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The Missing Leg

By David Shosanya.

If ministry matters, then it is important to ask what in particular about ministry really matters, and what does not really matter. It is also important to ask to whom it matters, and why it matters. This is particularly important as it is so easy to lose a sense of perspective in ministry as we seek to do our best for God and his people. I was forcefully reminded of this reality recently when I facilitated a Newly Accredited Ministers (NAMs) day for our association in London. With many ministers present having less than 2 years experience in 'full-time' Christian service, modes of ministry that will inevitably lead to life imbalance and stunted spiritual and personal growth had already begun to be formed. It is estimated that one-third of Baptist ministers will leave ministry before retirement age.

A few days later I integrated two of the exercises I had used with the NAMs group to our team meeting devotion, based on Ecclesiastes 3.1-11, which I led. These two instances, along with other examples, personal and otherwise, have led me to conclude that there is a real danger that we lose sight of who we are, and what God has called us to do, as we attempt to negotiate the various expectations that fall upon us during the course of our ministry. It is a challenge actively to resist such pressures, real or imagined, to conform to expectations; and to allow one’s intimacy with Christ to shape who we are and what we do. I recognise that this is easier said than done, but it is a reality we have to continually wrestle with daily!

Intimacy with God

So, in answer to the question above, “what matters about ministry?”, I would say, first and above all, intimacy with God. This is not a form of intimacy achieved solely through extensive times of prayer and praise in the presence of God, but also in the reading/studying of Scripture, and in fellowship with fellow Christians- and other human beings. Intimacy can be easily lost in ministry and all attempts should be made to maintain it. Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, in The Sacred Romance, powerfully capture the longing of a heart that has lost intimacy:

Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into lifes middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all that we are doing. There is something missing in all of this, it suggests. There is something more. The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: Arent you thirsty? Listen to your heart. There is something missing

What makes intimacy so important is that it not only connects us to God, but to others as well as ourselves. It sets our lives in context and that context allows for the possibility of balance and fulfilment in ministry as well as the other dimensions of our lives. In other words, living our lives from a place of intimacy means that we are reminded, even expected (by God), to 'BE' and not only to 'DO'. Intimacy reminds us that we are primarily relational beings!

Kenneth Boa, in Conformed to his Image, helpfully illustrates the 'difference' between 'BEING' and 'DOING' (see below):

          BEING                                                DOING

Intimacy with Christ                           Activity in the world

Solitude                                             Engagement

Abiding                                              Serving

Interior                                              Exterior

Relational calling                               Dominion calling

Calling                                               Character

Invisible                                             Visible

Real life                                              Reflected life

Restoration of spiritual energy           Application of spiritual energy

Perspective                                        Practice

Rest                                                   Work

A call back to intimacy

John 15.4-5 (Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing) provides a helpful biblical foundation for the balance between 'BEING' and 'DOING' that Kenneth Boa highlights. The fact that we, as disciples of Christ, are referred to as 'branches' ('BEING') intimately connected to the vine (relationship) are expected to bear fruit' ('DOING') demonstrates that the two forces that often more than occasionally pull in opposite directions must be held in a creative tension.

In practice, we are more likely to place a priority on reflecting on what we are becoming if we remind ourselves that doing ministry is a central part of our Christian discipleship. We are not suddenly elevated from discipleship status to ministry or minister status. We are at the same time both disciples first, and then ministers. This is an important point that can easily be forgotten. The outcome or consequence of this line of thought is a failure to continue to invest quality time in personal growth and development beyond and outside of theological reflection and spiritual retreat, although both are important. If we are to become who and what God wants us to be, we will need to draw on resources and insights that are outside the parameters of theology. I want to suggest that the many insights currently available through self-development programs, personal growth strategies and the insights offered by other disciplines will need to be drawn upon.

Is Continued Professional Development (CPD) enough?

What do we mean when we refer to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for ministers? In my experience, CPD usually means enrolling on a short-term refresher course of some sort, a post-graduate theological qualification such as an MTh, MPhil, PhD, DMin, or even a professional Counselling course. Some ‘radicals’ or broad minded individuals may seek to gain qualifications in other disciplines, or embark on research through a multi-disciplinary course. This is normally made up of a strong theological component with insights or modules from other disciplines. However, what I have observed is that the accumulation of theological knowledge and insight seems to be the end result. In other words, CPD seems to focus solely on the development of an individual’s intellectual faculties in the form of advanced intellectual theological engagement, and not on ‘softer’ skills such as team-building, people management, organisational development, mentoring and coaching - practices that are increasingly recognised as essential in today’s world.

