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Ministry

(Given at Upavon at the beginning of the inter-regnum on August 12th, 2001)

As we begin what is called an inter-regnum in the ordained ministry in this parish, I thought it appropriate today to have a look at what the Church's 'Ministry' is supposed to mean.

There are three parts of the Church's Ministry, each of which begins with the letter 'P'. There is the PRIESTLY Ministry, the PROPHETIC Ministry and the PASTORAL Ministry. If a Church community to survive as the instrument of God, it must give and receive all three.

Any one "minister" is likely to be more skilled in one aspect than in the others, but all three skills must be present in some measure.

The PRIESTLY Ministry is about WORSHIP; bringing before the people the majesty and the mystery of God, and directing their worship to Him in a manner worthy of that wonder. The symbol of the Priestly Ministry is the Altar. That is where we 'offer and present ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice' to the God whom we worship and adore. It is where we receive Jesus, the bread of life. Unless our Church life begins with the worship of God then we are no more than a village social club.

As a Priest, I like to think of myself as God's butler. I introduce guests to him, and I dispense to them HIS hospitality. I am the servant of the congregation, but it is God who is my master.

I am assisted in my priestly ministry by others who have skills, for instance, in music and ceremony, or in administration, so that our worship is the best we can offer. The question we should always ask about our worship should NEVER be "Is this necessary ?" but always, "Is this the best we can do?"

The PROPHETIC Ministry is about TEACHING - of setting before God's people, the nature of God, the will of God, and the teaching of God - in our case, as revealed by Jesus. (A 'prophet' is NOT one who magically foretells the future, but one who speaks for another).

The prophetic ministry is symbolised by the pulpit and the lectern. It is very apt that a sermon should start with the words "In the name of the Father....'. Any preacher should always ask him or herself, "Is this what GOD wants me to say to his people? In exercising my prophetic ministry, I think of myself as God's publicity agent.

The Prophetic ministry is inadequately exercised if the sermon never rises above the 'listen with mother' level, if it is merely a quotation from 'a little book I read last week', or if it is used to convey a personal view of Church politics.

It is my experience that people are crying out for instruction in the Faith - for the Prophetic Ministry. We must do better in supplying that need.

BUT, the Prophetic ministry is not just the Parson talking for ten minutes on Sunday. The Church 's prophetic task is to present the ways of God to the world. That is only done effectively if the sort of life his loyal followers lead, is presented to the world.

Thirdly there is the PASTORAL ministry. That means the 'shepherding' ministry. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd". Jesus presents himself as the 'Pastor' - the good shepherd. The Church must continue HIS 'Pastoral' ministry.

We are all involved in this aspect of ministry, either as givers of it or as receivers - usually as both. We all have a pastoral ministry to each other.

At the time of Jesus, the role of the pastoral shepherd was to LEAD, not to DRIVE. 'He leadeth me beside the still waters'. The pastor was the one whom the sheep followed to places of refreshment, to places of safety, and to places of comfort. The message of the Good Shepherd is 'Follow me!'

I would have no right at all to say to you, 'Follow me' unless, as a condition of my ordination, I myself felt compelled first, to follow the 'Good Shepherd'.

It is the privilege of the Pastor to call people to follow in those paths of righteousness which have already been shown to him or her.

It was also the role of the Biblical Shepherd to PROTECT his flock. It is the privilege of Pastors to PROTECT the flock.

In my pastoral ministry, I have, from time to time been involved in somewhat dramatic action to focus the power of the Holy Spirit against rampant evil in persons and in places. Sometimes it has been in sacramental action, sometimes in quiet counselling.

In these ways it is the duty and care of the pastor to be the channel through which God gives protection to those who are attacked by evil. The symptoms are various; despondency, anxiety and indecision, guilt and remorse, fear of life, fear of other people, and fear of death - to name a few. But we must also recognise the symptoms of evil in violence and self abuse, both physical and psychological.

It is the Pastor's privilege, day by day, to pray for the members of Christ's flock who are placed in his particular care - to pray for their protection. When you are too busy to pray for yourself, remember that somewhere the Church is praying for you - "Lead us not into temptation." "Deliver us from evil." We all need to be aware of this and to be re-assured about it.

Thirdly, Jesus reminds us that to the Biblical Shepherd, each and every one of his flock was valuable. Ninety and nine might be safely in the fold, but the missing 1% could not be written off. It is concern for the 1% which, at times, may make the Pastor appear to be weak and even foolish in the eyes of the world.

The Pastor is at times, called upon to appear to put up with foolishness - in the gentlest sense of the word. He may, at times, appear to be weakly submitting to things which, to you, may seem to be the height of folly in your neighbour. He may appear even to be hypocritical in going along with ideas and forms of worship which you know are not entirely his 'thing'.

You may want to encourage him to take a firmer line. But the Pastor's concern is that 'not one of them be lost'. You must distinguish between the apparent weakness of the pastor for the folly of the sheep, and the simpering idiocy of the television parson.

Children, of all ages, must be weaned. Irritants must be avoided if they are likely to cause spiritual colic. Tastes differ, and needs differ, spiritually as well as materially, educationally and intellectually. One of the greatest temptations of the individual, as well as of certain groups within the Church, is to assume that 'If everyone were like us, then all would be well'.

If you expect from public worship a spiritual diet containing only that which you LIKE and that which YOU WANT, then think again.

The lost sheep, who is lost because he is not like you must be brought within the fold.

Before I was ordained I was sometimes in a position, like some of you, to have to tell a man to "get lost" if he did not comply with Company Policy. As one of Christ's Pastors that is the very thing I must not do.

The ordination service states the requirements for all who are called to ANY sort of ministry within the Church. This it what it says:

"You are called upon to sanctify the lives of you and yours, and to fashion them after the rule and doctrine of Christ, that you may be wholesome and godly examples and patterns for the people to follow".

That is the call, not only to the ordained Ministry, but to all Christians. That is the standard for all who profess to be followers of the Good Shepherd.

The Estate of William John Green, 2004