In the previous post I suggested that If we are to nurture genuinely missionary disciples, and genuinely missionary congregations we have to have genuinely missionary ministers, ministers who are oriented towards the beyond church, who see their calling as helping God’s church prayerfully to pursue God’s purpose for God’s world.
This will mean reimagining what it means to be a minister. I want to suggest that this will require the development of new images of ministry to sit alongside, or in some cases to supersede, the traditional images such as the pastor-teacher.
I would like to share with you three such images in the hope that they might help to fund such a reimagining. Each image is fashioned in relation to a particular missional challenge facing the church in twenty-first century Britain.
1. The Missionary-Minister as Conversationalist. Mission as Dialogue
Cross-cultural missionaries discovered long ago the vital place of dialogue when working beyond the bounds of Christendom. We too in this country are now ministering beyond Christendom. The Church is an eccentric minority. Our society is religiously plural. Sadly the response of Christians to this situation has often been either hostility or indifference. What is called for instead is ministerial initiatives in friendly engagement with those with whom we share our post-christian country.
One of my regrets about my last pastorate is that I did not give nearly enough attention to discussion with the Muslim community on my doorstep. In the current climate of brittle co-existence between different faith communities in the midst of a functionally atheist culture, it has to be a priority that we ministers work to show that diversity of religion in our society needn’t be a problem, and still less an excuse for violence. If mission isn’t about reaching out in friendly embrace to those who are different, if it isn't about intentional peace-making then I don’t know that it is about.
In our relationships with those of other faiths neither crass conversionism nor timid opposition to conversionism will do. What we need is mature, open, generous, humble, committed dialogue. If our churches are to be oriented toward the beyond church, not turning our backs on our neighbours but turning toward them that we might first listen and then speak of our faith in Christ, we need missionary-ministers who will reach out in friendship and strike up as many conversations as possible. Yes of course this is a calling for the whole church but ministers represent the church in particular way, ministers set the tone and give a lead. It is our responsibility to initiate conversations, sustain conversations and draw church members into such conversations.
Back in May I gave the Baptist Ministers' Fellowship annual lecture at the Baptist Assembly in Plymouth. This month a version of the talk was published in the Baptist Minsters' Journal. With the kind permission of the editorial board I will be reproducing a slightly modified version of the BMJ article here. To keep things down to regular post length I'm going to stick it up in a series of bite size chunks.