I want to suggest that Personal Development (PD) is the missing leg of an unbalanced (unbalance-able) two-legged stool and that, without it, ministry is diminished and ministers run the very real risk of never realising their fullest potential in the busyness of attempting to deliver 'ministry'. Inadvertently, ministers practise (and conceal - consciously and unconsciously) an extreme form of personal neglect, rooted in a misguided 'sacrificial theological paradigm' (a point made by the Revd Charlie Ingram during our NAMs day discussions), that ultimately results in burn-out or cynicism.

Many prominent leaders within the Christian community, both here in the United Kingdom and across the world, are individuals who either consciously or unconsciously integrate a repertoire of personal development practices into their personal lives. They set Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-specific (SMART) goals, challenge themselves to learn new skills, expose themselves to new learning contexts and investigate their own paradigms and practices to assess whether they continue to facilitate or obstruct their goals. They are individuals, women and men, who are acutely sensitive to and able to negotiate their environment, and as a result are not, metaphorically speaking, ‘caught with their pants down’ with regards to personal, ministerial and general awareness. This often makes them appear extremely relevant! 

I am convinced that this discipline of personal development is what ministry desperately needs, and what ministers need to make a personal priority, irrespective of present or potential demands of ministry. It is  likely that ministers would be better equipped to manage the demands on their lives (what Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 11.28 as “the burden of the Churches”), if they are equally and adequately skilled in the disciplines and insights of personal development in addition to theology, particularly in metropolitan centres. In other words, the need for training in theological literacy and spiritual disciplines should be complemented with training in personal development!

An example from leadership studies

This point can best be illustrated by an incident involving some post-graduate students reflecting on the work of John Adair. John Adair is one of the world’s most renowned leadership theorists. His concept of leadership as the function of negotiating the dynamics between potentially conflicting team, task and individual needs (see figure 1 below) is arguably known to virtually every individual that has been schooled in any form of leadership studies, even at an elementary level.

Some years ago, this model of three overlapping circles was presented to a class of post-graduate students as a focal point from which to begin a discussion on leadership. The simplicity and clarity of the model in illustrating the key dynamics of leadership means that it is accepted as an almost definitive illustration of the function of leadership. During the class discussion, the lecturer suggested to the students that their task as leaders was and would continue to be to develop the competences that would equip them to negotiate the competing and often conflicting needs highlighted by the diagram. 

After some discussion one student tentatively pointed out that he felt that the diagram was in fact not as definitive as it was thought to be. He suggested that there was one further ‘need’ he felt to be missing from the diagram in order for it to be complete. Interested by this remark, the lecturer asked what he identified that ‘need’ to be. “The leader’s needs” the student replied. The student reasoned that, while the task of the leader was to negotiate the dynamics illustrated through the diagram, it was also important to acknowledge and to do something about the needs of the leader which were overlooked in the diagram, and in all probability in the practice of leadership. The student had identified an oversight that many leadership experts and practitioners had failed to observe.

I recount this story because I feel that a similar mistake has been made both by ministerial training colleges and ministers. There is often an excessive and disproportionate emphasis on the minister as a ‘servant of’ and not enough of an emphasis on the minister being ‘in need of’. The emphasis seems to focus on developing the essential qualities of a minister - which is essential - but have overlooked the fact that ministers are more than ‘doers’: they are also people too. This oversight has led to a mode of training and ministerial practice that focuses primarily on the spiritual formation of the individual through theological training.

However, ministerial training or formation only seems to empower potential and actual ministers adequately with what I call ‘a competent theological literacy’ - that is the ability to negotiate and contribute to the world of theological understandings of God, scripture, the Church and society, etc. Not much is done that prepares ministers for ‘ministry for the world’. By that I mean those dimensions of ministry that are outside the walls of the Church, the ecclesiological community, but are increasingly becoming a feature of pastoral practice. Functioning as a chair in a community or civic group, or being part of a borough-wide consultative committee, are examples of such practices that are increasingly becoming part of the ministers ‘job description’, at least in the inner cities where huge amounts of regeneration are taking place as councils, developers and community groups seek out partners from organic grass-roots communities.

I recently spent some time with a minister in the London Baptist Association who was invited to be part of a residential consultative group by local developers involved in re-developing an East London community. He had never received any training in community development or community engagement in his many years of ministry and had never been encouraged to do so, despite his extensive community-based work. A similar story could be told of another female minister who had spent several years studying theology, but who had never had received training or been encouraged to further her knowledge in community development or engagement, despite being a hero in her local community. However, on more than one occasion, she has been eagerly encouraged to reflect theologically on her work in the community. While the potential benefits of the two are not mutually exclusive, the inference - unintentional I would concede - was that theological reflection on what was taking place was more virtuous and beneficial than perhaps a sociological analysis peppered with theological insights.

