Solid Foundation

I will be eternally grateful to the people who discipled me in my early days as a Christian. They managed to instil in me some really fundamental things which really have stood me in good stead, no matter the season of my life or part of the journey.

The most significant things set deep with in me, I’d say, are these:

  1. Love for the Bible. It has taken me years to get to an even reasonably grasp of this book and, whilst like many others there have been times I’ve struggled to make it a part of the daily routine, the older I get the more I find myself living in the Bible. Exposure to this book has and is changing my life.
  2. The need for prayer. Again, haven’t always found it ‘easy’, but there are people who modelled a simple yet earnest prayer life that has made me want to delve more. I witnessed a deep prayer life in men and women who, without a shadow of a doubt, are becoming saints! What I mean by that is that God is clearly well on in the work of transforming them from one shade of glory to another!
  3. The call to witness. We’re not all natural evangelists, but it was ingrained in me of the privilege and joy to speak of the Lord, not only to those who aren’t yet Christian, but to other believers – our testimonies build up faith as well as inviting people to faith.
  4. Assurance of faith. Through many trials, my faith has remained largely strong. I put this down to a ‘good birth.’ I was helped to understand the heart of the gospel; repentance and faith, and how to grow in that; to confess and put away sin; to seek after the presence of the Spirit; how to recognise the witness of that same Spirit within my heart; to know what God thinks of me now as a regenerated and redeemed person. All of this grounds me in Christ.
  5. To have a heart for the poor. I was helped to see God’s bias towards the poor, the marginalised, the down-trodden and the ‘underdog’ – in part, this was once me, coming from a poorer working class background. I could see the gospel in action in my own life and the freedoms it brought, as well as the opportunities. But more than that, I learned of the grace that could transform and free from restrictive experiences.
  6. Vibrant worship. I don’t particularly care when the song was written, but if it’s a singable tune, some good solid lyrics which help sing the faith, I’m there with gusto. I learned how to celebrate faith, and actually learned a lot of my faith and theology through good songs before I learned to discern it from the Bible. Perhaps something we miss in these days (I sound like an old man now, I know).
  7. Call to the holy life. I know I’m called not to tolerate sin, to compromise or make excuses, and to pursue the holiness of God in my own life. Do I give myself a hard time over this? Well, I trust in Jesus and his grace, but I seek to discipline myself. It’s a two-way street that I’m invited to cooperate with God’s spirit on.
  8. Spiritual warfare. I was schooled in the reality of the battle; the work of the enemy; and to pray down the strongholds of the enemy. Unfashionable in these days, but still so important. The world is more influenced by the intercessors that we know! The world is more transformed by the praying person that anyone would understand or care to admit.
  9. The person, work and gifts of the Spirit. I wasn’t brought up in the charismatic/pentecostal movement, but in the context of the holiness movement – it’s precursor! My conversion introduced the supernatural presence and power of God at the opening moments, and I’ve never had trouble believing that the Spirit is active in our lives. I’ve always had the heart to pursue the gifts of the Spirit, understanding that they are there for the church to advance the Kingdom. God has been gracious.
  10. The Power (and foolishness) of Preaching. Hearing preaching has been transformative. Being a preacher has been transformative, and largely uncomfortable! It is no small thing to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. I know all the reasons why preaching shouldn’t work, and more than once have sensed it has been futile or fallen on deaf ears, but also know that God can use the simplest word for transformation. Before I even had a full appreciation of the call to ministry, I was taught, enabled and released to speak in public from the age of 15/16. I’ll always be grateful for that.

I recognise that not everyone has the privilege of this kind of Christian formation, but I so hope that I can impart, even in the smallest measure, the witness to and the importance of these basics. I mean, there are probably others – these are just the things that stand out to me as I write now.

In many ways, these things can be an affront to 21st century Christian people – maybe it represents to much of what some might call ‘enthusiasm’ (careful, now!). It might seem a bit rough and ready to hold these experiences, convictions and formation as vital exprience that others should aspire to. But yet, I do. I may have got educated and all that, but the simple passion of my early days, though sharpened, refined and re expressed in some ways, is still at the heart of all God is doing.

