The four irreducible necessities of life are water, shelter, oxygen and food. However, life would be pretty limited if that was all we had!
In a recent American survey respondents were asked to list the things in life they deemed to be necessities without which they could not live, as distinct from luxuries which they could do without. The results were as follows:
- Car – 86% deemed a necessity
- A landline phone – 62%
- Clothes dryer – 59%
- Home air conditioning – 55%
- Home computer -49%
- Cell phone – 47%
- Microwave – 45%
- TV set – 42%
- High speed internet – 34%
- Cable or satellite TV – 23%
- Dishwasher – 21%
- Flat screen TV – 10%
The other night I had to go up by train to London – and to my consternation I discovered that I had forgotten my Blackberry. At the time it seemed a disaster! Instead of being able to check my e-mails and send messages to all and sundry, I had to occupy the 35 minute journey by reading the paper and doing the crossword. What a waste of time the latter seemed to be. It suddenly occurred to me that as far as I was concerned, my Blackberry was a necessity for ministry – or at least, a necessity for effective ministry.
This then caused me to wonder what other things I would rate as necessary for ministry. I certainly could not live without my diary. My life is governed by diary. Already I am busy filling up a diary for next year – and I even have one or two engagements listed for 2013 and 2014! Fortunately there is a good deal of flexibility in my diary. Every Monday I list out my engagements for the week, but as the week develops, my diary develops. Every day contains a surprise of some kind. But nonetheless, a diary is necessary. Furthermore, it has to be a paper diary. My younger colleagues prefer to use their electronic diaries – but as far as I am concerned, electronic diaries are hopeless if you are seeking to plan out a programme for a term.
Then, of course, a computer is absolutely vital for ministry. How I ever wrote sermons by hand I cannot now imagine! I might occasionally draft out the headings of a sermon on a sheet of paper, but after that the work is all done electronically. Cutting and pasting, adding and subtracting, writing a sermon on my computer is so much faster – and so much easier. And yet, amazingly, it was only in 1988 that I first began to use a computer. How times have changed.
And, of course, linked with the computer is e-mail. What a difference e-mail has made to a pastor’s life! Yes, it has its limitations. It is an unhelpful medium for debate. But what a wonderful medium it is for administration – arranging meetings, sending out agendas, receiving information. Along with the telephone, it is also a great tool for pastoral care. True, it cannot take away the importance of face-to-face communication. But running a church today without the benefit of email is hard to imagine – and yet, for thirteen years when I was pastor of the Baptist church in Altrincham I seemed to manage.
Then there is broadband and access to the world-wide web. Increasingly it is a vital tool for research. It is also a vital tool for communication. Scarcely a Sunday goes by when a visitor does not tell me that they found our church on the web. Attendance at our Alpha course would be substantially less without it featuring prominently on our web-site. Yes, yet another necessity!
Finally, some things, however, do not vary. Just as books were necessary for Paul (see 2 Timothy 4.13), so too books are necessary for me – along, of course, with hard copies of Ministry Today! John Wesley’s words to his fellow ministers remain as true as ever: ‘Either read or get out of the ministry’. There is no substitute for a well-stocked mind.