Discerning a Calling (5) – Looking forward, what next

So, you’ve talked with the elders, family, other church members and there’s agreement that things should progress a bit further.  What might the next steps look like?

Really at this stage we’ve just agreed that something seems right. We’ve not talked about how it might happen.

I want to suggest a few possibilities

  1. Reshaping life priorities to enable increased Gospel ministry

Primarily, we’ve been talking about people considering what tends to be called full time gospel ministry, church planting, pastoring, cross cultural mission. However, I don’t think that this means that everyone who starts out thinking this way will end up in a full time paid church role (at least immediately).

There are going to be many mission contexts where churches won’t be able to raise funds to pay someone full time. This will be especially true when church planting in many of our urban and deprived areas.  Also, in some circumstances having other work may actually give you inroads into a community (just as has always been the case with overseas mission).

So, it might be that for some people, it will mean a reassessment of your life and family circumstances. Has the mortgage been more or less paid off? Are children now away to University, are you able to make some sacrifices? Is your husband or wife able or willing to change career to give the family more financial security?

These changes may then enable you to free up time to do new and different things.

  1. Training for ministry

One of the questions we encourage people considering a calling to ask is “What further training do you need?”  I would encourage all who are considering pastoral, church planting or missionary work to set aside significant time for Biblical training.

A first step might be to try one of the regional ministry training courses available around the UK such as Cornhill in London or The Midlands Training Course in Birmingham.[1]  However, don’t stop there. We want pastors and church planters who are able to think deeply, wisely and Biblically about big issues.

Have a look at Theological training.  I would particularly recommend Oak Hill Theological College in North London or Union School of Theology in Wales.  Regular readers of faithroots.net will know that I believe that full time, campus based training won’t be for everyone.  There are good reasons for training whilst working with a church.  That’s why I’m encouraged by the development of Union’s Learning communities.

My general advice would be that if you are going to benefit from a residential training programme then go long and go deep. In other words, don’t just take a short course. Give 4 years to really being stretched and challenged up to Masters level.  Make sure that you give as much time as possible to both Biblical languages. Pick the most challenging and stretching subjects to study.[2]

  1. Should I stay or should I go

Traditionally, churches have tended to recruit workers from outside and send their own people on elsewhere. The arguments in favour of this is that people coming in from outside bring fresh ideas whilst people who have grown up and/or become Christians in the church may find it hard to lead in that context (the classic situation where people look back and remember your mistakes or wen you were a child).

Now, I think there’s something to the first reason. Churches should be willing to bring new people in. Also there is an advantage for a pastor/church worker to go somewhere else but it’s not the one you think!  You see, I’m inclined to suggest that having grown up somewhere and/or become a Christian there can be a healthy thing.  Indeed, unpaid elders are likely to have done that so why not the paid ones.  We are family not an institution. However, the benefit I’ve found by being somewhere else is that it’s multiplied my friendship, fellowship, accountability and support.

So, I now would encourage people to start from the assumption that their local church will be the starting place for financially supported ministry.  That’s where the gifting has been recognised and where you will have people around you encouraging you to test, develop and grow into it.

However, the local church should not hold onto someone tight fistedly. Rather, we should recognise that God may need the person somewhere else. If and when that time comes we should be willing to send.

This also means, in my mind, that when someone is stepping out in faith in this way that the weight of the financial risk should not fall on their shoulders. There will be costs and sacrifices and for some people, having to step forward not knowing where the next pay cheque will come from has proved to be a great growth experience. However, as church family together we should take the step of faith together and take responsibility for ensuring that they are properly supported.

[1] I assume that church groupings in other countries have similar options

[2] I worked on the basis at Oak Hill that some things I would be likely to happily read up on at my own leisre. There were other courses where this was a once in a life time opportunity to benefit from a tutor’s wisdom and the discipline of study in an academic environment.