[Also published as a New Wine Leaders bulletin]
I don’t know how you’re feeling about engaging again in the tasks of ministry after your Christmas break? Perhaps you didn’t have much of a break? Perhaps you have started back full of fresh vision?
A Eugene Peterson book leaped off the shelf at me yesterday. I’ve just opened it and realised how much I’ve forgotten in the two years since I last (part) read it. It’s his classic on how the life of Jonah illuminates the vocational struggles pastors may go through Under the Unpredictable Plant (1992) Eerdmans. He opens by talking about the chasm that opened up in his life between personal spiritual life and public calling. From this he movingly depicts how the ‘volume of business in religion far outruns the spiritual capital of its leaders’ – causing leaders to swap substance for image, appeasing the demands of the religious customers for a short time, but ultimately ending in bankruptcy.
“Why do pastors have such a difficult time being pastors? Because we are awash with idolatry… We want gods that are not gods so that we can ‘be as gods'” Peterson, p.4.
Most hard hitting of all is how he juxtaposes ‘vocational holiness’ with ‘a religious career that we can take charge of and manage’. Most pastors, he assumes, are good and devout, but just as a sincere carpenter doesn’t ensure an even saw cut, so a pastor’s personal ‘goodness’ does not necessarily penetrate their vocation. But he argues Holiness is not banal like careerist pastoring. Holiness is blazing.
Do you have anything in your diary this year that might cultivate holiness in you personally and in your vocation? Is the leaders conference in Harrogate something that might help? What could you bring to your next network meeting that might help others share honestly and openly? Have you made space for retreat and quiet? Could you face down a demon through fasting and prayer? Could you confront a power gripping your church/ministry? Who might you need alongside you to help with that?
Here at New Wine we often say we’re here for the 50 weeks not for the 2 (summer conferences weeks). We say that we want to be Local Churches, Changing Nations. If we want to join the two up we need to get better at being ministers and pastors with a holy vocation, leading local churches that change nations. We need to help each other on that journey today.
Many of you will remember Pete Greig’ September 1999 poem entitled “The Vision”.
It includes these words:
The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. It makes children laugh and adults angry. It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars. It scorns the good and strains for the best. It is dangerously pure.
I can be hard to dare to hold on to that vision but the scripture teaches there is hope. I have recently been interviewing a 92 year old clergyman who after 12 very fruitful years of ministry at All Souls Langham Place and St Mark’s Gillingham was struggling to cope with the chasm between his personal life and what he read in Romans 6 and the loss of David Watson and David MacInnes as curate colleagues. Inspired by a visit from Corrie Ten Booth (who ‘oozed personal holiness’), he called out to God and in 23 January 1963 had an extraordinary encounter with God in an all-night prayer meeting of about 40 people, when the ground outside was covered in a foot of snow. Everyone was deeply energised, people looked 10-15 years younger and they had three weeks of divine visitation with conversions and healings abounding. From that night this clergyman felt the power of sin broken in his life. His name is John Collins and he went on to lead HTB into renewal in the 1980s.*
Let’s pray together for our breakthroughs this New Year. Hope to see you soon.
* I’m currently writing up a fuller version of John Collins’ story. If you know or knew him and would like to contribute please let me know.