Something that really stayed with me from the course in reflective practice in ministry that I followed as part of my training was the idea that a sustainable ministry involves the minister understanding what, for him or her, is its heart. What is at the centre of it providing the motive force for the rest. If one thinks of the heart as the organ through which all blood must pass and which enables its movement through the body then what is this for one’s service to God?
This is not a question anyone else can answer for one. Every minister, indeed very Christian, perhaps every person, has to answer it for themselves. What is at the centre of my disciple journey, of my response to God’s call to me, to that call itself?
It is always tempting, too, to believe that the centre for me should be the centre for all, that whatever it is that is the heart of my life is the true heart of things. It requires a degree of humility to recognise that what gives shape and meaning to my life may quite legitimately be a matter of indifference to others.
Some will think that this idea of A heart is wrong, that a disciple life can have or need have no centre within itself. A strong way of suggesting this would be to say that for a Christian discipleship is a following, a walking after Jesus and that its centre therefor exists outside itself. I can see the force of that and don’t wholly disagree with it. But it seems to me that it makes sense, too, to think that each of us is created and called to some end. Each of us has some special role to fulfill, we are not simply interchangeable imitators of a single model. The heart I speak of can thus be spoken of as our special vocation, the individual call to which we respond.
The task of discernment is bound to be a life-long one, what gives shape and purpose may not be definable until the end, but at every stage we need, I think, to pay attention to it. What is my “thing” in the ordering of the whole task of the Church, in its role in God’s saving purpose for creation?
This setting of the individual in the salvation-historical story of the whole project of redemption is essential. My limited efforts, whatever they may be, get their meaning from their placement in a larger story, a bigger picture.
At the same time as a minister one is inevitably involved with a wide range of different tasks and forms of interaction and relationship. These get their life from their interaction with the “heart” of ministry but can’t simply be subordinated to it. Each has its importance, each serves God, each has to be taken seriously in its own right, but they need to be integrated, for the minister, in a sense of a whole life, a whole ministry, a whole discipleship.
So what is this, for me? I have thought, sometimes, that I might put preaching and teaching in this place, but I have come to be more doubtful about this. This part of ministry, preaching the Word in the context of worship and trying to enable connection between the scripture as the story of God’s relationship with creation and the life of the church community, and working outside worship to help people gain confidence in the handling and interpretation of scripture for themselves, is very important to me. It nourishes and sustains me.
This last sentence, though, made me wonder about whether it can really be the heart, for me. I think, perhaps, that the heart of my ministry may not be more private than that. I think, for example, that part of the huge value of preaching, for me, is the wresting with the text to discern, with the help of the Spirit, what it is saying, through me, to those to whom I will speak. The sermon that results is vital but it may be that what is vital in it, for me, is the opening of myself to the challenge of the text and the inspiration of the Spirit.
The “heart” of this feels to be the role it plays in deepening my relationship with Christ, as revealed in the Bible, the radical way it pushes me deeper into this relationship as the centre of my life.
Similarly I put a high value on the pastoral encounters I have as part of my ministry. I feel strengthened and fed by the time I spend with people in all the various ways one does in this role. Especially I value the times of prayer we share.
On reflection I think that I learn to pray, learn to listen to the Spirit and speak out of that listening, from those with whom I pray. Again, while I see the care I offer others, the concern I have and show, as important in and of itself. But at the heart of it is my walk with Christ, my journey into his world, along his path.
So the heart of ministry, for me, is Christ, as I encounter him in the things I do, but this isn’t straightforwardly outside myself and definitely not outside my service in and to the congregations to whom I minister. Rather the work I do there pushes me ever towards dependency on God and the deepening of the sense of this dependency is what I place at the centre.