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The Contemplative Minister:Learning to lead from the still centre

Author: Ian Cowley
Published By: Bible Reading Fellowship (Abingdon)
Pages: 160
Price: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 85746 360 9

Reviewed by William Ruddle.

In this work, Ian Cowley is trying to respond to the question that seems to be a growing pandemic within the ministerial circles I frequent: “If this is a vocation, a calling from God, then why am I so tired?” In his answers to this seemingly fundamental question of ministers, Cowley brings together a number of primary sources from other spirituality writers and frames them in the vocabulary that resonates with 21st century ministry.

Having previously read The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson, one might be forgiven for suspecting something of a rehash has taken place here. Yet while Cowley repeats many of Peterson’s insights, he writes from and into a distinctly British Church perspective which I found helpful (I find some of the Americanisms in Peterson’s contextual application off-putting). In particular, this book is written especially with ministers in mind which allows him to focus his application on those of us who wear this mantle. His prescription for clergy is laid out in six short chapters: we are called to be rather than do; to become rooted in Jesus and prayer; to let go and let God inhabit.

Towards the end of this short and very readable text, Cowley writes, “So what is a contemplative? A contemplative person is someone who has learnt to let go, in particular of the desire to be in control and the fear of failing, and who has learnt to listen, to be attentive and to yield to the will of God whatever that may be. Contemplation is an intimacy with God, a wordless resting in God beyond all our thoughts and words and strivings. To be a contemplative people and a contemplative church we must pause from out activity and busyness, to re-ground our hearts in God, without whom we are nothing” (p.106).

I intended to speed read this text, but found it so readable and approachable (from Desmond Tutu’s foreword onwards) that instead I took a couple of hours to be gently reminded of the essentials of ministry that I both know and forget with monotonous regularity. If you need a gentle reorientation and a chance to rest a while in your true vocation, this book is for you.

William Ruddle

Baptist Minister currently working as a hospital chaplain

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You are reading Issue 65 of Ministry Today, published in November 2015.

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