Rob Mullock is Minister for Training at Christ Church Fulwood, Sheffield.
Cutting through the Covid-confusion
What is God doing through coronavirus? There is a bewildering array of possible answers on offer in the blogosphere. “It is nothing new!” “It is something extraordinary!” “An enforced sabbath!” “A judgment!” “A gracious means of spiritual awakening, with more people than ever attending church, albeit online!” So which is it? Is this a time for downing tools and repenting of frantic, self-reliant activism, or a moment to roll up our sleeves and preach the gospel to a frightened world before it returns to its usual spiritual apathy?
When it comes to receiving and inducting new trainees at Fulwood, we have cut through our confusion—rightly, or wrongly—with the simple conviction that nothing essential has changed, but many accidentals have.
All these essentials remain the same: our immeasurable God and his inexhaustible grace to his fallen creatures in the gospel; the needs/opportunities of a harvest of souls ready for reaping; and the charge to entrust the gospel to the next generation of fellow faithful teachers. Nothing essential has changed. But we cannot ignore that many accidentals have: death and grief have come unexpectedly early to many; our nation’s illusory invincibility has taken a blow, our economic security too; some have been furloughed, others are busier than ever; and zooming has taken on a new meaning for us all.
Induction – the basic disciplines of disciple-making discipleship
Whether our trainees go on to great things in the eyes of men, or not, we hope all of them make progress in godly sincerity and personal integrity before God. During the trainees’ induction week we turned to Matthew’s Gospel (an invaluable guide to making disciple-making disciples), and especially to Jesus’ teaching in the Lord’s Prayer and the Parable of the Soils. We want our trainees to grow in the ancient disciplines of private prayer and attentive listening to God’s word. We will throw our trainees into a lot of ministry over their time with us. But before they teach others the gospel, we want them listening to that word for themselves with diligence and joy. Before they serve publicly, we want to help them pray in faith to their Father, who sees and rewards in private.
This kind of integrity has always been essential to lifelong gospel ministry, but its necessity for trainees was not always as obvious as it is now. Particularly in our context—a large church by British standards—there can be a real buzz to public ministry, a sense of success before anything has even been done. Strip that away, by scattering the church and transferring ministry online, and suddenly a person’s true motives for taking their first steps in ministry are exposed. Whether someone slips into self-pity or proves to be a steadfast self-starter may well say a lot about their true motives in ministry, and in turn, about the use they have made of the basic means of grace that God has given us in his word and our prayers.
Induction included many new accidentals this year, from Zoom for dummies to how to clean using a fogging machine. Some of these skills may well prove valuable for the long-term: one of our trainees helped out at an online evangelistic Summer camp in a closed country, a ministry with great potential for the future. Other skills may be needed only for a short time, but nothing is devoid of training value. If a cup of water given for Christ’s sake won’t lose its reward, even the humble handwash can be an exercise in growing love for neighbour and God. This double love, practiced in everything we do, remains the essential aim and cause of all true gospel ministry.
Training opportunities and challenges ahead
The need for people trained in faithful Bible-handling remains. Coronavirus has not changed this one bit. Bible Training Yorkshire soon begins online, and in person for a lucky few. In fact, BTY, like many similar regional gospel partnership courses, is more accessible than ever. Yorkshire is a big place and meeting online makes the course a viable option for many who would normally struggle to attend. And for those who would have planned to make the journey, the lack of a commute may well offer more time for richer, more diligent study. May all our regional training courses go from strength to strength under God in these times!
But learning to handle God’s word is only half the battle. As many who have trained me through the years have quipped, we don’t teach the Bible, we teach people the Bible. Most of our trainees at Fulwood are fresh-faced graduates and teaching people the Bible is their first full time job. What a time to enter any workplace, let alone the work of teaching a church that can barely meet! We expect that they will all need extra hand-holding, and an individual approach that tailors their training to the specifics of their temperament, situation and ministry opportunities. But there are great potential dividends to taking your first steps in ministry in such a challenging environment, great opportunities to grow in personal integrity, discipline, genuine love and the intrinsic motivation of genuine faith in God. In the middle of my second decade in gospel ministry, I feel my own want of these essential qualities now more than ever: how good to get growing in them from the word go.