Towards a Strategy Part Four
Knowing and Loving the Congregation
By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
Alongside the ministry of the Word, a new minister must also take time to get to know and love the congregation. This is true for all gospel ministry, but especially so in a revitalisation context – the minister must love and serve the flock. This comes through visiting, pastoring, counselling, spending time with people and getting to know them well. As the congregation begin to see that the minister truly cares for them, then a degree of trust begins to build, those who were initially opposed to biblical teaching begin to listen more attentively and less defensively. The kindness and patience that Paul commands Timothy to exhibit begins to disarm and lower people’s defences to the gospel message.
Similarly, for the minister, as you begin to get to know your congregation and care for them, so a love begins to grow towards them which will hugely impact how you minister, how you respond to opposition and criticism and above all, nurtures a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of the flock entrusted to your care. This is nothing other than the Church of Jesus Christ, his bride that he loves deeply – this reality ought to be deeply imprinted upon the heart of every minister of the gospel. Richard Baxter challenges:
“Oh what a charge is it that we have undertaken! And shall we be unfaithful to it? Have we the stewardship of God’s own family and shall we neglect it?…every time we look upon our congregations, let us believingly remember that they are the purchase of Christ’s blood and therefore should be regarded by us with the deepest interest and the most tender affection”82
In John’s gospel, Jesus speaks of himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ who lays down his life for his sheep, because he loves them and contrasts this with the ‘hired hand’ who does not care for the sheep but rather abandons them when wolves appear, “He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13)
Jesus, alone is the ‘Good Shepherd’, but we are called to be ‘under- shepherds’. We do not lay down our lives redemptively for the flock but are called to love the flock with the love of Christ and to evidence the same commitment to the flock in contrast to the hired hand. A Christ-like love for the flock means that a gospel minister will not abandon the flock to the mercy of false teachers but will be willing to spend and be spent in loving, teaching, caring, pastoring, exhorting and serving the congregation. Such a minister will not be easily moved, intimidated, bullied or enticed into abandoning the flock until the work has been established.
One of the great examples of such a ministry from Anglican church history is that of Charles Simeon, (previously cited) in Cambridge from 1783 to 1836. He endured relentless, fierce opposition yet he continued and persevered steadfastly until his death. The level of antagonism and abuse he endured would have caused many to have crumbled and looked for a ministry elsewhere. Simeon however persisted and through unwavering faithfulness established a hugely influential ministry within the Church of England.
The tragedy is that sometimes we leave too soon, but a gospel ministry that perseveres with patience, graciousness and boldness can under God be of both temporal and eternal significance. The way in which the Church of England will be renewed and revived is through the revitalisation of churches through the ministry of countless faithful gospel-hearted ministers.
However, no matter how long someone stays, we are all mortal and eventually it is either right to move or to retire, thus creating a vacancy.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism; Pickles, Mark, pages 116-118, 2017.