I pray that even now, you’d be growing in these things for your own walk with Christ.

Ministry Inventory for a New Season

In my head, I’m an avid, regular blogger. In reality, I’m pretty terrible! (Note to self: must do better!). This little blog here isn’t too far off being 20 years old…and it tells the rather adventurous ups, downs, ins and outs of ministry and much of God’s leadings along the way. A look back over this more public record is in many ways a testament to God’s faithfulness much more than it is to mine! With hindsight, I can see the hand of God as the Divine Author of my story, in spite of my tendancy to tear out a page or write unhelpfully in the margins most of the time!

What I am learning right now, is that the ‘skill’ to steady progress in ministry and discipleship is to integrate learning as you go. What do I mean? Well, sometimes there are seasons where one particular idea or ‘flavour’ of ministry dominate and provide great opportunities for growth. When the ‘next one’ comes along, it’s easy to disregard the former.

More and more, I recognising that the skill isn’t to just move on from one thing to the next, but to try and keep the gold of each piece of learning and build. Somethings that I’ve been recovering recently and reintegrating into my life in a more way isa good grounding in the subject of spiritual warfare, intercessory prayer and the prophetic. In addition, refreshing my perspective and use of spiritual gifts that sometimes I can lose sight of. In other seasons, it may equally be the ministry of spiritual direction, expository preaching, or leading musical worship that I need to reintegrate.

The reality is that we go through phases, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Different seasons demand different resources. The big this is not to throw any proverbial babies out with the bathwater, but to review, to renew, re-evaluate and take inventory of all God has done and wants to do.

I’m so thankful that God never puts me on the scrapheap. In fact, it is over due that I mention the fact that I was very pleased to recently have been affirmed by the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Ministerial Recognition Committee, and have been enrolled on the list of Fully Accredited Baptist Ministers. In the midst of all that is going on in life (busy ministry PLUS catching Covid19) I just haven’t had time to reflect on just how much of step this is for me both for my current journey and for whatever God may have for me down the line. Its also a testimony to the gentle working of God – I’m sure if you look hard enough in this blog you’d likely find somewhere an ungracious rant about sacraments from my Salvation Army days. As I said, we grow, develop…and we sometimes move on from positions we once thought natural and tenable, but which, somehow, stop making sense.

This is part of the journey onwards. A new season for me, a new family to settle and belong to….and a whole load of things to review and re-learn.

Abounding Grace – and the problem of pain

One of the most striking images in my mind about the life of Jesus is the once where he’s standing before his Roman accusers on all sorts of trumped up charges. I’m sure you know the story. And, like a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he stands.

I guess there’s two ways to view this. Firstly, you can say that Jesus is being pathetic – he has nothing to say for himself, he’s caught out, he’s at the end, he’s failed…and there’s nothing he could say anyway to stop this particular stone rolling along the path of time. His road is set and they’re going to have him anyway. This is the nature of being caught up in the dramas of other people’s agendas. Jesus is a stone in the shoe of the system and he needs to be maligned and ejected.

Secondly, there’s the idea of Jesus knowing full well that this is the way it will go, and realises that his composure, dignity and stance through the whole debacle will ultimately give way to his death, and this is the path he is deliberately choosing. This is his ultimate destiny, but God will vindicate him by the power of resurrection. Not only will the resurrection be a vindication, but so will his feat of endurance through the ridiculousness of the circumstances.

I feel closest to the sheer strength of Jesus when I abide with him in this place. My lot is nothing like his…I don’t think many are baying for my blood these days (although it has been known). But just sometimes, you come to that place where you know that there’s little likelihood that anything you say in response will be heard because the law of assumption is firmly in place and there’s little that can be done to change anyone’s mind. This is both a disempowering place and an empowering place in equal measure.

