Persevering in Ministry – the fruitfulness of forgetfulness
We asked William Philip about persevering in ministry. His wisdom on this topic will be spread over three blog posts. Today we hear personal testimony from him about persevering in the highs and lows of his 20 years in full-time gospel ministry.
I’m in my 20th year in full-time gospel ministry, and there have been many highs and lows, though sometimes the agony and the ecstasy has been near inseparable. That seems often to be the way, and I have come to realise that what Paul articulates in 1 Cor 16:8 is an abiding principle of all Christian ministry: ‘a wide and door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.’ So, it is a great encouragement to realise when things seem very dark, that (the) enemy presence very likely is a mark of fruitful ministry taking place; likewise, it is a caution when we are on a high with encouragements, and we should expect adversaries and adversity.
Some of the toughest times for me personally (and my family) were during the years of very significant conflict when our church had to contend for the orthodox faith in a denomination which was steadily embracing apostasy. Several years of time-consuming and energy (and morale) sapping battle culminated in our departure from the Church of Scotland, because we could not break fellowship with the orthodox Christian church worldwide in order to remain in fellowship with an institution publicly repudiating the gospel. We were evicted from the landmark building we had just spent some £3m refurbishing for gospel purposes amid great hostility and legal actions from the denomination, press publicity, and – sad most painful of all – ostracism and disowning by many others who would call themselves fellow evangelicals.
You discover, in such days of dark battle, the true band of brothers who really are with you, no matter what, and such bonds forged in adversity have become deeply precious and wonderfully fruitful.
I don’t think I ever really understood passages like 2 Tim 4:9-18 until that time, where Paul speaks of the pain of former ministry colleagues who had deserted him. And yet he knew the powerful strengthening of knowing the presence of the Lord who stood with him, and those brothers who, amid his ignominy, also stood with him and were not shamed by his chains. Onesiphorus is now one of my most admired NT figures (2 Tim 1:16); I understand the value of such loyalty and love. You discover, in such days of dark battle, the true band of brothers who really are with you, no matter what, and such bonds forged in adversity have become deeply precious and wonderfully fruitful.
Some of the real highs were all caught up in those times also, not least of which was seeing how the Lord used these fiery trials to nurture and unify and mature our congregation and leadership in ways which were quite remarkable, and perhaps impossible in any other way. To have had to contend at great cost, and with great material loss, can (and alas often does) lead to great bitterness and disillusionment; but in God’s grace, it can instead be the means of nurturing something beautiful and gloriously fruitful. It was his wonderful mercy to us that he granted us that latter; I called it ‘the fruitfulness of forgetfulness’ in a pastoral letter to the church just after we had been ejected from our building, referring to the (providentially ordered) studies in the later chapters of Genesis. After all his affliction, Joseph’s naming of his two sons “fruitful” and “forgetful” is a remarkable testimony to the fruit of grace at work in his life. I wrote then:
"It is easy to become bitter as Christians because of what life flings at us, and what we may feel God has flung at us. That's why the Bible warns us so clearly not to allow that to happen in the church: 'Don't let a root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble, defiling others with the poison!' (Hebrews 12:15). If ever a man could have allowed bitterness to poison his life, and be in a position of power to damage others constantly through that bitterness, it was Joseph. But no, God granted him forgetfulness: liberty from chasing after the esteem of man, and remembrance instead of all the goodness that he had found at God's hand. Forgetfulness ... and fruitfulness – 'God has made me [and will make me] fruitful in the land of my affliction.’" (the letter can be read here)
God granted us as a congregation a wonderful forgetfulness, a freedom from the bitterness of the past
God granted us as a congregation a wonderful forgetfulness, a freedom from the bitterness of the past, such that from the day we walked out of our old building, people hardly gave a second thought to the past, and were galvanised into fruitful gospel-driven thinking about the future which has resulted in growth and blessing in too many ways to begin to explain. So, I am thankful for the lows as well as the highs, because the latter nearly always flow from the former.