More than thirty years ago I trained as a teacher and then
taught science for five years before studying theology and entering pastoral
ministry. Teaching is a career which it is relatively easy to pursue part time
in conjunction with church ministry. How might life have been different if I
had been led to follow that route?
Involvement in “the world of work” would have given countless
opportunities for witness and pastoral care to a greater variety of people,
especially pupils and colleagues. Lives might have been touched or changed, as
some were before I entered ministry.
Materially, the combination of part salary part stipend
would have given a more substantial net income. By now we would own the kind of
house we live in as a manse, removing any anxieties over housing for the
future. We would have more generous pension provision with the prospect of
retiring as much as six years earlier.
On the other hand, those folk who have needed twenty-four
hour support at critical points in their lives would have had to cope in
different ways. The all night vigils at bedsides supporting patients and families
would not have been possible with the prospect of a day in the classroom to
come. Sermons would still have been preached and, worship led, but with less
time for preparation I think it unlikely they would have been as useful. Pastoral
visits and funerals would have been fewer, and had to fit in around school
commitments, since it is harder in teaching than in most other jobs to take
time off in term time except for personal emergencies. Regular meetings with
other ministers and all those lunches building fellowship and sustaining
friendships would have been impractical.
Lack of time would have prevented some activities
altogether. Building collaborative relationships as the necessary precursor to
organising activities bringing churches together would never have happened. Similarly,
visits to Uganda and to Bulgaria generating interest in mission and
humanitarian aid projects, with consequent loss of support. Courses in
evangelism, discipleship, Bible study and prayer and a few books would never
have been written. Various mission organisations would need different committee
members and webmasters.
It is probably the case that the satisfaction and
affirmation of doing one’s “day job” acceptably would have compensated for the times
of hopelessness and discouragement and feelings of failure in ministry. But
then one would not have had to learn to depend solely on the grace of God. And realistically,
if there was always an easy way out, a safe job to fall back on when ministry
becomes too painful, how many of us would be able to resist such a temptation?
My beloved wife and our wonderful children would doubtless
have seen even less of me than they already did. But most important, it would
have been too easy to undertake the tasks of ministry but allow the vital times
of prayer and reflection and study and creativity to be squeezed out. Ministry
is not about what we do but must always proceed from who we are. There were
important reasons why the Early Church encouraged the apostles to give their
attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.