There’s some injustice and falsehood, but there is also the grace of God. Surrounded on every side, but I’m in the stronghold of loving embrace.

And so, I find myself being ridiculously joyful in this season, whilst humanly being at the bottom end of a proverbial rope related to all things navigating through the whole coronavirus landscape. I am overwhelmingly grateful that God knows this heart of mine. I’m also grateful for the beauty of the psalmists’ quill, who is able, in so many ways, to capture all the range of human emotion and experience and still raise a hallelujah, however broken.

I’ve always tried to keep this little blog honest. I mean, it is of no real significance in the grand scheme of things, but it is, however, a window into many stages and acts of pastoral ministry and missional leadership over 20 years – in season and out of season. It is time to go on the record (again) and say that no pastor has been 100% equipped for this last season of ministry, and absolutely none will be getting it right. Even fewer will be able to ‘please anybody’ (let along everybody). But there you go. But it is fine for the ‘buck’ to stop here.

There’s a lot of pain in this, to be sure, but we’re in the pathway of Jesus. My own experience is nothing compared to his. The amount of ‘buck’ that stopped by him at Calvary is overwhelming…and from THAT hill, flows grace to me. And it is that grace that is fuelling a joy in my heart that is totally beyond circumstances that we are all facing at this time. Even in a time of recent paralysing sickness that few will have any appreciation of in reality, there He was in the pit with me – not patronising, pulling me together, smoothing my brow or drawing his sword…but in strengthening silence. Just standing. That is more than enough for me.

So, I guess this is the sanitised ‘blog’ version of current experience. Always happy to have real, open, vulnerable conversation with those who want to get to the heart of things. Richard Rohr, one of my favourite heretics, says about human pain: “If we don’t transform it, we transmit it.” This is the world we live in – the world where people don’t know where to take their pain. All I can say is the best place to take it is to Jesus, and if you need help to get it there, I’m more willing and familiar with the landscape that you’d believe.

‘Seven Sacred Spaces’

George Lings is a retired researcher with the Church Army, and also a companion of the Northumbria Community. He’s recently written a book entitled ‘Seven Sacred Spaces’. Basically, he’s looked at spaces common to monastic settlements and translated that to the spaces our lives in habit, both individually and corporately as a church. He is seeking to flesh out a balanced way of being community and being church that goes beyond the ‘bog standard’.

Here are his seven spaces – see what you think:

  1. Cell – obviously, the resident monastic has his sleeping/alone/prayer space. So do we – and by that, I don’t just mean out bedrooms etc…but that cell with in us – the place of encounter with God. We must inhabit this space. It’s the seat of encounter, transformation, relationship and growth. It is being alone with God and all that means.
  2. Chapel – this is the place of corporate prayer and worship. We’re all familiar with this I guess – and most of us will love some bits an not others. For many, this can be the most occupied space of our lives and so we call these spaces ‘sanctuaries’, ‘churches’ etc. There is, of course, a place for corporate public worship – but it’s not all there is!
  3. Chapter – in a monastery, this is the decision making place. Every church community does this differently, but it’s a crucial space. These days it can be reduced to ‘mere democracy’, which, in Baptist circles, really isn’t the point. It’s a place of discerning together the mind of Christ over and above our own perspective in order to reach unity. The question here is ‘what is the Spirit saying to the church?’ Another question here is ‘who gets to participate?’
  4. Cloister – in a monastery, these are the places between the spaces…the corridors. This is the place of chance encounter, infomal chats, chewing things over. These can be creative or destructive places, depending on how we are in them. This can be a missional space too – the encounters we have every day
  5. Garden – most monasteries needed to grow their food to be sustainable, and most monastic rules carried a commitment to ‘work.’ That is why monasteries produce beer, wine, and have farms and the like. Our work may not be in the realms of the church community, or we may be retired, but there are still things we turn our hands to, even in the confines of our own homes. It strikes me that there are a few places in the NT where Paul elevates the sense of ‘working with your hands’ and making a living. Very honourable. What is our work to do individually? And what is our work corporately? This might be a work of mission in the community too
  6. Refectory – this is the canteen, the dining room, the place of richest fellowship. If you’ve ever eaten in a monastery, you may know that you might expect to eat in rich silence, or to the sound of someone reading to you, but even in that, there is a sense of family and community. In our homes, for many of us, the key place is the kitchen table, or wherever we eat together. The sharing of food is both a leveller and a way to open up relationship. Church around food is very biblical (see the Corinthian church or the churches in Acts, for example), and is a key space. Faith and live worked out here is a different kind of approach to being in some kind of theatre. Of course, the table can be a missional space.
  7. Scriptorium – this is the place where manuscripts and texts we copied and preserved, and a place of learning. Think of the glorious Lindisfarne Gospels, with their amazing artistic work, and think scriptorium. But also, thing of any book before the technology of printing, and you have the scriptorium. Our churches (and our lives) need places of learning and growth in this way all the way through life – not just at the start of learning Christian basics. This, too, can be a missional space! The Lindisfarne Gospels were the equivalent of a church livestream or a flashy website – artistic tools of the day to share the news of the gospel.

