I’m at a Ministers’ refresher conference (along with baptist bookworm and Catriona) laid on by the
Baptist Union as part of their commitment to ministers. Listening to the conversations over meal tables and coffee has got me wondering
about the relationship between minister and congregation. Clearly there are
many ministers who are well suited to the church congregations they serve.
There are also many where there appears to be some tension between the minister
and the church.
So how much difference is healthy? I’m sure that I’m not the
only minister who has sometimes thought that if my church knew I believed this
or that (or more likely didn’t believe this or that) then they would be concerned.
Some differences are good and healthy. They enable the minister to challenge the
church to grow and establish a creative dynamic where people can mature in the
faith and be transformed. However, some differences can be destructive,
corroding trust between church and minister and radically different views about
the future shape and direction of the church which promote division. The difficulty is in telling the
difference between the creative and the destructive.
How do we manage the tension? I don’t have an answer to that
either but any answer needs to include:
1. Effective ministers have learned to separate what they
like and what is good for the church. For example, over recent years I have
grown to appreciate some forms of liturgy. This affects how I understand
worship (and what I do when leading worship) but I have no plans to encourage
the congregation to sing in Latin (on a regular basis).
2. Expectations are powerful things. Sometimes, particularly
in times of uncertainty, people project expectations onto you. You don’t have
to own or accept them but rejecting them creates anxiety.
3. Language is important. People wrongly categorise on the
basis of the language you use. How we explain our ideas matters and people need
to see continuity from where they are at present to the future you are
articulating. This is more than an evangelical charismatic (or whatever your
church label and heritage) language game it is about how we share and own
thoughts and ideas together as a body of God’s people.
4. Openness and honesty are keys to trust. People want to
know what the minister thinks and believes and it is right that we explain our
faith and the reasons why we believe what we do; it is just that we need to do so with tact, love and discernment.
Perhaps if we could get a better handle on these issues we could encourage more ministries to blossom.