Twenty years ago, on Monday 21 March 1994 the Richard Baxter Institute of Ministry was launched. We put on a celebratory buffet lunch in the premises of the Free Church Federal Council in Tavistock Square – and then walked across to Dr Williams’ Library, where we took down a portrait of Richard Baxter for a formal photo shoot.
At the time we declared that our intention was
…to encourage professionalism, creativity and vision in ministry. In a fast-changing world ministers need regular opportunities to update their personal and professional skills and to engage in theological reflection. The RBIM is convinced that the benefits it has to offer will be far-reaching: ministers will continue to grow and develop and thereby find personal fulfilment and enrichment; churches will be led with greater effectiveness and will enjoy the fruits of a more positive ministry; and the wider church will reap a greater investment from its resources as a result of improved ministerial morale and a reduced ministerial fall-out.
We quoted the words of Richard Baxter: “All churches either rise or fall as the ministry doth rise or fall – not in riches or worldly grandeur, but in knowledge, zeal and ability for their work”.
Although some years later we changed our name to Ministry Today – and more recently to Ministry Today UK – the vision basically remains the same. In the words of our current strap line: Our aim is “to be a supportive resource for all in pastoral leadership, so that they may not only survive, but also grow and develop, becoming more effective in the ministry to which Christ has called them”.
At the original launch in my role as chairman I gave a short presentation, in which I said.
Christian ministry is in crisis. And yet strangely many church people seem to be oblivious to it. In the last 25 years somewhere between a quarter to a third of those ordained into Christian ministry are now back in secular jobs. Of those who remain many are suffering from symptoms of burnout and disillusionment; others carry on with enthusiasm, but not always with great insight and skill.
I went on to quote some words from the American ministry guru, Roy Oswald:
The following are some of the things we should anticipate will happen to the clergy we ordain and send into the ministry:
- Some will be unable to endure the stress of ministry and will experience physical and emotional breakdown.
- Approximately a quarter of these clergy will experience a failed marriage.
- Within the first ten years of parish ministry, roughly half will either be fired by their congregations or forced to move. Another 15% will be forced out of their parishes during the last ten years of ministry.
- Some will lose their sense of call and begin placing money and status above the goals of the kingdom.
- Some will lose all sense of physical stewardship and allow their bodies to balloon to double their normal weight – making them far less credible healers in their members’ eyes.
- Some will get so caught up in ministry successes and workaholic behaviour that they will cease being good models of Grace.
- Some will enter new parishes and ‘shoot themselves in the foot’ in the first six months through serious mistakes in judgment.
- Some will burn out and become exhausted, cynical, disillusioned, self-deprecating clergy.
- Some are simply not suited for parish ministry, and will need a way to exit gracefully.
- Some will experience personal tragedy and be unable to function for a number of months.
- Some are going to be caught in sexual malfeasance.
- Some are simply going to die trying to be effective clergy.
The reality is that ministry, both then and still today can be extraordinarily stressful and not all survive. Furthermore, of those who survive, not all thrive. In this latter respect I remember meeting in 2005 with the IVP editor responsible for my book Transform Your Church. After listening to me she stated that after a lifetime of involvement in the world of Christian publishing, I was the first experienced minister she had met who was still really in love with ministry!
This then is the context in which Ministry Today UK continues to operate. Three times a year we publish Ministry Today – the only ecumenical journal devoted to the practice of ministry. Written by ministers for ministers, it is truly inspirational. Once a year we organise a 24 hour conference for ministers which amazingly never fails to stimulate: in the words of one experienced Anglican priest, “This is now the only conference I want to attend. No conference I have ever attended in the past has supported and resourced my ministry as effectively as the Ministry Today“. In addition we have a web-site, which with its search engine ensures that Ministry Today provides an unrivalled resource on almost all matters relating to ministry. We have therefore rightly much to celebrate on this our 20th anniversary.