Heard this before?

“You’ve arrived at your destination.”

Familiar words in our ear from the satnav, but for those of us in church ministry, how often are we tempted to let these words ring out in our hearts too? What is our moment of arrival? When we’ve unpacked into our new study, fresh out of theological college? When we’ve made the first transition from assistant to name-on-the-noticeboard minister? When we line-manage someone else, rather than simply being line-managed ourselves?

Arrival and Typical Ministry Pathways

The current typical ministry pathway in the UK seems to be for someone to undertake a church apprenticeship, maybe followed by a junior staff role, before embarking on two or three (or four… keen!) years at a theological college. This may then lead to a curacy or assistant pastor role for a few years, before someone then becomes a lead pastor, which in most church situations will mean being the only paid member of ministry staff.

Now, other pathways are becoming increasingly common – sometimes due to financial constraints (particularly seen in the Church of England’s desire for on-the-job training), sometimes due to less flexible life situations, sometimes due to an appreciation that not all are suited to residential training.

But if there is a danger with this typical pathway, then I imagine it is that ministers can default pretty quickly to a position of ‘arrival’. Ok, there’s a sense in which there’ll be new things to learn: pastoral situations, occasional offices, leading a team. But as the years go by maybe we can inch towards occupying a position where we think we have essentially arrived. We don’t think we’re the perfect pastor, by any stretch of the imagination. But we’re not really gunning for growth either. It’s a case of: I’ve done the training, I’ve received the call. Now, I just crack on with the job.

And that, in part at least, is why Adrian Reynolds has written this little gem, Progress. His concern is that those in set-aside ministry can lose that intentional drive to keep developing and growing, both in godliness and in gifting.

When did we last ask ourselves how we’re doing?

And although, in theory, most Anglican dioceses will have Continuing Ministerial Education budgets and most churches will write into their pastor’s contract something akin to a conference allowance, these provisions can’t ensure there is still a mindset of seeking progress. I suspect a sense of busyness is a huge part of the problem. Even conferences can all too often just become ‘being-busy-on-location’. But in this book Adrian wants to grab us by the collar and say, “Noooo! Stop! How are you doing?”

As the FIEC’s Training Director and previously the Director of Ministry at the Proclamation Trust (as well as formerly on the ministry team at East London Tabernacle and Yately Baptist Church), Adrian is well placed to write a book on on-going ministry development. You kind of expect it to be one of his mantras; after all, that’s his job! But essentially Adrian is offering an extended reflection on 1 Timothy 4:12-16, where the apostle Paul urges the following to Timothy:

12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 

15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (NIV)

Practical help to Progress

These verses make up the substance of the book. Adrian draws out how the expectation from Paul is an attitude of development (4:15), and the surprise is that there is a connection between a minister’s progress in these areas and the effectiveness of the ministry God has given (4:16). Five areas of godliness are looked at in turn: speech, conduct, love, faith and purity (4:12); followed by the area of ministry gifting (4:13-14). In each short chapter, Adrian gives some theological consideration to each particular area, some really helpful diagnostic questions to aid self-evaluation, and then an extended prayer for personal response.

As I’ve written about before, it can be a bit of a gear shift to get round to asking ourselves what trajectories our ministries and personal lives are on, rather than always ‘reasoning our season’. But these verses show us just plainly how important it is. And it’s not just about us growing – after all, I can always come up with reasons why other things are more important than me simply ‘developing’. But my progress is also about the spiritual health of those in our pastoral care. That’s harder to wriggle out of.

Progress comes in the FIEC’s Ministry Journeys series, a set of bitesize paperbacks that have grown out of seminars at their annual The Hub conference. That means they’re brief, practical and engaging. For a start, it’s short enough to mean you’re actually going to give it a go. But the point isn’t to blitz through the book and just jot down a few quotes, but rather to prayerfully spend some decent time going through each chapter. Reflective reading should mean you finally have the courage to tackle some things you’ve known about for a while; you have the wisdom to spot other things that perhaps had passed you by; and you have the fresh resolve to keep growing – both in heart and in the task at hand. Perfect for a new year or an end-of-term pit-stop. Progress would also be fitting for a ministry fraternal to commit to reading and then reflecting upon together, or perhaps a staff team too.

You can pick up a copy of Progress from the publisher here, with discounts for bulk purchases.

Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of the book for free, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review!