Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Writer John Williamson
If I were to nominate just three personal qualities essential for Christian ministry, I would say faith, character, and creativity. Doubtless, you could name a host of others (CCVT’s Endorsement Task Group has a grid that runs to six pages!) but these are my top three. Faith and character seem to be obvious choices, but ‘creativity’ may not be immediately so obvious, unless you have been in ministry for a while and realise that the demands on one’s creativity are never-ending.
Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15, NIV). Helping people to see this truth requires ministers, week by week, to creatively interpret the scriptures to find correlations with modern culture and issues confronting our societies and congregations. Preachers and missionaries search for a word that will reveal, in ever fresh and revealing ways, the nearness of God’s Kingdom in the context and setting to which they have been called. Pastoral and spiritual carers are called on daily to discover redemptive ways of thinking that help people to discover potentialities, realise their values, and find meaning in suffering. Each activity strives to bring God’s Kingdom ever nearer—indeed, within sight.
The search for new metaphors, images and insights can exhaust one’s creativity, unless, of course, they are being constantly replenished. True, one can keep recycling old ones or borrow from colleagues but the shelf-life becomes ever shorter. Eventually, one’s prayers and creativity seize, like a car engine for lack of an oil change. Reflective practices, which provide replenishment, are vital for maintaining one’s creativity in ministry.
I lead an occasional reflective practices seminar for ministers seeking accreditation with CCVT. One of the first things I do is ask participants what reflective practices they use. In no particular order here are some that have been nominated: prayer, reading (both of scripture and theology), fasting (simplicity), service, quiet, journaling, meditation, contemplation, theological reflection, devotion, revelry, confession, and keeping the commandments. The list varies from group to group and person to person.
These reflective practices are a proper task of our calling, deserving of allocated time every day. The good news is that these practices also happen to be one of the more pleasurable tasks of ministry. It is quite stimulating to discover a new insight into Scripture and serendipitous to find another connection between the Gospels and life in our neighbourhood. Moreover, if we are practiced at finding such connections for ourselves we can help others to find them as well.
We have abundant sources on which to reflect. The Gospels, our first object of reflection, overflow with wonderfully rich narratives, metaphors and images. Then we have our own lives, our ministry and the life of our local community, each raising a multiplicity of questions, dilemmas, and issues. This kind of reflection requires us to carefully and intentionally look and listen to ourselves, our congregations and the neighbourhood. Journaling often helps with this. Next, we allow ourselves freedom for lateral movements of mind and spirit and trust that God’s Spirit will work within us to discover connections, tangents or angles that we had not seen before. Think of a simple electrical circuit. Run the current around the circuit and it goes the same way, follows the same pattern, until a new switch and connection are discovered. Suddenly, the current runs different ways. Surprising new patterns and possibilities are created. You can’t wait to tell others!
A word of caution here: if our present circuits, or ways of thinking, are well-established and well-used, there is a risk that our reflective practices will merely confirm what we know or what we have learnt in the past rather than discovering the movement of God’s Spirit in changing times. The more confident we become, the more comfortable it is to reinforce or bolster our past ways of thinking. Unintentionally, we can fortify the old instead of creatively finding Spirit-inspired responses to life’s questions. Growth is then stifled, challenges dismissed, and our reflective practices leave us powerless to bring God’s Kingdom near in new contexts. Certainly, the past informs the future and past responses may satisfy faithful congregations that are static and unchanging. But outside, society is changing rapidly, new questions and dilemmas are emerging, each one demanding fresh perspective.
Hence, reflective practices should not be an entirely solitary enterprise. Alone, our defence mechanisms can steer us towards self-deception. Two reflective practices will help us avoid this trap—study and supervision.
Study for ministry (and indeed for any of the professions), is a lifelong endeavour. Attending professional development seminars and conferences have a role here. So too does Stirling Theological College, where you can study part-time or full-time, in class or online. It’s your college and it is staffed by dedicated, committed Christian scholars! Subjects in Biblical studies, theology, history, missiology, pastoral care, ministry, and spirituality are offered at foundational and advanced levels. Some people have an aversion to study that stems from their days in high school, but studying at Stirling will soon dispel any fears. It is a continuing adventure in discovery and stimulation. No other reflective practice will induce new ways of thinking like the disciplined study of the Bible, theology, and ministry. Explore the possibilities at stirling.edu.au. (While you are there, check out the Stirling Leadership Conference scheduled for 1-2 August.)
Supervision provides another opportunity for a person in ministry to explore, reflect, learn and problem-solve with help and guidance from another person trained in the art of supervision. A supervisor is not a director. A supervisor does not tell you what to do or how to do it. Rather, a good supervisor is concerned with your personal and spiritual development and does so by helping you to focus on five principle activities: Discerning God’s calling on your life; Reviewing your personal goals and spiritual life; Self-evaluation of your ministry practice and family life; Theological reflection; Accountability to the CCVT’s Code of Ethics applicable to People in Ministry.
Having a relationship with a good supervisor is like gold—a trade secret, if you like. A good supervisor significantly helped my practice of ministry and journey of learning for many years.
Reflective practices are indispensable to the practice of ministry and part of making a good ministry even better. If you are wondering where to begin, try the next Reflective Practices seminar. You will find it on the CCVT web site’s Events page.
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