CBM is not merely a response to changing employment law. We believe there are good theological reasons why every minister should strive for excellence in ministry and work out that ministry not in isolation but in cooperative relationships with other ministers. The first post offers some reflections on this theme. All comments and other ideas will be most welcome, with the expectation that in due course CBM will publish an agreed statement.
TEN GREAT REASONS FOR MINISTERS TO MEET TOGETHER AND SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER
1. God calls us to excellence in ministry
God calls us to be the best ministers we can be. Colossians 3:22-24 gives guidelines for slaves which extend to every Christian doing any form of work. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Surely these commands should apply supremely to Christian ministry: working with all our hearts; as working for the Lord; serving Christ; with sincerity of heart and not only when others are watching. As we grow in knowledge and seek to develop our skills, as we move on in discipleship and in our walk with God, as we exercise spiritual gifts and seek God’s anointing, we should always be doing our best for God.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Fan into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6)
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11 NIV)
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. (Romans 12:11 The Message)
It is either naïve or arrogant to believe that ministers can possibly fulfil their noble calling as well as they might while ignoring others following the same calling. Individualism is not a mark of spiritual maturity. Great leaders like Moses and Elijah needed others to support them. In Gethsemane Jesus called on the support of Peter, James and John. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help. He was also prepared to rebuke even Peter when it was required. Ministers need to learn from each other, to encourage each other, to support each other, to spur one another one and if necessary even to challenge each other. To be the best Ministers we can be, we need each other!
2. Dialogue teaches the parts monologue can’t teach
We learn all kinds of things much better by talking about them and by doing them with other people than just by reading or by listening to a professor talking about them. Talking things through with another person brings so many blessings – blessings for you and blessings for person you are meeting with so double the blessings! Talking helps us understand and internalise the things we may be learning in other ways. It helps us think through decisions we are making and find ways through problems we face. It brings encouragement in difficult times and helps us keep going when we feel like giving up. Too often Ministers feel they have no one to turn to when the going gets tough. The wonderful thing about meeting regularly with another minister or small group of ministers is that in times of trial the relationship of sustaining friends already exists.
3. Jesus tells us to pray together.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
Here Jesus very clearly makes two promises which are tragically overlooked in our individualistic world. The second promise (in order of the saying) is that Jesus the Risen Christ is present when believers meet together in some special way in which He is not present with them when they are apart and alone. And this is linked in some way to the first promise which is that God the Father will answer the prayers of believers who come together in agreement about what they are praying for, more than if they had prayed alone and separately. If it was not already abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture, Jesus here is specifically promising to bless Christians who meet together and pray together. And that doesn’t have to be at a church service or a prayer meeting or a Home Group. The minimum number meeting together to claim these promises is precisely two. Praying together is always good. Intercessions carry more power because they are united. Praying for each other is good. Praying through each other’s decisions and problems is good. And having somebody else committed to praying for your personal spiritual growth is guaranteed to be good – because God answers prayer
4. Opening up to each other is opening up to God
If we really mean business with God we need to open up every part of our lives to Him. And an important way of doing this is to open up our lives to other people. Many Christians (especially Ministers) are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see the real me because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) “there is less to me than meets the eye.” I really do need to let somebody else in on “the real me” because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Many Ministers need to learn to open up to others, and many find it easiest to open up to a fellow Minister. Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. Because when we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us. British Christians especially are so practised at bottling up our emotions. It is very healthy to have a spiritual context where we can uncork the bottle!
5. Confession and absolution helps us deal with sin
In the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a Christian friend standing with you can make all the difference. Through history the church has known the value of confession and absolution. Jesus has given to all Christians the authority to declare sins forgiven. So James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to whom he could confess his or her sins. That friend could offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven. More than that, the friend would be there to pray alongside against those temptations in the future. Too many Christians walk the road to holiness alone. We do not need to be alone!
6. It is good to be in covenant relationships with others
There is a place in the Christian life for discipline. For making promises to God and to each other, and for allowing others to call us to account for those promises. In essence most spiritual promises of value are wrapped up in the promise we make at baptism, “to follow Jesus Christ all the days of my life in the fellowship of His church.”‖ It is valuable to allow other Christians to encourage us in keeping our promises. We know we should be more motivated and committed than we are. It‘s good to pray when we feel like it – it is even better to pray when we don‘t feel like it, and even in times when we feel we cannot pray at all, because we have made the commitment to God and to the other person that we will meet.
7. Being accountable is a good thing
Most Christians are educated beyond their obedience. We know much more truth than we put into practice: many Ministers more so than anybody else. We would benefit greatly from other people calling us to account for our discipleship and our spirituality. Being accountable helps us keep learning and praying and it helps us stand firm against temptation. Accountability means we can‘t cheat ourselves, or God. Richard Foster commends this idea of “loving accountability.” He writes, “I need others to ask hard questions about my prayer experiences, temptations and struggles, and plans for spiritual growth.” Any Christian who is serious about being a disciple of Jesus should not be afraid of searching questions. “How is it with your soul?” “How are you experiencing God this week?”
Ministers have a particular right and the obligation to “watch over each other” and support each other in their Christian life and ministry. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. (Acts 20:28) If we see a brother falling into sin, all Christians, and especially those in leadership are obliged to try to rescue them ( James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). And every Christian, even a Minister (or especially a Minister) is obliged to allow others to help us on the road to holiness.
8. Seeing Christ in each other
Imprisoned for his faith and tortured for Christ, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand saw the suffering of his fellow prisoners and asked, “If that were Christ, would you give Him your blanket?” The parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that when we love and serve our neighbour we are loving and serving Christ Himself. Somebody once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta how she could work with the untouchables and the sick and the dying? Her answer was that she sees Jesus in each one of the people she helps. So as she serves and cares for those who are dying she is serving and caring for Christ Himself. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a fellow Christian. Meeting with Christ in another person is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life. Thomas Merton the Twentieth Century mystic puts it this way. “When I meet with you, the Christ in you is able to meet the Christ in me in a way that would not have been possible had we not met.” In the context of Spiritual Direction, John Chryssavgis writes, “In opening up to a spiritual elder, one allows the divine Other into the whole of one‘s life.”
9. Things “better caught than taught”
There are many things in life which we learn by watching others. The piano teacher, the driving instructor, the personal trainer and the life coach all show us HOW TO do what we want to do. The best way to learn to speak French is to spend time with a Frenchman. So also in the Christian life there are individuals who inspire and encourage us by their passion in prayer, their boldness in evangelism, their commitment to holiness and their complete devotion to God. From their examples we learn skills, attitudes and character. We learn hospitality, patterns of prayer and devotional reading. We learn how to cope with life. We seek to imitate their work/life/church balance. We are fired by their wisdom, zeal and love. They are our role models. We catch their faith. As other people share their lives with us, we learn from them how to share our own life with other people. Ministers are often at the “giving” end of relationships but it so valuable to cultivate sustaining friendships in which we also receive inspiration and encouragement.
10. “The perishable art of Christian Ministry”
After a distinguished career as a performer, one famous virtuoso violinist became a professor of music. Somebody asked him what had prompted his change of career. The violinist replied: “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise it is lost.”‖ We can‘t learn to minister just by reading books or following courses. We need to pass on the “perishable art” of Christian ministry by meeting with other ministers and supporting one another in ministry!