Traditionally the third Sunday in Advent has been associated with the ministry of the church. On this day the lectionary readings focus on John the Baptist, the Forerunner. So in the Church of England next Sunday the Gospel reading for the ‘principal service’ is taken from Luke 3.7-18 which describes John calling the crowds to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”.
Whether or not the solo ministry of John the Baptist provides a good model for today’s ordained ministry is no doubt debatable. The day does, however, provide an ‘excuse’ – or should I say ‘reminder’ – for churches to pray for the ministry of the church. So for instance in the Book of Common Worship the collect for the Third Sunday of Advent is as follows:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming sent your messenger to prepare your way before you: grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in your sight; for you are alive and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Beautifully constructed as the collect may be, I believe a more imaginative approach to praying for God’s ministers is called for.
- This is a Sunday to pray in the first place for a congregation to pray for their own minister and his/her family – and to thank them for all that they do! Hopefully there will be a tangible expression to the thanks – maybe flowers, better still a Christmas ‘bonus’, or even a weekend away for the family!
- This is a Sunday to pray for past ministers of the church, as also for those men and women the church has sent out into ministry. In order to pray more intelligibly for ministers associated with the church in the past, there is a lot to be said for contacting these ministers a week or so before the Sunday and ask for a brief report (100 words maximum) in which they update the church on their news together with perhaps a specific item for prayer which might be included in the news sheet for the day. Better still, introduce a video-clip featuring the ministers concerned!
- This is a Sunday to pray for those ministers engaged in chaplaincy of one kind or another. Again, prayer could be made more specific by naming some of the local chaplains (hospital chaplains, town-centre chaplains, police chaplains…..). Again, a video clip would be great – but otherwise what about mug-shots on the screen?.
- This is a Sunday to pray for those who train men and women for ministry. The church could pray for theological colleges in general, but perhaps in particular for the theological college which trained their present minister. Again imagination is required in how this is presented.
- This is a Sunday to pray for all who care for today’s ministers – bishops and archdeacons, regional ministers and moderators, as also those responsible for continuing ministerial development. I would also wish to include Ministry Today UK with its aim to encourage ministers not just to survive but also thrive in ministry; as also the new College of Baptist Ministers with its vision of promoting the health and well-being of ministers.
Ministers need their people’s prayers, for ministry can be exhausting and discouraging. A survey of 1000 Anglican ministers in England revealed, for instance, that nearly a third felt used up at the end of the day in the parish; one in five felt frustrated by their parish ministry; one in six felt that parishioners blamed them for their problems; less than half felt they had accomplished many worthwhile things in their ministry or that they were positively influencing people’s lives in their parish ministry.
Finally, Ministry Sunday is also an occasion when the church needs to remember that God although only some are called to lead his church, all his people are called to engage in ‘ministry’ of one kind or another.
Yes, let’s make the most of Ministry Sunday.