George’s aim is not to suggest that every church renames a room to echo this. Not at all. He is drawing comparisons and noting that there’s more to church.

In a ‘village of God’, how might either the church community or the physical church space be transformed if there was a place for this full range of life, learning and development? I find the delineation of places to be a helpful prompt to thinking about how the life of church can look – not as a crusty institution – as a living community seeking to mediate the presence and message of Christ in our day.

Can you identify when any of these seven spaces have been significant in your own life and faith development?

Villages of God

In my Masters degree dissertation study, I started to explore the concept of ‘villages of God’. Built on the old vision of the Celtic monastic settlement, I started to imagine what an outward-looking hub of study, hospitality, creativity, prayer, worship and service might look like. This was a community that didn’t just see their one hour on a Sunday as the sole focus of ‘the church’, but who pioneered a whole life community open to the world, 7 days a week.

I was prompted to look at this after reading a book by a chap called Rod Dreher called ‘The Benedict Option.’ I read it with interest, but there was something missing in it for me. Dreher’s motivations was mainly to stem the moral and political disintegration of the USA, and his reaction of creating Christian communities was simply to preserve the church, and, to some measure, act as preserving agent in the society. He foresaw a day when there would be greater persecution for Christians – and that’s not necessarily unfounded. There’s lots of questions surrounding his vision, and I explored some of those. There was more ‘retreat from the world’ than ‘engage missionally with the world’ in his writing – but then, he’s talking from a different Christian context of Eastern Orthodoxy.

However, my view was that Celtic monasticism…an open, missional and ‘grass roots’ movement in it’s day was a better model of both strengthening Christian life and faith and also engaging more deeply with the wider world. Ray Simpson, the founder of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, has spoken about the concept of Villages of God at some length, and it was his ideas that I compared and contrasted.

As time moves on, I continue to reflect on this study as I reflect on the setting of the local church – in particular, the one I’m in. Our context is one in which the inherited pattern of evangelical church isn’t going to make significant inroads in future days. The ‘preaching station’ concept of Church, whilst very familiar to evangelical Christians, is not one that will effectively reach a post-Christendom, post-post-modern society very easily. This isn’t to say anything about the value either way of preaching, but more about my sense that the purely ‘gathered church for an hour on a Sunday morning and midweek group’ model is not fit for the future. This is a hard message for many to hear because, for many of us, it’s our key definition of church. As I look more broadly than my own local situation, the pandemic has done a little bit to question this for some, but not for others.

I’d love to see churches think more deeply and creatively about what Christian community could be beyond the hour. I’d love for us to divest ourselves of our ‘holy cow’ mentality and, rather than think of church as a meeting, think of church as a dynamic, prayerful, worshipful, creative, practical and engaged 7-day-a-week community which keeps the balance of devotion to God, devotion to community and devotion to mission equally…an equal trinity of life in the Trinity! I’d love to see the vision rise within the church that equates to a stronger desire to return to wholistic community than to a weekly event. I think that if my sole experience of my family was a weekly event, it wouldn’t be the best vision of what a family is. Same with the church, I think.

