The opening years of my ministry in Chelmsford were tough. The vast majority of the church happily responded to my leadership – but a handful (and it only takes a handful) decided to oppose me at every twist and turn. This was the context in which I wrote the following ‘confession of practice’:
“The key to my ministry is the love I exude to others. If my ministry is not constantly permeated by a warm, generous, and affirming spirit, then I may as well give up.
It doesn’t matter how dedicated I am in the spiritual disciplines, how hard I work at my sermons, how carefully I prepare my prayers for public worship, if I’m not in love with my people then all my pious words won’t make a whit of difference. The only effective sounding board for the Gospel is love.
Likewise, so long as people don’t feel I love them, all my professional expertise is of no avail: my grasp of church growth principles, my counselling skills, my visionary leadership, will get the church nowhere. It is love that enthuses, love that inspires, love that motivates.
The fact is that my ministry will be successful to the degree that I love those in my care. Without such love, then all the sacrifices I have made as a minister will be in vain – my willingness to take a drop in stipend, my working all the hours God gives, will, of themselves, benefit nobody.
What does all this mean in practice? It means
- Being patient with the awkward squad, even when they seem to be deliberately obtuse;
- Having time for everybody, even for those who criticise me behind my back;
- Keeping quiet about my achievements, allowing others to boast about theirs – or about their kids;
- Respecting those less able than myself – after all, they are doubtless better at plugging a wall than I am;
- Treating everybody with old-fashioned courtesy, never riding roughshod over the feelings of others.
Yes, loving the church will mean standing on my dignity, forcing the church to go my way’ but rather giving people space to make their decisions before God. It means never allowing others to cause me to lose my ‘cool’. If people fail to respond to my leadership, then perhaps this means I’ve not been loving them enough.
Because each individual in the fellowship is of value to me, I will not stand for any gossip – nor will I indulge in title-tattle myself. Rather I will always seek to be positive and praise the achievements of others, whether they be great or small.
When things get tough for individuals, I’ll be there, standing by them; I’ll always believe the best of another, even if they’ve let me down in the past; I’ll never give up hope in anybody; I’ll put up with misrepresentation rather than allow the church to suffer.
Yes, from beginning to end I’ll seek to ensure that love is the chief characteristic of my ministry. The fact is that one day preaching and praying will come to an end; but there will be no end to loving. My preaching and praying are only touching aspects of the truth; but my loving is the way of truth. Clearly faith and hope are vital to any minister, but love is the great essential pre-requisite for any ministry.”