ‘How to Relax and Enjoy Evangelism’. I got a really good response, and I had a great time.

Many years ago I prayed that God would show me what he wanted me to do in the community I was working in at the time. I’m not the sort of guy who gets visions or hears voices, and I didn’t hear an audible voice that day, but I did get a sense that God was speaking to me, calling me to do three things: pray, love, and spread the Gospel. Later on, a fourth thing got added: make disciples for Jesus.

Those four things have stuck with me through the years; they still describe the important things I believe Christ is calling me to. I’m happiest and most at peace when I get to do those things. Of course, some days I’m keeping the machinery going, and I don’t have  a lot of patience with that. But last night I realized again that I need to do less stressing about that. Most of what I get to do, I enjoy doing, and at the end of the day, lots of people can’t say that. So – thanks to the Lord for letting me do this, and to our parish family and the wider Anglican community for supporting me in it. After almost thirty-six years, I’m still getting a lot of enjoyment out of this work, and I think the enjoyment is actually growing each year!

Charles Simeon

charles-simeonToday in the calendar of many Anglican churches  we remember a fastidious, highly eccentric aristocrat who, after his death, was described as having had ‘a far greater influence in the Church of England than any primate’ (Letter of Lord Macauley to his sister, quoted in Balleine, The Evangelical Party in the Church of England p.103). I am referring to Charles Simeon of Cambridge.

Simeon was born in 1759. He went up to Cambridge from Eton, a wild young man known for his love of horses and extravagance in dress, but his life was changed forever when he discovered that the rules of the university compelled him to receive Communion several times a year. He knew enough to be aware that to partake of the Lord’s Supper was a serious thing, and he began to read and study to prepare himself. For many months he found no peace, and almost despaired of ever becoming sufficiently worthy. However, in March 1779 he found what he was looking for. This is his own description of his discovery:

‘In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect – “That the Jews knew what they did, when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering.” The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an Offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul a moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and the Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with these words upon my heart and lips, “Jesus Christ is risen today! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul, and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour’ (Quoted in H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon; London; InterVarsity; 1948. pp.25-26.)

Simeon’s conversion led him to embrace a life of simplicity and to attempt to spread the Gospel message to his family members and even his college servant. He trained himself to get up early, which did not come easily to him, and to spend the first few hours of each day in Bible study and prayer. Henry Venn, an elderly evangelical clergyman who had recently moved from Yorkshire to Yelling outside Cambridge, became a spiritual father for him. After receiving his degree he became a fellow of his College, where he lived for the rest of his life. In May of 1782 he was ordained as a minister in the Church of England, and that November he became the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, where he served for the next fifty-four years.

To say that life was not easy for Simeon as an evangelical vicar would be an enormous OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAunderstatement. The seat holders deserted Trinity Church and locked the pews behind them, so that those who wanted to come had to stand in the aisles. When Simeon bought makeshift seats to place in the aisles, the churchwardens threw them out, and for ten years Simeon’s congregation had to stand throughout the service. Bands of students would try to disrupt his services, and for many years disturbances of this sort were a regular occurrence.

Nonetheless, Simeon was tenacious, and in time he won not only tolerance, but recognition as one of the most inspiring teachers in Cambridge. Trinity Church was crowded with students. Simeon held conversation parties and Bible classes in his rooms at King’s College, and he also held a sermon class in which many of the preachers of the next generation were trained. Most of the future clergy of the Church of England studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and many who came to Cambridge became disciples of Simeon. Through them his influence extended throughout England and beyond. Simeon was a great believer in missions, and many of his curates went overseas as foreign missionaries.

3957He was first and foremost a preacher. He loved the Bible, and probably did more than anyone else to revive the neglected art of Biblical exposition. In 1833, not long before his death, he was able to place in the hands of King William IV the completed twenty-one volumes of his sermon outlines (Horae Homileticae); if they are somewhat dated today, the introduction still contains some of the best insights ever written on the art of expository preaching.

Simeon’s perseverance was extraordinary. In his seventy-first year he was asked by his friend Joseph Gurney how he had managed to survive all the ridicule and opposition of the early years of his ministry. Here is his reply:

‘My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the prickling in my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory’ (Quoted in Moule, pp.155-56.)

Today I thank God for the long and faithful ministry of Charles Simeon. ‘Although (he) is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith’ (Heb. 11:4 NLT).

More about Simeon