Our 21st C church is siloed, partly because 21st C life is private and compartmentalised. Church becomes a compartment of our lives, and we can treat it accordingly. For some, this is as far as they will go in their experience of church. I find that deeply sad, because there is something inherently more glorious in the life of the church than that. But, it is difficult to imagine how this might be more when we are each so entrenched in our culture and see church as just one more demand on our time to control. I believe that for much of the early church’s life, before Christendom, church was highly communal and familial – they saw themselves as communities of new creation, outposts of the Kingdom, deeply committed to each other and to the mission, as they lived lives of total allegiance to God.

I’m going to riff on these ideas for a while here on the blog. We all need to stretch our noggins as we move to post-Covid church…not just because of Covid, but because of what Covid has taught us about life, priorities, connection…and about the brokenness of our world and its people. The ability of the church to listen to it’s context is the extent to which it will meet its task under God. I don’t think there has been such a crucial time for some time – we can’t stick our heads in the sand.

The Cult of Busy

I’ve had a helpful week off work – restful, reflection, creative, and many other things…mainly pottering!

It is very tempting to return to ministry and work at 100 miles an hour but that won’t be any good for anyone. Rush and busyness are the cult of our day, and we’re all summoned to ‘worship’ at its golden calf incessantly. It just isn’t possible to maintain ministry at 100 miles an hour and still have meaningful time to offer to people, to the ministry of God’s word and to prayer.

Early on in last year’s lockdown, a group of us read together a book entitled ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’ by John Mark Comer. The book invites people to take a fresh look at the demands of our day, and simply to reflect on them. My own observations are that we are the creators of our own busyness because this bolsters our sense of value. It is more socially acceptable to say ‘I’m really busy’ than it is to say ‘no, things are spacious and I have time for all the things that are important.’ Even less acceptable to say ‘no, I can’t do that right now.’ I can even feel myself judging myself for that being the goal! I can also hear the ‘opinions of others’ – the other disciples of busy – raising their critical grumblings (or, it could just be my lunch…).

There is value in really investing ourselves in our work – don’t mishear me. But in the bigger scheme of things, it’s so easy to lose the soul of life in the living of what life has become in our 24/7 society!

The call of the gospel reminds us that there is one thing necessary: to glorify God – to seek him and his rhythms. Yes, that will involve many activities of various descriptions, but it is primarily about a posture of the heart.

‘Why am I writing this?’ I ask myself.

Well, I’m writing against a backdrop of the temptation to rush unreflectively back to life as it was ‘before’ the pandemic with a strong sense that not everything that was part of life before the pandemic is worth rushing back to.

I hope that most of us realise the things that really are important: being with the people we love; enjoying beautiful spaces; lingering over long meals; the honest satisfaction of the simplest of things; the buzz of a little coffee shop on a restful day off.

As far as church is concerned, there are many things I do miss. All boiled down, however, it is this: people. Living life with the body of Christ. For me, it really isn’t about the provision of religious goods and services like we’re just some niche country club. Nor is it about putting on the best, biggest or shiniest show in the town. It is about finding the way of helping a community of people flesh out the life of Christ collectively and individually in the places where we are. In doing this, we fulfil the call and the mission of Christ, because this life rightly lived will flow into our communities in abundant love.

I am looking forward to this next season in life and ministry which will allow for increasing levels of re-establishing face to face connection. I mean, praise God for the internet for making possible things which would have otherwise been impossible, but humans are made for a different kind of connection.

So, today, I am choosing to worship at a different altar.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matt 11: 28 – 30 MSG

Sounds good to me. You?

Night Church

This is a blog in the middle of the night – in the small hours. It’s 3.14am according to the clock. I’m three quarters of the way through a week of holiday and here I am lying awake thinking about the church.

