Who’s ready?

Testing the calibre of those preparing to enter Christian ministry

Men or boys? | photo: istock

Men or boys? | photo: istock

During the days of the Cold War, Brother Andrew began what has become the work of Open Doors.

He felt the call of God to run Bibles secretly into Communist countries to beleaguered churches and Christian leaders for their encouragement. It is interesting to read in his famous book, God’s Smuggler, about how the ministry expanded and how he tended to select people to join the work.

‘It wasn’t that we couldn’t find volunteers – almost every time one of us spoke someone offered himself for our work. The problem was to know whether or not these were the people God was sending us. In an effort to weed out the novelty-seekers and the merely curious I often said: ‘As soon as your own ministry of encouragement is started behind the Iron Curtain, get in touch with us and let’s see if we can work together.’1

For those offering to join his ministry Brother Andrew’s approach was to set them a working test of initiative and discipleship…(to read more click here)

Dr. John Benton

This article was first published in the February issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

I was sick and you visited me.

Mike Mellor, of Hope Church, Ferndown, encourages us to minister hope in times of need

photo: iStock

photo: iStock

She was frail as a sparrow.

Her legs were like pencils and her ill-fitting teeth barely kept up with her mouth as she spoke. But on asking how she was as she lay in her bed, Gracie’s china blue eyes twinkled mischievously as she beamed and chirped: ‘I’m packed and ready to go, pastor!’ And indeed she was and she did, as a few days later the Lord gathered up another of his jewels. It had been my immense privilege on my visits to seek to make her transition a little more comfortable.

Loving channels

I would frequently receive the same message: ‘Gracie’s fallen again.’ I knew the cause of the fall before I called on her, of course. Those legs were just not built for speed. However, I lost count of the times I returned from visiting her thinking the same thought: ‘Just who ministered to whom there?’ Once more I would be reminded of the eternal dimension to this work of ‘visiting the sick’, and the blessing that God grants to those who go in Jesus’s name.

Bible teacher and author Warren Wiersbe rightly states.…(to read more click here)

Mike Mellor

This article was first published in the January issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Gay rights supporter turned pastor and spiritual hunger in Egypt…(December issue highlights)

Out now in the December issue of Evangelicals Now…

December issue cover

December issue cover

• Spiritual hunger in Egypt

• Churches in Greece bring hope to refugees

From gay rights supporter to paster in USA

The December issue is out now! Read it online or enjoy the printed paper with your morning cuppa!

You may subscribe to have regular access every month to all of the articles NOTE: PRICE INCREASE as of Jan 1, 2016! Subscribe today to beat the increase!

ISIS, medical ethics and the well-being of pastors…(November issue highlights)

Out now in the November issue of Evangelicals Now…

November issue OUT NOW!

November issue OUT NOW!

• ISIS begins executing captured Christians

• A Biblical approach to medical ethics in the age of advanced technology

• Reflections on the results of the FIEC pastors’ well-being survey

The November issue is out now! Read it online or enjoy the printed paper with your morning cuppa!

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Editors commentary: Be a pirate preacher!

 pirate-preacherWEB(view original article here)

A new generation of preachers is being trained.

There is a stream of advice that young preachers should only preach dazzling sermons which are all their own work. They have to be completely original.

I beg to disagree. I feel that this advice is not only unhelpful to these men but is actually damaging churches. I am not calling for plagiarising sermons from the internet or books, by-passing any preparation. But I do believe that sparkling originality can be an unnecessary burden.

Reasons for disagreeing

First, even the writers of Scripture copy one another sometimes. 2 Peter and Jude are almost word for word identical in large sections. Who uses whose material? Isaiah quotes from Micah. Or is it the other way around? We don’t know. Theories of how the Gospels were written posit common material which originated we do not know where – except that the Holy Spirit used it in the work of more than one writer.

Second, the emphasis on originality in all their pulpit work can easily foster a preacher’s pride rather than humility. And while unspiritual hearers always desire to hear ‘some new thing’ (Acts 17.21), it is preachers who are keen to be innovative and novel in their interpretation of their texts that are most prone to straying from sound doctrine.

Third, feeling they must come up with unique insights and brand new ways of handling a Bible passage means that some young ministers spend their whole week in the study. Other essential pastoral duties like visiting the flock and spending substantial time in prayer, get neglected. Or if they do give time to these duties they find they can only possibly produce one sermon a week. This is leading to the downgrading and even the closure of evening services. I know of one church in London where the morning service is simply repeated in the evening. If ever there was a signal that said, ‘Don’t bother to be in church twice on a Sunday,’ this is it. In some places the evening service is reduced to a cup of tea and a discussion. The Puritans would have gone nuts!

