5 things I wish they’d told me …

When I started to read this book, a degree of irritation was aroused at the title and the constant references to ‘They’ - the ones who apparently let Rob down in withholding vital information which might have helped him in his Christian life and ministry. I was confused about who ‘They’ were. Were they wishy-washy liberals who did not understand the mission imperative of the church, or narrow-minded evangelicals who would have resisted his recent moves to understanding New Age spirituality and a broadening view of spirituality generally?

I guess we could all write books of this kind: ‘Things I wish they’d told me about marriage’ or ‘Things I wish they’d told me about getting older’. In defence of ‘They’, at least ‘They’ started Rob on what can only be described as a ‘journey’, and one which he alone, under God’s guidance, could make.

Irritations aside, there are many aspects of this book which are well worth absorbing and which I can relate to in my work in evangelism. Without giving too much away, the five things Rob regrets not knowing were in the realm of believing, discipleship, intimacy with Christ, the church and suffering. The book carefully plots Rob’s development as an evangelist and the way in which he had to outgrow the often-inadequate grounding provided by the church (in his case the Methodist Church).

The first chapter, on Believing, bemoans the liberal nature of what he was fed as a young Christian and is a plea to recapture the authentic, biblical gospel. He then moves on to Discipleship describing his painful struggle with the institutional church and telling how he has often been held back from what he sees as the true mission of the church by well-meaning but, in his view, misguided leaders. His chapter on Intimacy with Christ is essential reading; it unpacks a lot of his journey into contemporary spirituality over the last decade and his sadness that the church has lost its spiritual credentials.

Probably the most telling section is about Leadership within the Church. I was amused by his reference to the church’s training ministers to be ‘one-man bands’ and that many presbyters act like ‘middle managers’ rather than ‘dynamic leaders with a real vision for the future’. Rob’s distinction between leadership and management is well worth pondering as we seek to build the church of the future.

In summary, I feel a little sorry for ‘They’, not least because no one could have predicted forty years ago the challenges which would face the church today. Thank God that we have visionary leaders to take the church forward. My prayer is that Methodism can hang on to them.

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