“Just a moment” – with The Very Reverend Rod MacDonald 30-04-2023
There are quite a few parishes and ministry units waiting (and praying) for a ‘new Minister’, whether it be a new Vicar, new Dean, new Rector or even a new Locum. It is worth looking at the expectations behind this general surge of prayer and hope in God’s provision that seems to unify congregations in purpose and prayer at least.
Can ‘The Minister’ in our modern Church still be some-one who is mostly is a ‘faithful pastor’ (as in the beginning of the AAPB prayer for a new incumbent)? This may be a comfortable image, but is not the only reality, as the rest of the prayer hints, for he/she is meant to equip the ‘people of God for their calling’. And if we are to be a mission-centered ‘people of God’ then perhaps even being a good ‘trainer’ also is not enough. For in the current Anglican world, this ‘new Minister’ has to dig, and sometimes dig hard to find enough people willing to be trained after the usual enthusiasts.. And what for? To fill server, reader, and sacristan rosters? While good worship is vital, what about the ‘ministry and mission’ to which we are called as a community of faith?
One of the parishes currently in deep and earnest prayer talks about a ‘loving leader’ as well as a ‘generous pastor’. Perhaps they are on a more realistic track. For the modern Church needs leadership, not just of ideas and programs, but of people. Not just managing ‘the household’, but ‘influencing’ parishioners and encouraging them ie giving them the courage to make the changes that the Anglican community of faith need to be an effective mission group in a rapidly changing world. Changes that are reflective of God’s plans, not just the Parish Councils’.
All that is fine, provided the people who are praying also actually WANT to be led. Not just into a comfortable future, but into discomfort as God’s future emerges for them, and the changes that need to be made to suit God’s plan emerge. Here we need to remember that we are very comfortable middle class in most cases, and well used to making our own decisions, and provide for our own needs. Just choosing a car is a major exercise, in which we often have the final say, and do much to please ourselves. How do we change that general mindset and life approach to be obedient to something that is actually (hopefully) God-led? The Minister as leader, not just as pastor is vital in helping us to ‘sense, see, and experience’ God’s presence and plan, not just in worship and a ‘good sermon, vicar’ but in our ‘seven whole days, not just one in seven’ ?
Here is the nub of the challenge. If the choice we exercise under God’s guidance provides us with a good leader, then we have bound ourselves to follow. Otherwise we are making God’s grace conditional. Most will like a good leader, and generally follow. But if the going gets tough for them on some issue or other, what will they then do? As we know with cars, trading in for something different often involves significant personal loss. Some will not warm to the new leader, but will need to consider whether he/she is the leader they actually need, not just want. A few will never be happy with a particular choice, and having persisted for a while and examined themselves thoroughly as to their discontent (and sought guidance), it may be valid to choose another community of faith in which to be better fed. For all human leaders, as godly as the influencing might be, will fall short for some. But the luke-warm, ‘let’s see how it goes for the next year or so before I really commit’ parishioner, is a danger to the community faith, and in reality to themselves.
And ultimately, it is a denial of the prayer they have been saying in the search for the New Minister.
So, please don’t pray it, if you don’t fully mean it!