Facing the first year
The key to faithful ministry and leadership in the local church lies in having clear biblical priorities and doggedly pursuing them. To my mind these can be summed up by 3 Ps:
1. Prayer – because all we do is dependent on the Lord and we must never view God in a deistic way who automatically makes our programmes fruitful.
2. Preaching – understood in the broadest sense of seeking to bring the true Christ into people’s lives.
3. People – because that is the concern of the Lord Jesus Christ. People make a church leader’s ministry challenging and frustrating but we must not lose our love for those in our church family.
A vital time for these priorities comes when we are appointed as a vicar to a new congregation. I have only faced this once and that was in an urban rather than a rural setting, but I believe the priorities are universal because God’s Word and people do not change. And the first year of a new ministry is likely to make us acutely aware of our need to pray for the Lord’s help. It is wise to make clear our evangelical ministry priorities right from the time of our interview for the post. That does not mean we have to go into detail about everything, but we need to be able to point people back to this time with integrity.
In writing below about implementing ministry priorities faithfully in this new post, do remember that these matters are matters of wisdom. One mistake can be to be too inflexible about some word of advice that we have been given. The initial period of ministry should involve a lot of listening and assessment of the grasp of the spiritual health of individuals. In particular it will be important to focus on church wardens and the PCC. It is easy to make assumptions about people which are unjustified and to misunderstand past history within the church family.
Changes are inevitable and indeed will need to be made throughout any ministry but how one goes about change is very important. It is vital not to criticise the previous ministry, unless there is widespread recognition that it was a disaster. The new vicar is there to take the church family forward, not to proclaim his own gifts. Our confidence is in Christ and not in our achievements.
If there is suspicion and hostility to evangelical ministry then it is very important to discern what is essential to gospel ministry. Changes that need to be made must be seen to be related to some key aspect of the Christian message and time must be taken to communicate that. Even if people are comfortable with evangelical ministry then similar consultation will be necessary.
The last thing I would stress is the need for a persistent determination to push gospel ministry forward. In an established evangelical church this is particularly important. Some churches decline in spiritual health because the minister thinks his job is simply to keep the show on the road. On the contrary, we should always be looking out for new gospel opportunities and ways in which the ministry priorities can be progressed.
On the other hand in evangelical ministries which are less established there may arise crunch moments near the start of a new ministry when Christ and the gospel really are at stake. These must be clearly related to the core Bible teaching and must not be ducked. Sometimes these will relate to immoral behaviour. It is not enough to just point out what the Bible says. These situations need to be tackled so that the word of God is not regarded as a dead letter.
By way of conclusion I would like to underline a point that I came to appreciate through reading Andrew Cinnamond’s St Antholin lecture on the late 16th century Admonition controversy. This shows how in the task of progressing gospel priorities it is easy to lose sight of the need to trust the Lord to do His work through His Word and to focus instead on making superficial changes. Such confidence in the Word is the proper Anglican ethos and is reflected in a passage like 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3.