I’ve been posting a series of conversations with church leaders, talking about ministry during the pandemic. So far they have been people involved in the care and leadership of local congregations. This weekend I am planning to post a bonus episode with a somewhat different focus in which I will be chatting with one of the most respected Christian leaders in Ireland, Ken Clarke. Ken will be sharing some of his reflections on the current situation.
Today my guest on the podcast is Lesley-Ann Wilson. Lesley-Ann is minister of Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church in Bangor.
As well as having the same surname, we also trace our roots back to the same great-grandfather from Glaslough, County Monaghan.
In this conversation Lesley-Ann talks about the challenges of ‘technology fatigue’ and challenges leaders to leave space to discern where God is working and where they need to join his work.
It’s humbling that we have to put away our strategies and our agendas and take a clean sheet of paper and say, ‘OK, God, it’s over to you: what is it that we need to be doing in order to reach people with the good news of Jesus?’
God willing, you can look forward to two more episodes of the podcast next week. On Tuesday my guest will be Stevie Walls, an elder in Castlereagh Gospel Hall, and on Thursday it will be Simon Genoe, rector of the Church of Ireland parish of Magheralin and Dollingstown.
This is the fourth in a series of conversations with a number of church leaders around the subject of ministry and the current global pandemic.
In this episode I’m talking with James Petticrew, pastor of Westlake Church in Nyon, Switzerland (the church which I pastored for 17 years).
The plan is to post a couple of these conversations each week (Tuesdays and Thursdays). You can catch up with previous episodes on this blog or by subscribing to the podcast via Apple Podcasts or on Spotify.
On Thursday the guest will be Lesley-Ann Wilson from Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church in Bangor.
The guest on this week’s Thursday podcast is Andrew Roycroft. For the past 10 years Andrew has been pastor of the Baptist church in Millisle on the County Down Coast. If you would like to keep track with their regular ministry, you can follow them on Facebook. You can also follow Andrew on Twitter (@AndrewTRoycroft). You can also visit Andrew’s blog on pastoral issues.
This episode is part of a series of conversations with a selection of church leaders, exploring ways in which they have been adapting ministry in the context of the global pandemic.
In the second part of the series of conversations on church ministry in the context of the global pandemic, my guest is Phil Emerson: Phil is lead pastor of Emmanuel Church in Lurgan.
If you would like to hear more about Phil’s story and the story of Emmanuel Church, he was a guest on the podcast about a year and a half ago and you can access the conversation here. If you’d like to catch Phil’s morning devotionals, here is the link to the Facebook page.
The plan is to post a couple of these conversations each week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays): the guest on Thursday will be Andrew Roycroft, pastor of Millisle Baptist.
Over the next few weeks the podcast will host several conversations with local church leaders that will explore some of the ways their ministry has had to adapt owing to the current pandemic. There will be contributions from a range of leaders from a number of different church backgrounds. As well as reflecting on some of what they are having to do differently, the leaders will also have the opportunity to talk a little about what might change in the new normal.
Getting the series underway is Jonny Pollock. Jonny – from Belfast – is a church planter working with Calvary Church in Loughrea, County Galway. Feel free to contact Jonny via Twitter (@jonnypollock) if you would be interested in exploring some resources that help in taking church online, or find out more about Calvary Church from their website (https://www.calvarychurchloughrea.com).
The plan is that the podcast episodes will go online on Tuesdays and Thursdays: future guests include Phil Emerson and Andrew Roycroft. It’s possible to subscribe to the podcasts, including via Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Yesterday I started a series of posts in which I hope to set out a few reflections on ways that leaders might learn from Jesus. My starting reflection has to do with Jesus’ relationship with his Father, and the starting point is the Father’s voice at his baptism.
Near my desk I have a little piece of calligraphy (see the photo) that presents these words from Henri Nouwen:
Listen to the voice that calls you the beloved.
Nouwen is drawing his language from the start of Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 1:9-11) when Jesus has just been baptised by John the Baptist (a somewhat confused John the Baptist who thought Jesus should be baptising him, not vice versa) and the Father speaks words of acceptance and affirmation.
You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.
I must admit to some ambivalence to Nouwen’s application of the language. After all, there is a uniqueness to Jesus’ sonship: none of the rest of us can lay claim to God’s fatherhood in exactly the same way as Jesus. If we get that wrong, we’re into all kinds of trinitarian confusion!
On the other hand I think all of us – leaders or not – have a deep longing to hear this kind of voice. As Nouwen suggests there are all kinds of voices that speak to us with messages about our identity. There are the nagging voices that tell us we are desperate failures or hypocrites, that we will never amount to much, that we are wasting our time, or that at best God tolerates us but probably doesn’t like us and if he loves us, it’s not with any degree of affection!
With all that going on, we need to hear the voice that tells us we are loved!
One of the things that has most struck me int he past few years as I have talked with a range of Christian leaders, initially in the context of my doctoral work and more recently in my Leadership Journey series of podcasts, has been the recurring theme of God’s love. Here is an example from a leader who recalled a quite remarkable encounter with God:
The one thing that he did reassure me, more than anything else, was that he loved me, he loved me … It was just a total assurance of his love. If ever there was a life-changing thing that was it.
Another called about a time when he ‘felt soaked in the mercy of God … [It was] a really, really important engagement with God in my life. I think my ministry changed … it was as though the Lord reenergised my ministry at that particular point.’
Lest some of you accuse me of sliding into uncontrolled subjectivity at this point (!), let me offer Paul’s second major prayer in Ephesians in which he prays that the Ephesian believers (not just their leaders) would be able ‘to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge’.
In their excellent book on resilience in Christian ministry, Bob Burns and his colleagues make this observation:
Pastors often slip into the trap of building their identities around their roles and performance rather than being beloved children of God and co-heirs with Christ. Pastors need to pursue growth in their understanding of and feelings concerning God’s acceptance.
There is something odd about the fact that many grew up singing ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’, yet it can take a while for a deep assurance of that love to sink into our subjective experience. I have often recounted the story that Philip Yancey tells about someone who challenged him with these words:
“Philip, do you ever just let God love you?” she said, “It’s pretty important, I think.”
I think it’s a great challenge for any leader. The challenges of leadership and the complexities of ministry in the current crisis could drive all of us to distraction. Add those negative voices that tells us that we will never amount to much (so we’d better try even harder) or that our work is a waste of time (again, try harder to prove the voice wrong, or just give up), and the still, small voice of the Father is drowned out.
Leaders: you need to lead from a place that is quiet enough to hear the Father’s voice.