I’m not thinking about the particular church I lead, but the church in general, although it’s not unrelated, obviously.

I’m mainly thinking, yet again, of the disjoin between the life, authority and task Jesus handed to the disciples, and how that became the thing we currently call the church.

I’m thinking that it’s quite inconceivable that Jesus had anything so complicated and expensive in mind, or anything so difficult to replicate in the various places around the world that he intended it should spring up.

I’m thinking that our present day models of church not only shaped for disciple making, but certainly aren’t places that help disciples fulfil the task of making disciples.

I’m thinking that the UP (worship etc), IN (Christian community) and OUT (all aspects of mission) dimensions of church are not a reduction, but are a sharpened focus of the essentials.

I’m also thinking that most churches can identify those three elements (to some degree or the other) but not all of them focus on them in a way which releases the church for exponential growth, or in a way that helps them see that their current method or tradition might hamper Kingdom extension.

I’m thinking that our expressions of church have largely created safe Christian ghettos detached from real life, and certainly real people, and that detox from this church culture is probably one of the biggest challenges the advance of the gospel.

I’m also thinking about how this shapes the leadership task…I’ll save you my conclusions.

Now that it’s 3.31pm and I’ve pit these night thoughts on church on record, I might feel more of a challenge to come back to them with earnest intention in the light of day…and now maybe get some sleep!

O Church of Christ, arise!


I need resurrection every day. I need the Holy Spirit power that raised Jesus from the dead in me every day. In him I live, move, and have my being. It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And I’m glad.

This has been a year like no other in living memory. It has been challenging for us all, but I reflect personally on challenges I did not anticipate, and if I had, I might have been reluctant to turn the page on the calendar. Sadly, the lowest point was a desire that I’d never see another day. Taken to the lowest point again in my life-long struggle with mental health. Yet again, at the very bottom, are the arms of Christ – strong arms, mighty to save.

It’s all grace.

After our Sunday morning service on Facebook, I joined a Zoom with fellow Companions of the Northumbria Community to renew our new monastic vows, centred around AVAILABILITY and VULNERABILITY. That was special, but hard.

There is so much in me that still wants to retreat and put up the walls, but this is not the way we live. Being available and vulnerable when you’re still raw and healing is hard, but Christ is our example. In the pain of crucifixion, he spoke mercy and grace. Being available and vulnerable when you’re in the tomb seems impossible, but Christ wrestled the powers of darkness and came out fighting. Yes, availability and vulnerability is only possible with resurrection power.

None of us knows what is ahead. When we put our lives into God’s hands for him to bless and break, we join a story that is not our own. We are not in control.

There were two lines from our vow renewal in particular that spoke to me:

Let us embody your ready kindness in our day, for things will not be as they were before“, “Call out in me a willingness to love and serve,” and ‘teach me to dream again, to hope again, with my heart already in tune with Heaven.”

I’ve taken these sentences to my own Gethsemane this weekend. I’ve crucified stuff again. Taken up the cross. Sat in the tomb. Been raised again.

Turns out that Easter isn’t only a time in history past, but a reality in our day-to-day lives.

Every day is a walk to Emmaus, and his companionship makes our hearts burn within us once again. Praise God!


On Sunday I’ll be renewing my vows as a Companion of the Northumbria Community – an annual occurrence for each member of our Community. It is a special time. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, is a naturally reflective time, but this adds an extra dimension. It’s time to revisit our Rule…which isn’t about regulations, but about a provocative framework for life and discipleship. It’s not intended to ‘tie us in to a system’ but to shape our lives around key questions.

This last year, these questions, which the whole community live out, have been so poignant for me:

  1. Who is it that you seek?
  2. How then shall we live?
  3. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

These are exile questions…questions from the desert. Questions that are asked between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the first advent and the second, and after Christendom…until whatever emerges next. I know that the penny hasn’t dropped for every Christian or every church, but we navigate a landscape where the Christian story is no longer dominant. Many live in such a way as to try and regain that dominance. Others recognise that Christianity has often been its most robust and healthy when it has occupied the margins of society.