Something peculiar

This ‘originality’ advice is, in some ways, peculiar to the contemporary scene. To assist young preachers the great Anglican Charles Simeon published Helps to Composition; or six hundred skeletons of sermons; several being the substance of sermons preached before the univer- sity. The university he refers to is, of course, Cambridge and the work became popularly known as Simeon’s Skeletons. He defines the skeleton of a discourse in the following way: ‘It should be not merely a sketch or outline, but a full draft, containing all the component parts of a Sermon, and all the ideas necessary for the illustration of them, at the same time that it leaves scope for the exercise of industry and genius in him who uses it.’* Simeon looked for young preachers to use his sermon headings and ideas so as to learn the art of exposition and to mature as preachers. Similarly, when C.H. Spurgeon published his voluminous work on the Psalms, The Treasury of David, every exposition ended with ‘Hints to the village preacher’.

It’s fine if you have original ideas. But equally, dear preacher, if something from another writer or preacher has blessed you, then pirate it for the good of your congregation. You are not called first to be original but to be helpful.

* A helpful booklet on Simeon is advertised at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zRl6JA2RWU

John Benton

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, check out our on-line version of the paper or subscribe for monthly updates.

True feelings (book review)

Perspectives on emotions in Christian life and ministry
Edited by Michael P. Jensen
Apollos (IVP). 284 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 937

This collection of 11 essays on emotions in Christian life and ministry began life as talks at a conference held at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia.

The stereotype that conservative evangelicals are suspicious of emotions makes the publication of this book on their place and importance especially welcome, not least because eight of the 11 chapters are by Moore College staff. After an opening sermon and an introduction to emotions, there are two main sections of four chapters each on emotions in God and in Christian life and ministry.

Challenging call

As you would expect, given where the book has come from, the treatment of the subject is thorough and scholarly, engaging in a rigorous way with the Bible, historical theology and contemporary culture. But the book is not just an academic treatise — it is a challenging call to be conformed to the image of the Son in our emotional life; to follow the example of Paul who felt deeply and expressed freely; to understand growing up emotionally as part of growing up in Christ; to see emotions as a good gift rather than dangerous decoys seducing us from the path of truth; to pursue a wholehearted engagement with God, as individuals and in our gatherings; to beware overcorrecting in our desire to avoid emotionalism when we meet together, and to value the place of music and singing; to walk the path of devotion not just duty.

Some of the early chapters can get quite technical, which some may find off-putting, but there is no reason not to begin with the more practical final section. It’s the kind of volume in which the chapters can be read in any order. The Apollos range is pitched at pastors, theological teachers and students, and thinking Christians. Those who want a more popular level treatment may find IVP’s Emotions by Graham Beynon a more accessible starting point.

Marcus Nodder, senior pastor, St. Peter’s Barge, London’s Floating Church (http://www.stpetersbarge.org)

This article was first published in the May 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Marathon Men – the advantages of long-term ministry

Marathon Men

For a few years, I have been working on a book.

Persistently Preaching Christ is about what God has done in and through one particular local church fellowship in Cambridge over half a century1. Reflecting on the ministries of the two men who led the church during that time and considering their priorities has been a fruitful exercise. One thing that has struck me time and again is this: while there are clearly exceptions, long-term ministry in one place has very significant advantages.

Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton served one church family for a total of 54 years between them and, for both men, their ministry at St. Andrew the Great (formerly ‘The Round Church’)2 could be described as their ‘life’s work’. You can no doubt think of many other ministers who’ve done the same sort of thing. Perhaps the Scottish trio — Willie Still (52 years at Gilcomston, Church of Scotland), James Philip (39 years at Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh) and his brother, George Philip (40 years at Sandyford Henderson, Glasgow). How about: Dick Lucas’s 37 years at St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate; EN’s editor, John Benton, who has already clocked up 33 years at Chertsey Street, Guildford; Jonathan Fletcher, who has just retired after 30 years at the helm of Emmanuel, Wimbledon; John Stott, who was anchored at All Souls his entire adult ministry life — five years as curate, 25 years as Rector and 36 years as Rector Emeritus? And there are, of course, many other current ministers who have served for two, maybe three decades and counting.

It strikes me that there are many good things about the ministry of a pastor who aims to be ‘in it for the long haul’ and to give himself to a single ‘life’s work’. I’ve heard some ministers say that they’re not wired up this way. Rather like the ‘golden eagle’ approach from the world of management consultancy, they feel they’re more gifted at swooping in, working out what’s wrong, then prescribing and delivering a solution. Other ministers opt for something in between — a stint of around seven to ten years in one place, perhaps, and then a move to pastures new.

The Bible doesn’t dogmatise about duration of ministry — and we do so at our peril. I don’t think there is anything in Scripture to prescribe how long a minister should stay in one post. Having said that, the words used in the New Testament for church — ‘household’, ‘family’, ‘fellowship’, etc.3 — would seem to imply duration, consistency and long-term commitment. But of course the example the apostle Paul gives us is that of peripatetic ministry — he travelled and moved around and ministered all over the place.

As I worked on Persistently Preaching Christ and read many hundreds of letters and emails from people who had appreciated and benefited from the ministries of Mark Ruston and Mark Ashton, several distinct advantages of long-term ministry struck me. My research and thinking are ongoing and I don’t want to dogmatise, so my list of advantages is in the form of questions.

