Learning for Ministry
Steven Croft and Roger Walton, Church House Publishing, 2005, 210pp., £12.99 ISBN 0 7151 4053 1
I sometimes detect fears among some of my fellow evangelicals about theological training: will college destroy your faith; are all training courses dominated by liberal theology; are mission and prayer ever given space alongside church history or counselling seminars? Unfortunately, some of these fears are based on real experience. But, as Learning for Ministry shows, they are not always true.
Under Roger Walton, the Wesley Study Centre at Durham has grown from its small beginnings to become one of the Methodist Church’s leading training institutions, combining academic scholarship with flexible and innovative patterns of training. Of particular interest for the readers of Headline is that this has happened in partnership with the clear evangelical ethos of the Church of England’s Cranmer Hall and with a passionate commitment to training for mission. Steve Croft, formerly Warden of Cranmer Hall, embodies that passion now as Archbishop’s Missioner and leader of Fresh Expressions. Therefore in these authors we immediately have a book written with real experience and indeed success in training both women and men in an ecumenical and mission-focused environment.
Out of this experience comes this handbook for those who are training for lay or ordained ministry or for those who want to examine such a call. It is written in an accessible style with no prior knowledge assumed, full of illustrations and some useful questions and tasks to help the reader think further.
The early chapters root Christian ministry in prayer and scripture, and then the book develops themes of understanding our own tradition and gifts. The central section talks about the process of formation for those called to ministry, in terms of growth, balance of life and work, and learning. Both as a teacher and a learner I found this section full of encouraging and challenging insights. The final part of the book highlights the authors’ shared enthusiasm for mission and learning, giving depth of theological reflection alongside many practical pieces of advice. Perhaps the only thing that could be developed more would be the role of the Holy Spirit in the call to ministry and growth in holiness, and how to discern the Spirit’s guidance. Having said that, this book nevertheless provides a superb introduction to training.
Evangelicals should be grateful to Croft and Walton for this book. For some evangelicals the transition to theological training has been difficult, not helped at times by lecturers who want to demolish faith before re-making students in their own image. This book demonstrates a different way. It is challenging yet affirming of the evangelical tradition, showing ecumenical sensitivity and theological seriousness. Further, it does not isolate theological training from mission or the spiritual life, indeed quite the opposite.
Learning for Ministry makes an ideal resource for the person setting out on training, whether it be lay or ordained. It is also an important book for those of us who have responsibility to train others, either in colleges or the local church. It represents a highly fruitful model of training, which evangelicals should affirm rather than fear. It would be excellent if all training for ministry reflected similar models.
Reviewed by Rev Dr David Wilkinson, Wesley Research Lecturer, Department of Theology and religion, University of Durham.
Headline Summer 2006, pp28-29.