Cultivating Gospel Ministry, Part 2
06/17/2017 § 1 Comment
of several parts. Today, a reading from A.N. Brayshaw’s The things that are before us (The Swarthmore Lecture 1926) pp. 31-36:
It was John Wilhelm Rowntree who first had the courage to call attention to our weakness:
I think [he wrote] that the state of our meetings generally justifies the belief that our greatest outward need is a ministry– fearless and direct– able to deal with life and its various aspects and presenting… the message of Jesus to the men [sic]* of today. .. [but]we are compelled to review meeting after meeting where the pulse of spiritual life beats low, where the sense of individual responsibility is week, and prayer apparently no young friend is preparing himself [sic] for the inevitable call to the service of the ministry… We have shown a strange indifference to the responsibility we have voluntarily taken upon us.
… it is not the ministry itself that we have primarily in mind, but the love and devotion and sense of the presence of God with us out of which the call is bound to come….This commendation of ministry is no undervaluing of the silence in our worship, it is no exaltation of the spoken word as the only or as the most important way by which God speaks to man, it is insistence on the word as one of the ways that cannot be left out. And our surrender to the love that the presence of our fellow-worshipers stirs in us makes us able, if not to cast out fear, certainly to overcome it, and we shall no longer hold ourselves excused from the service even in view of the excellence of that which we do elsewhere. Neither more nor less important or valuable than the ministry of those who are giving largely of themselves to it is the occasional and probably short offering of one and another who are not ruling it out of their lives as something unthinkable for them; and when it comes to be seen that the service is not one to be confined to a tiny group but is a concern widespread among all sorts and conditions, the timid are enheartened and dividing walls are cast down. So far as this spirit of sharing the best we have comes to prevail, personal counsel given for the help of the minister will be given in love and received with gratitude, all self– assertiveness put away, and hurtful criticism will not be spoken. I recall certain words suggestive of early days but coming as a refreshing air from the 18th Century, in which the writer gives loving warning:
[I] would beseech friends when it may please God to raise up and qualify any for the work of the ministry that they do not slight it nor despise the instruments who may be so concerned, how mean soever they may appear in the eyes of men; for is the Lord’s work who is able to qualify; but be diligently exercised in your minds that they may feel the help of your spirit for their strength and encouragement; for the exercise and concern of the true ministers is of more weight to them than some are aware of.
The writer of this passage had a clear perception of membership one of another and of its bearing on ministry… I am not, of course, suggesting that anyone should speak words merely in order to make it easy for someone else to do so and for no other reason. I am pointing out that the knowledge of the harm that we may be doing and of the help that we might be giving turns our faces in the direction of the work, giving us encouragement to it and power to come over the fear that would keep us back. “Let it be your joy,” said Fox, “to hear or see the springs of life break forth in any, ” and when we have seen
that God was filling/One more soul to carry Him,
a holy awe at the wonder of His working renders it impossible for any stones of our bringing to make rough His paths.
And to this end we shall know a spiritual alertness. We speak of the danger inherent in the resolve or arrangement to preach a sermon at a particular time in the future for a fixed length of time, and we may fail to understand that our freedom gives no assurance of safety. The fact of our being under no engagement to speak, no one having the right to call us to account if we do not, may breed slackness. Easily may we say we have had no call and fail to consider whether we might not have heard one; the exploitation of Quaker principles in the way of repression has never been a difficult feat. We do well to remember that even if the preaching of certain “paid” ministers is mechanical or superficial, there is many a one who, knowing that a sermon will be required of him, looks forward to it in the spirit of prayer and love for his congregation, of watchfulness over his lower self and of expectation of power, so that when the appointed time comes it is right for him to give his message. Our way of worship and conception of ministry give no excuse for our prayer and love, our watchfulness and expectation being less than his.
*Editing note: I have inserted [sic] in a few places where male-only language was used in the original. But I have not been thoroughgoing, because you can eke out Brayshaw’s imperfections with your own thoughts.