As I move through the stages of the URC’s initial settlement process I realise that sometime fairly soon I will be meeting with the representatives of a pastorate who are wondering whether they should call me to be their minister. As part of this they will need to get an idea of what kind of minister I would be, so they will, I imagine, ask me questions about my vision of my own ministry. What kind of things will I do? How would I encourage church growth (which nearly all pastorates as well as the URC as a denomination put high on their lists of priorities)? How would I see myself in the context of the local community within which the church is set? How would I see myself contributing to the local ecumenical scene? How would I interact with other groups and institutions (building users, schools)? What is my approach to pastoral visiting?
All this is a bit scary. I’ve seen enough, now, of ministry to have an idea of what I think is best, but a key part of this is that it’s intensely situational. The things I’ve seen in ministry that have inspired and excited me the most have been about responding to particular opportunities or needs. This is hard to predict until one is inhabiting a place and a community. But there are some things that I can say about what I think ministry is for and what constitutes the core activities.
First of all the ministry I believe myself called to is quite specifically the ministry of word and sacrament, as defined in the Reformed tradition. This places the activities of leading worship, and specifically preaching on the Bible and administering the sacraments of baptism and communion, right at the heart of ministry. This means that for me Sundays, as the days on which ministers lead the community in worship, are crucial. The preparation of services and especially of sermons are definitive of my view of my calling. I love preaching and I expect to love administering the sacraments, when I’m authorised by ordination to do so.
These activities, though, can’t be an end in themselves, any more than being a minister can be an end in itself. They only make sense insofar as they serve God by helping the church fulfil the mission given it by God. So what is that mission? The point of ministry must be derived from the point of the church. So what is the point of the church?
The main thing, as I see it at the moment and this is always liable to change, is to represent God to humanity and humanity to God, to be the body of Christ, to use the traditional term. This is the task of the church as a whole, not of any Christian on their own, and must mean to show God’s love as well as God’s judgement, God’s healing power and God’s anger, to follow Jesus. That’s one side of the task. The other is to worship. Worship isn’t a means to some other end but a crucial and indispensable aspect of being the church.
So the minister in leading worship enables the community of the church to do one of the things it is called to do.
At the same time it is essential that the worship, and the whole life of the church as a community, equips it, and all those who belong to it to represent Christ to the world, and to do this the people need to know themselves added to Him in and through love. Worship has to include the proclamation of the good news of Christ’s redeeming love, this proclamation not just being the saying of the words but also the enabling of the experience, of the knowing of that love. It is crucial that in worship and in the life of the Church people know themselves to be loved and know that love to be God’s love.
So the minister has to be the medium through which the community is drawn together in love. An essential part of this is that the minister really does love the church and the people in it. That may be easier said than done, but I think it must be essential to ministry. In my placements I have learned that I do love the Church. Every local church I’ve been to has been special to me in some way.
So my answer to the question seems to be to lead the people in worship and to love them and then do whatever comes out of that. I hope that’s enough for a vacancy committee!