I regard this as a spurious assumption in that it fails to recognise that the theological reflection itself will in all probability indicate or reveal areas of additional competences or skills required for greater effectiveness for the practitioner. Reflecting theologically may give an individual a greater sense of purpose or mission. However, the reflective theological work will often indicate or reveal the need for further personal development. This, in all probability, would mean the need for the acquisition of additional skills and/or competences that are currently outside of the individual minister’s current skills-set. So, while the theological reflection might assist with creating a rationale for doing what one does, it fails to provide the practical and technical ability to do what one does better. This is not a failing of theology, but an inevitable outcome of critical reflection on praxis. In other words, the task of theology is to allow the individual to develop a rationale (theological conviction and biblical foundation) for doing what they feel God has called them to do. It is the task of other disciplines, of which personal development is one, to actively provide the context for the development of those skills needed to assist the individual in making the vision a reality.  This point is not easily dismissed!

Personal development as an expression of radical Christian discipleship

Seen from this perspective the need for, and importance of, personal development takes on a radically different level of significance. Personal development is no longer viewed as an ego-centric and selfish preoccupation with actualising one’s self or personal potential, but as an essential prerequisite for creating the space for God to fill and furnish the individual with necessary skills for the task at hand. In other words, personal development is about particular types of personal growth that allow or facilitate a greater investment of one’s self in the task that God has called one to do by being further equipped, and consequently empowered, to do the task at hand. So, taking responsibility for one’s personal development under the guidance and Lordship of The Holy Spirit is, and can legitimately be described, as an act of radical Christian discipleship and self-sacrifice. This is particularly the case as one is actively attempting to follow Christ more fully along the path He has called the individual to tread by acquiring those skills that make effective ministry all the more possible.

This is an alternative way of viewing personal development and locating it firmly within, and part of, the ongoing missiological work of Christ through His Church. This, in my view, is a redemptive perspective that makes possible a positive and unselfish, even Christian, view of personal development, and should make it all the more possible, or likely, for Christian ministers to embrace the concept as complementary to, and not antithetical to their Christian beliefs.

Being able to do what God calls one to do is directly dependent on being able to become what, or rather, who God intends one to become. Consequently being and doing are inextricably linked.

We too can focus exclusively on team, task and individual needs and forget our own needs, the most important of which is to spend time in the presence of God. It is analogous to the driver who is so excited at the possibility of racing that she forgets to pay adequate attention to safety issues. However, there is more to this than prayer, Bible reading, fasting or any other spiritual discipline. These practices are important and always will be in Christian ministry.

What about personal development? What part does it have to play in God being able to use us more fully that he can at this present moment in time?

Is this a particular cultural perspective?

It is important for me to say a few words about the cultural (this includes my emotional, psychological, social, economic and religious dimensions of myself) space from which I have written this article. I have raised this very question of the need for personal development techniques to be an integral part of ministerial training and CPD with many ministers of varying cultural backgrounds, theological persuasions, socio-economic classes as well as genders. The responses are interesting. There are normally fault-lines that demarcate three distinct categories: race, gender and class.

On the one hand, white, middle-class, Christian ministers who have experienced the privileges of power, and perhaps turned their backs on them, or at least mitigated that power through gospel values, seemed to focus less and have time for personal development practices. Theological practice/reflection and spirituality seemed to be the greater priorities. On the other hand, black African and Caribbean leaders tended to have a greater commitment to personal development largely as a result of their personal experiences of social marginalisation and economic disenfranchisement. For one group of ministers, the focus of Christian discipleship appears to be the loss of the socially constructed 'self' while for the other it is precisely the opposite: the recovery or reconfiguration of the socially constructed 'self' in the image of God in and through the Person of Christ.

It appears therefore that, on the one hand, the gospel can and sometimes does mediate the use of power and privilege, while on the other, the gospel confers, in Tillich’s words, “the courage to be”. What I realised was that the ontological and existential starting points are poles apart. The differing views of the religiously constructed 'self' and the respective divergent views that emerge from contrasting social locations raises interesting questions which are not for consideration here, but which are nevertheless important. I include these thoughts because they provide an obvious insight to the perspectives I have come to hold and that I have attempted to articulate in this article. I accept that my own personal experiences have shaped and continue to shape my reading and interpretation of Scripture particularly with respect to my views on the importance of personal development. Others will inevitably hold different views to mine.

What matters most to me in ministry? Intimacy: that my ministry does not become an obstacle to my journey of personal discipleship and Christian maturity. Personal development (a time to work of 'BEING') helps me to live ever nearer to that priority!

David Shosanya

Regional Minister for Mission with the London Baptist Association

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You are reading The Missing Leg by David Shosanya, part of Issue 42 of Ministry Today, published in March 2008.

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