This week I accepted a call to be the minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend. After three years of ministerial formation at Regent's Park College (and another four years of theological education at King's College London before that), I will be ordained in September as a Baptist minister. We are in the process of packing up and saying goodbyes as we prepare to leave Oxford, where we've lived for the last two years.
I've been reading some words from Stanley Hauerwas in a recent address given to those about to enter ministry in the Mennonite church. He begins with wondering why on earth anyone would want to be a minister today because:
The lack of clarity about what makes Christians Christian, what makes the church the church, and continuing ambiguity in our diverse denominations about ordination itself should surely make anyone think twice about becoming a minister. Moreover the lack of consensus about what it might mean for anyone to act with authority in our society and the church cannot help but make those of us who are not ministers wonder about the psychological health of those who tell us they are called to the ministry.
He goes on to say that the essential task of a ministry is
is to be a teacher. In particular, you are called to be a teacher of language ... I think the characterization of the challenges facing those going into the ministry is the result of the loss of the ability of Christians to speak the language of our faith. The accommodated character of the church is at least partly due to the failure of the clergy to help those they serve know how to speak Christian. To learn to be a Christian, to learn the discipline of the faith, is not just similar to learning another language. It is learning another language.
This is not a new thought from Hauerwas, but it is a good reminder of what ministry is all about.