I was ordained as a Baptist Minister in the year 2000. This was the first year that I attended the Eastern Baptist Association’s annual gathering of ministers at High Leigh Conference Centre. It’s located in Hoddesdon, just on the outskirts of London. Over the ensuing 17 years, I’ve attended and – more often than not – enjoyed this conference. It’s a time of fellowship with God and with each other; a time to renew old friendships; a time of learning and encouragement; a time of pausing normal ministry routines and being refreshed by a change in rhythm and activity.
The current Baptist Union President, Revd Dr Pat Took, was the main speaker at this year’s conference. Her talks were aimed at helping folks to be robust and resilient in the singular environment of Baptist ministry. None-the-less, some of the ideas put forward were of use to Christians not involved in ‘ordained ministry’. I use the phrase, ‘ordained ministry’ to refer to that specific manner of serving Christ that requires recognition and ordination by the Baptist Union, or other denomination of church. I believe that every Christian has a ministry into which they are called by Christ– regardless of the specifics of their employment.
In this letter, I’d like to share three of the more general aspects of surviving and thriving in ministry, whatever your ministry might be.
Being a grown up…
Pat made the obvious, but important point that we should all have an adult sense of responsibility for our own wellbeing. Alongside a daily devotional life, we need to do certain very basic things: get enough sleep to function properly; eat a diet that is thoughtful and healthy; engage in regular exercise; brush our teeth! Sometimes, the demands of ministry can cause people to focus on noble goals, while neglecting some very fundamental things.
Being aware of what drains you…
It is wise to create a very personal list of the things that drain you of life, energy, hope and love. This list will be uniquely personal. Pat gave the example of how she felt drained by conflict and yet, she became aware that conflict energised some people. It requires honesty and time for reflection to construct such a list. In so doing, it’s made easier to understand what resources you in your life and ministry. Some are refreshed by fellowship and partnerships, others are refreshed by solitude and silence. Pat’s personal favourite for refreshment is to find a café and sit down to enjoy a good detective story.
Being aware of your environment…
Each new situation in which you find yourself creates a fresh set of emotional, physical, and intellectual needs. For example, there are some situations where your family home is a haven and a place to retreat from the hurly-burly of everyday life. In other situations, your family home can become a centre of activity and it becomes necessary to find a bolthole for you and your closest family. Pat shared that she had lived for many years in London and it was only when she spent some time in the stunning outdoors of North Yorkshire that she realised she had been starved of this kind of beauty in London.
Of course, the fundamental supplier of all resources for all ministries is the Holy Spirit. St Paul found himself in a great variety of locations and situations. No matter what he encountered, Paul was properly resourced. We looked together at two Scriptural passages that explore this idea:
2 Corinthians 4:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
We also reflected on this lovely and famous passage, spoken by Mr Valiant for Truth, from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress:
Then said he, I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?”
So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
Combined with more sessions from Pat, a session on ministers’ pensions, a session led by the Baptist Missionary Society and even a session with an excellent, award winning stand-up comedian (a Baptist Minister called Allan Finnegan), we all had a blessed couple of days.