How can we make sure we don’t stagnate in our Christian lives? The Spring Ministers’ Conferences organised by the Proclamation Trust were aimed at helping pastors to stay fresh in their service, but Adrian Reynolds says the principles apply to all of us.
I find that one of the hardest things about ministry is making progress. I’ve been in full time ministry for nearly 20 years and preaching sermons for almost 30. Surely there comes a moment when I can relax and say “I’ve made it”?
I’m not sure there is. For in ministry, as in the whole of the Christian life, stagnation is deadly. A church with a leader who is stale, weary and isn’t growing – either as a Christian or a minister of the gospel – is surely in trouble.
No wonder, then, that Paul urges Timothy onto progress (1 Tim 4:15) a word that almost certainly applies to his godliness (v12) as well as his gifting (v13-14).
We cannot argue away Paul’s exhortation on the basis that Timothy was some kind of young scallywag who needed to grow up, like a pimply teenager. No, he was, by this stage, an experienced pastor and colleague. Moreover, Paul’s own testimony is that he is constantly pushing himself on as he serves his master by ministering to others.
It was a joy, therefore, to be at the Proclamation Trust’s spring ministers’ conferences, alongside about 200 other ministers, many of them from FIEC churches. Not only are such events helpful, they are also focused on the work of ministry – especially (but not only) preaching.
It did my soul a lot of good.
Rico Tice was his normal ebullient self, rebuking and correcting. Doug Moo was outstanding on Hebrews, making me want to preach it all over again and being challenged to persevere in life and ministry. Doug is a rare combination: a top-class academic with a pastoral heart who loves to serve preachers.
At this conference, small groups are used to help refine preaching – not (as some think) to fit everyone into a straightjacket, but to take account of experience and circumstances and help preachers to progress. I really value that kind of input and it’s great that the small groups have a pastoral concern as well.
For full disclosure, these are the conferences I’ve spent the last eight years organising, so I would say that they were good! But I’m big enough to admit that the content and tone of a conference doesn’t always hit the mark. This one did. And even if you don’t fancy putting a PT conference in your diary (which I think you ought), there are lots of other options which may be more suitable for you in terms of content, place, or timing.
Don’t neglect your gift
Whatever you do, those of us called into ministry (in its many forms) must not neglect our gift. We cannot take it for granted that we will persevere. To nick a phrase from Hebrews, “many and various” are the ways we can ensure we don’t stagnate. Most of us need a breadth of inputs and encouragements. None of us can afford to ignore the warning.
And churches can help too. Workers need to be released for this kind of in-service training; and funded to take part in it too. It’s a sad reality that some people in ministry stagnate, not through lack of desire, but because they’re not allowed to grow.
Let that never be said of our family of churches!