1. Does long-term ministry provide the best environment for expository preaching?

As I started to compile a list of ‘long-term’ pastors, I was struck by how many of them have a reputation for fine expository preaching. A mere coincidence? Or is there something about remaining in one place, teaching the same group of people year after year, seeking to demonstrate that all Scripture is useful4 which enables the preacher to develop and hone his preaching gifts?

2. Is it best for developing good, solid relationships in the church family?

In Persistently Preaching Christ, Professor Bob White remarks: ‘I well remember Mark Ashton commenting soon after he arrived that it is relatively easy to breeze in and then to leave after a few years. But if you are in it for the long haul, then building and maintaining relationships through all the ups and downs of church family life is what will show the distinctiveness of the Christian way’.5 Staying in one place means that difficult relationships have to be worked at, not run away from. And, of course, there are the ‘ups’ as well as the ‘downs’ — passing the years together means shared joys, common experiences, real friendships. Mark Ashton’s comment from his perspective as a preacher is telling: ‘It is only with time that a minister gets to know and understand his congregation, and to be known and understood by them.’6

3. Does it help guard against reliance on human strategies?

The ‘golden eagle’ consultant can swoop in with lots of exciting new ideas and strategies — but that approach will probably pall somewhat after 20, 30, 40 years. And perhaps that’s a good thing. God’s word is living and active and that’s where ministers will find the wisest ‘strategies’ and ‘ideas’. Another couple of thoughts from Mark Ashton: ‘As time passes in a preacher’s ministry, it gets harder and harder to lead purely by innovation or human energy. … Only by faithfully teaching the word of God will an individual’s leadership stay fresh and revitalising over decades’.7 The minister who is preaching the word of God week in, week out will never run out of ideas and never run out of things to say — because neither the preacher nor the preached-to will ever finish understanding God’s word this side of heaven.

4. Does it help avoid the temptation of careerism?

Mark Ashton’s words again: ‘There may be a few men who are particularly gifted at leading a church through the early stages of growth, and then do best to pass the baton to someone else. But in general the best pastor-teacher will not be the one who is constantly wondering whether he should move on to new pastures or whether there is a better job on offer somewhere else. Patterns of church life which constantly move pastors from one church to another … rarely build a local congregation over the years. It is characteristic of most of the strongest evangelical churches in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century that they have all enjoyed prolonged ministries by their main preachers’.8

Each of us suffers from mixed motives. Might the thought ‘I’ve done all I can do here’ sometimes be a thinly veiled desire to have a more prestigious position?

5. Is it best for growth?

Statisticians tend to consider duration of ministry in terms of numerical growth. There are all sorts of theories about when greatest numerical growth is likely to occur and whether it tails off if a minister stays ‘too long’. But numerical growth is just one factor, surely. How about growth in spiritual maturity, godliness, unity, generosity, evangelistic zeal, perseverance and so on? I’m not sure statistics can measure those things very well, if at all. Under God, what kind of ministry encourages that kind of growth — is longevity better than several short-term stints? Is a strong, united, wholehearted, outward-looking congregation which is devoted to the Lord Jesus likely to emerge, under God, from a string of ministries — or from long-term ministry? Does it also enable a greater ability to look outwards — facilitating church plants and ‘grafts’, encouraging young men and women to train for ministry in this country and overseas, supporting like-minded gospel work in other parts of the country. And is it perhaps even more significant when it comes to building relationships with the wider community?

Of course there will always be times when a move will be the wisest thing. Personal circumstances involving children, spouse, ageing parents, or health perhaps. A pastor may be correct in concluding that he genuinely doesn’t have the necessary gifts or personality to lead the church forward to the next stage. There may be other factors too — perhaps the size of the church or the type of area (inner city, rural?) makes a difference. I’m still asking lots of questions — but my interim conclusion is that there are many significant advantages to long-term ministry.

Mary Davis is part of St. Nicholas Church, Tooting, in south west London, wife of the minister and mum of three children. Occasional editor of Christian books.


1. Persistently Preaching Christ (eds. Christopher Ash, Mary Davis, Bob White, ISBN 978 1 845 509 828) reflects on the importance of the local church, the ministries of Mark Ashton and Mark Ruston over more than 50 years, and includes Mark Ashton’s ‘Eight Convictions about the local church’. It is published by Christian Focus Publications and is available from them direct for £10.99, or from http://www.10ofthose.com for £8.79.
2. The fellowship was initially called ‘The Round Church’ after the building where the church met for many centuries. In 1994, the church family moved to the newly restored building of St. Andrew the Great. Mark Ruston was vicar there for 32 years (from 1955 until his retirement in 1987) and Mark Ashton for 22 years (from 1987 until his death from cancer in April 2010).
3. For example, Galatians 6.10, Ephesians 2.19.
4. 2 Timothy 3.16-17.
5. page 99, Persistently Preaching Christ, as above.
6. page 19, op. cit.
7. page 19, op. cit.
8. page 18Ð19, op. cit.

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)