We asked William Philip about persevering in ministry. His wisdom on this topic has been spread over three blog posts. Read the first and second blog post here. Today we hear his advice for those just beginning in ministry and wanting to know how they can persevere long term.
In what ways could testing the waters of full-time gospel ministry, via a church-based ministry training scheme, be a help or a hindrance when it comes to persevering for a lifetime of ministry?
I think a church apprenticeship type scheme is particularly useful in two situations.
The first is when someone is uncertain, but trying to explore whether their gifts and desires might lend themselves to full-time ministry, and this really is a ‘testing the waters’ situation. Often I think that can be useful for a new graduate, who has opportunity to do that before getting into the more complicated situation of secular work from which it can be difficult to take time out for something like that. It’s the easiest time to spend a year or two getting some ministry work and experience, and (as in our scheme) getting the benefit of excellent training at the Cornhill Training Course (Scotland). Regardless of what the future holds job wise, the training and experience will be great equipment for a life of Christian service.
Regardless of what the future holds job wise, the training and experience will be great equipment for a life of Christian service.
Very often at the end of that time, if someone has decided that they are very drawn to full-time ministry, we are encouraging them to go into secular work for a while, to grow up, get experience of life, get married, continue serving in church, and then at some stage down the line, when the time is right, they will be ready to go on to the next stage in preparation for full-time ministry, and continue on that track.
The other situation is a bit different, where someone is already very sure that they want to pursue a path to full-time ministry. Often I will encourage someone like that to delay their ministry training (especially if a new graduate) and encourage them into other work for a while first (for all the reasons above). In general, the more sure they are about ministry, the more I tend to think that it is better for them to do something else first, so that when they then come to start an apprenticeship, it is with a view to this being the first step for them in going right on into full-time ministry.
If you are very sure that ministry is for you, once you have done a year or two working as an apprentice, it is quite hard not to want to go right on in ministry, But in my experience those who have a bit of life and work experience behind them are in a better place to do that than those whose only experience of working life is in the church. There are always exceptions, of course, but so much of ministry is about applying the gospel to life, and it just does take a certain experience of life to be able to do that.
I think that doing an apprenticeship too young, and then going right on into full time ministry (via whatever further training) can mean that you are in danger of having a more unrealistic view of what longer term ministry life and work will really be like, and that can lead to a lot of problems later on. For instance, you may attribute all sorts of struggles and difficulties to ‘ministry work’ when in fact it is just part and parcel of any working life, which is very different indeed from life as a student!
if your only experience of ministry work is in a city-centre student type church, and that is what shapes your expectations for a life of ministry, you may very well find ministry in real life for you is not at all what you had imagined it to be, and as a result, be both disappointed and disillusioned
The other aspect to remember is that very often the kind of churches which are able to run apprenticeship and ministry training schemes are by their very nature not the kind of ‘average’ church where most longer term ministry will in fact take place. So if your only experience of ministry work is in a city-centre student type church, and that is what shapes your expectations for a life of ministry, you may very well find ministry in real life for you is not at all what you had imagined it to be, and as a result, be both disappointed and disillusioned. Having a wider experience of both working life, and church life, before committing to the path of full-time ministry training is therefore something which does help you to have a more balanced and realistic perspective about what ministry really is like, and I think that will help you to persevere and serve in the kind of ministry you actually have, not the one you wish you had.
Are there any things that particularly worry or encourage you as you look at younger gospel ministers, starting out in full-time service of God?
One huge encouragement is that I see many beginning ministry now starting out with far better training than most of my generation had. For us, the academy was almost totally divorced from the church, and therefore there was no synergy or even communication between the two, a hopeless situation. Fortunately, now there is a growing culture of training within and between churches, which means that training for ministry is happening in the context of real ministry, which is the only place it can really be learned. The Cornhill Training Course was a seminal catalyst of this, and now there are so many more churches working in partnership with with either Cornhill or similar regional training schemes. So I see guys who have trained with us, or other churches we know, going into senior roles in ministry vastly better equipped, and with far more experience, than I ever had. There is much more to do of course, but I think that is a great encouragement.
One huge encouragement is that I see many beginning ministry now starting out with far better training than most of my generation had
Worries? Well, there are always things to concern, but perhaps one of the things that worries me is also a blessing, which is the globalisation and democratising of information in our digital age. The availability of ministry resources has never been greater, which is a huge blessing, but the proliferation of this via the internet is a problem too. Everybody is their own expert now, and everyone’s take or opinion on a subject seems to have to be published or shared. It is possible to waste a vast amount of time reading endless blogs and articles, which often seem to court controversy and blow up issues out of all proportion, causing at all kinds of unhelpful diversions for things which would be of much more value to the kingdom.
Young men are particularly prone to this kind of thing, and we have to be careful that by endlessly ‘sharing’ posts on this and that (‘have you read so and so’s view on this/that/ the other?’) we are not just promulgating a new form of gossip. Paul has a lot of warnings about an unhealthy caving for controversy, and quarrels about words, and people whose talk has the appearance of godliness, but no power, and about those who are easily puffed up with conceit. I worry when I see some ministers who never seem to be off Facebook and seem to have to offer their comments on everything and anything, cheered on by an army of ‘likes’. So I think that perhaps those in ministry ought to consciously practise regular fasting from the ‘evangelical blogosphere’, both for their own good, as consumers of it, and for the good of those who are contributing unhelpfully. I’m reminded of a comment of Spurgeon in this regard: “beware of constantly going to this place or that, seeking this platform or that, listening to mere twaddle and contributing your part to the general blowing up of windbags”! Wise words, still worth heeding today!