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.
Our Calling - Service
I'm sure you felt the same excitement and delight as I did reading the Our Calling leaflet produced from a report to Conference last year. I had just finished reading The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, and Our Calling fitted in exactly with what I felt God was saying to me through that book. This is a great opportunity to unite our church into this vision of fulfilling our calling.
As you may remember, Our Calling divides into the four headings:
- Learning and caring
As a church we often have to remind ourselves that we believe in the priesthood of all believers, but I find that as a Deacon (and 'deacon' means 'servant') I hardly ever need to remind the congregations that we believe in the servanthood of all believers.
THE SERVANT CHURCH
To my great joy I have usually found that servanthood is a role that congregations are already doing extremely well, so much so that we can easily take it for granted. I have had the wonderful privilege of having congregations in my care which have really taken servanthood to heart. Just to illustrate this (I think particularly of one of my cong-regations in my last appointment) I had a phone call from Social Services to ask me if I could arrange for someone to visit an elderly lady who had had a recent bereavement. I had taken the funeral of her partner, and brought her to the church service the next week.
I rang one of the pastoral visitors from the church in question and asked if she could visit. The pastoral visitor said that she would indeed do so, and in fact had already visited the week before and taken the lady a cake she had baked. She had seen her in church with me and thought she looked lonely. Moreover, she had already arranged to bring her to church that coming Sunday. At moments like these you feel - this Christian thing really works!
A SERVANT AMONGST SERVANTS
I remember finding it quite a frightening thing when I was first ordained Deacon. It was rather overwhelming to think that I had committed myself to servanthood for life. And just whose servant was I supposed to be?
Was I to be the servant of the Church? That was an overwhelming thought - I thought of all the ministers working literally all hours God sends, often having to take early retirement through ill health, having worn themselves out.
Was I to be the servant of the world? Well, the world might have been John Wesley's parish, but was it to be my master?
Was I to be God's servant? This was getting worse, not better. God cares for the world and the church. Was the rest of my life to be spent serving all the people in the world and all the people in the church, and God as well?
Would I ever have any time off? Would I ever see my family again? Ordination to servanthood appeared like a shortcut to a breakdown, and probably an early death!
TIME FOR SERVICE
Then there were those wise people in the diaconate who told me that one of the main things about being a Deacon was learning how to say 'No'. But that didn't seem to add up. How can you be a servant and say 'No'?
One of the things that I find hardest to do is to resist the pressure to please everyone. Most of us want people to like us, and think well of us - but I know I am a 'people pleaser'. I have to keep reminding myself that servanthood in the Kingdom of God does not mean trying to meet everyone's expectations.
I feel that when we look at servant-hood in the Kingdom we have to take a step back and look at service as Jesus practised it, if we are to have any hope of getting the practicalities right in our own situation.
Jesus only had three years to fulfil his ministry, and yet he had enough time to say and do all that was needed for the redemption of the world. I really, truly believe that in our busy rushing world, in order to honour God with our time we have to stop seeing Time as our enemy, and start seeing Time as God's servant. God is just beginning to teach me that I need to recognise him as the Lord of my time, in the way that Jesus did.
Jesus had time to rest, and be refreshed and minister. He had time to be interrupted and to party! If we are serious about service, then I believe that he would have us live at the pace he lived - God's pace.
Have a look at John 7:1-10. Jesus talks about the 'right time', which does not make sense to people who are not of the Kingdom. Let me put it this way: God knows the pressures we have on our time when we are servants in a servant church - visits we ought to make, meetings we ought to go to, friends and family we ought to be with, those we ought to make an effort to contact. Yet God has the perfect way for me to live this day - unhurried, and seeking first his Kingdom. This is not just a nice thought to meditate on when I finally get some time. It is the way God wants me to live now. And it takes faith - but God wants me to live it.
JOINING IN THE SERVANT'S MINISTRY
My vision of the Servant church and the Servant ministry is not that we are the world's servant, or the Church's servant or even God's servant! Jesus Christ is The Servant. As a Church and as individual disciples we are 'In Christ', and we join in the ministry of Christ the Servant.
I find this liberating. I join in with what Jesus is doing - just as he said that he did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). This sets me free to say 'No'. This sets me free to serve out of love and joy, and not from guilt and duty. It also means that the only way I can function is to stay close to Jesus, learn to discern his voice, and keep being filled with his Spirit.