My hunch – and it is a very ‘Baptist’ hunch – is that Christianity occupying a central stage this side of eternity is a compromised Christianity on the whole. Politics and ‘my rights’ take the place of humility, service and radical faith. By radical I don’t mean radicalised in the modern sense of the word, but radical in the sense of paying attention to our humble but significant roots. I guess this is why the questions are so significant to me in my own discipleship.

My answers to those questions aren’t so much destinations, but journeys…which sounds cliche, but that’s what open questions do. They’re questions that can be asked several times a day and yield different answers, priorities, realities and perspectives. They lead me far beyond ‘why’ towards the courage needed to adapt and move forward. I’ve found them to be the best companions.

The rest of the Rule seeks to make a corporate response to the questions, and to aid us in adding our ‘YES!’ to the core values of AVAILABILITY and VULNERABILITY, which, when fully embraced, returns us to risky living for Christ and the gospel. It has been these questions and these key elements that have called me back into life and ministry this year, in a year where every other resource seemed to elude me. It changed my ‘why’ to ‘and so, what next’ – and that is no small thing.

I still feel like I am inhabiting an ‘in-between’ place, like many of us are right now. I am trying not to resist or fear this, but to embrace it and find the joy in it. Easier said that done, but there but for the grace of God we go!

Secret Work

Pastoral ministry in the local church has several faces.

There’s the ‘public work‘ – what can be seen. This includes leading of worship, preaching, teaching, meetings, pastoral meet ups, social media and the like. All the things that you can look at from the outside and say ‘that’s pastoral ministry being outworked.’

Then there’s the ‘background work‘ – what is sometimes visible by some. This is the daily administration of teams, planning, writing, strategising, thinking, communicating, etc. These are all the things that, with others, keep things moving along.

Then there is the ‘secret work‘ – sometimes only know to God. That’s what I want to talk about now. It is secret in that it is a prayerful work, a reflective work, and very often a solo work, even when there is a wider team. This is where the weight of ministry is held, before an ever gracious God, and where the pastor gives highest continual account as those who will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

It is an intercessory place – where a pastor will get on his knees for the pains and joys of their people, for the glory of God’s name, for the mission, for the lost, for the communication of the Word, need of every ounce of grace for a task for which we feel largely unworthy and unqualified for.

It’s a place of warfare – the enemy’s tactic is to ‘divide and conquer’ and the attack is greater at the pastor’s door, so the pastor needs to be well hidden in Christ, well covered in Him, and kitted for battle. It is consecration; it is bringing the most human of lives into the divine presence to be rededicated and empowered again for the next task.

It’s a preparatory place – because of this, its the place where the pastor soaks in the Word and in the Presence, and the source of the public ministry. This is where the pastor/minister brings his/her own heart to God that the work of the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be done in them first before it gets anywhere else.

It’s also a work that is least understood because it’s not directly on view, although you’d notice if it wasn’t there. It’s also a part of the work that many pastors I know struggle with maintaining and keeping proper space for, because many won’t understand the time needed to be invested here for effective ministry. The result is that many sacrifice this for ministry that can be seen perhaps to avoid criticism, to meet unrealistic expectations, or to win approval because one is ‘seen’.

There have been times in my ministry where I’ve neglected the secret work for all of those reasons, but the further I go on, the more I recognise that, in many ways, it IS the work. When the apostle Peter came to the place of appointing deacons in the book of Acts 6:4, he says, in effect, ‘we need help with so many other tasks so that we can continue to give ourselves to the ministry of prayer and of the Word.’ Reality means that pastoral ministry will always be a smorgasbord of activity in these days, but prayer and the Word must never be neglected.

Dear pastor friends – maintain your work in the secret place.

Folks in the fellowship – know that you are loved and held.

The needs of our day are different from the needs of any other time and history – and in the cacophany of the age, there are things that really need to be grounded in the depths of our calling as the people of God…for His glory alone.