A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Draw me a Diagram!
We live in an age where stress seems endemic, and where for many of us one urgent task is barely finished before another equally urgent one must be started. Thus, we need to pause frequently to seek God’s peace through prayer and reading our Bibles. Who would argue with that? Certainly not me, for it is certainly true that as we seek him in this way we are usually calmed, reassured and encouraged - usually, but not always. It is the ‘not always’ times that intrigue me, and I wonder why?
One reason is that prayerful reflection and meditation on the scriptures throws up questions and queries which we cannot immediately make sense of, and which remain unanswered in our minds. So we go back to our urgent tasks with the additional burden of a further worry tucked away just below the surface of our consciousness.
Or do we? How can we cope with this? My personal response is indeed just that - to tuck them away at the back of my mind until I have more time to deal with them. The result is that I have a notebook just for unresolved issues to be returned to later. The trick is in not worrying about them – in effect handing them over to God for a while.
Is this procrastination? Perhaps. But it can also be seen as an act of faith. For it teaches us to leave problems with him, so that they can be resolved little by little over time or, alternatively worked on intensively with him at the right time
How? There are a number of well-known techniques: looking up cross references, consulting more knowledgeable Christian friends, seeing what light Bible commentaries throw on the issue etc. They all can be very helpful. But with more complex matters I rapidly get lost, being diverted to other related issues, failing to see links either within the biblical material, or between the material and our life today. The result is frustration, even anger that again drives me once more to prayer.
At the time of writing I have been working through Acts. What inspiring events! How magnificent to see the Spirit moving in power in those times. Wow! How good it is too to hear about similar events today wherever they may occur. I truly rejoice with my brothers and sisters, when this happens; but why, O why, ain’t it happening in my neck of the woods? Another issue for the notebook!
I attend a small chapel in the Peak District of Derbyshire and there are just two churches in the village - ourselves (Methodist) and the Anglicans. For twenty years or more we have worked closely together with mission activities of one sort or another – open air services, Alpha groups, a major 10-day mission, high profile presence at major village events and so on. And this is on top of the normal day by day pastoral and friendship evangelism. All prayer soaked - and all apparently to little or no avail.
So the frustration kicks in. But last time around, so did my scientific training. My cri de coeur was ‘Lord, I’m lost. For goodness sake – draw me a diagram to help me get sorted!’ Instantaneously the answer came back – ‘Draw it yourself!’ So I went through what seemed the relevant bits of the Bible and eventually came up with the diagram below.
Essentially messages are being sent from the Christian disciple to the non-Christian receiver, a process that needs the three elements shown, though not necessarily contemporaneously. These are showing the love of Christ to those around, (the non-verbal element), telling others of our experience (witness), and giving a simple interpretation of our experience (teaching). The sender, of course, needs the confidence and opportunity to do this, and the receiver needs to be receptive.
The biblical record is most often of a conversation between sender and receiver: discussion was the most common medium of communication. Nowadays we are more fortunate in that many other media are available to us - paintings, drama, books, film, web sites, to name but a few.
Finally, today as in biblical times, the surrounding cultural environment interacts with both sender and receiver throughout the process – as indeed does the Holy Spirit.
I have found this model of communication – for that is what it really is – extremely helpful. It helps in Bible study in that I can pretty well map onto it any passage which involves mission activity. Try it for yourself: the parable of the sower and the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch are both good starting points. What was confusing complexity has been subsumed within a simple conceptual framework. Consequently the feelings of frustration and hopelessness have been considerably diminished, and that alone is a good thing.
Understanding the process a bit better doesn’t help put it effectively into practice. However, it does enable the right questions to be asked, ways forward to be identified and evaluations to take place that do not end up in destructive self-recriminations. For example, here are some questions to peruse:
~**What new opportunities for ‘message sending’ can we create in our area?*~~*How can we help build up confidence in our own ‘message sending’?*~~*What simple verbal teaching message can accompany our verbal witness?*~~*What other media might be useful in our situation?*~~*How can we discern receptiveness? What do we look for? Do we go ahead anyway?*~~*How does our cultural environment compare with that of biblical times? How does it compare with places today where the gospel seems to be advancing in leaps and bounds?**~
And for the cognoscenti amongst us:
~**Where does the current thinking on the ‘emerging church’ and ‘fresh expressions’ fit in?**~
The stress referred to at the beginning of this article often occurs because we fear a huge cloud of jobs hanging over us. Often we are not sure exactly what they are, but manage to convince ourselves that they will be mammoth tasks, which are our sole responsibility. By ‘drawing a diagram’ we understand the processes involved and get a measure of the tasks facing us.
Why not try it next time you have a problem?