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Archive for August, 2015

I am thankful for my four years at Bible College.

As is the Baptist Union and its constituent churches, to be honest, since it kept me out of harm’s way for four years while they tried to knock some sense into me.  Looking back, I was in my mid-twenties, and was too young to be a responsible husband and father, let alone be entrusted with the soul-care of God’s people.

With hindsight, I should have sought an assistant pastor’s role in a church for a few years. This would have enabled me to learn from an older, more experienced Pastor, and thus saved myself (and my first churches) a shed load of grief. In learning from another Pastor, one may learn as much from what one wouldn’t do like them, as what one would.  Then there is also the small matter that I would have been a few more years older and more mature before starting out on my own.

There were three reasons why I didn’t go for an assistantship. One, they are relatively rare in our Baptist world, where the median size church is 47 members. Furthermore, I had trained in Evangelism and Church-Planting, and assistant roles with that brief are even rarer.  Beyond all that, however, we had all been imbibed with the great myth that real ministry was solo ministry. As one Regional Minister said to me, “why would you even go and work with someone else, when you can run your own ship?”  We will leave the debate about where that puts Team Ministry for another day.

Thus it was that in 1993 I launched out as Pastor of a 55-member Baptist Church in London… and soon hit trouble.

Looking back I quickly realised that there were certain things that College had simply not prepared me for.

Now there was lots to be thankful for. I am grateful for New Testament Greek, and my studies in Mark, John, Romans and Ephesians.  These taught me a lot on how to mine the Bible for the truth that lay below the surface,and not to be superficial in my study.  There were other things that were quite frankly confusing, both then, and now.  I’m not really sure why we did so many gobbets, or what use they were. And I still sometimes shudder at being told that it was wrong to apply Isaiah 53 to Jesus, and that one could not use Deut 6 to preach the gospel.  One lecturer used to say, “you don’t understand now why we are teaching you these things, but when you have been out in ministry for a few years, you will.”  I had a friend called Steve who also settled in London. We used to ring each other up on a regular basis and say “remember that stuff they said didn’t make sense then, but would when we’d been out in ministry for a while…any of it any use yet?”  “No,” would come the reply, “what about you?” “No, me neither.”

Then there was some mystifying stuff on leadership. We had a former Army leader come to do a day’s training. When one of our cohort explained that his ‘command and control’ approach was very interesting, but in Baptist Churches we had to get everything of substance agreed by the community of the church, he was astonished, as if he had never heard of such nonsense.  Leadership is such a situation, he assured us, was impossible.  Ummm, mute point!

Which leads me to the main point here.  My College training taught me theology, it taught me how to interpret the Bible, it gave me some insight into Baptist history and principles, and it gave me useful stuff on the conduct of worship. But it did not teach me how to be a Pastor, it did not teach me how to do ministry on a week-by-week, year-by-year basis, so as to actually build a church and take it somewhere. Above all, it did nothing to prepare me for conflict. And conflict, I have discovered, is the make-or-break issue in most churches and in most ministries.  At some point you will face the deacon from hell, or the irrate and angry group in the church. At some point there will be the people who seek to undermine you behind your back, or stir-up dissent in the Members’ Meeting.  How you handle that will not only determine the future direction of your ministry, but also go a long-way to determine the health of your church.

In too many churches we simply don’t know how to handle conflict.. It gets side-stepped or swept under the carpet.  As a consequence, ungodly malcontents can hold too much sway in a church, in extremes almost holding the Body of Christ to ransom, as members would rather keep the peace than face the pain of angry words and hurtful comments.

In my 22 years of Pastoral Ministry, I would conclude that it is the failure to face, address and deal constructively with conflict that is the main reason why churches do not grow.  Unresolved conflict makes for a sick church, and sick churches struggle.

In my next article, I want to explore some of the reasons why conflict is such a difficult issue for us.

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