Tuesday, 19 August 2008

An interview

Here is the first in a who-knows-how-many series of interviews! Our first interviewee is Paul Ritchie - a Methodist Minister in Richhill, Northern Ireland. Originally from Cork City, he has been minstering in Northern Ireland for 12 years. Paul is married to Caroline and they have two kids - Anya and Ronan.

What do you find are the general challenges in ministry?
Quite simply, when Paul says, 'Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ' (1 Cor 11:1) I find it a real challenge to say those words and not be a hypocrite.

What are the challenges you face as a Southern Irishman ministering in Northern Ireland?
My first post was a lay assistant in Dungannon. I was given a house in a loyalist area. I tried to buy the paper without using any words so they wouldn't hear my accent! I found that people would say things like 'Don't bring politics into the pulpit.' But over the years I have realised that the same people don't mind politics in the pulpit as long as it is their politics! Over the years, the challenge has been how to be all things to all people and not let me Southerness be too much of my identity.

What challenges do you find being a Methodist minister?
One of the challenges has to be theological. My main theological influences don't reflect the theology of my denomination. Before ordination I wrote a letter to the secretary of conference and had a chat with himself and the secretary of the board of examiners to explain that to see if they could accept where I stood. Also, the system we have in our denomination of moving ministers every few years is not one I think is productive.

Can you expand on some of the theological differences?
Whereas most ministers in the Methodist church are into John Wesley - I am more into John Stott! And a lesser known theologian called Pete Orr has had a significant influence on my theological development!

Can you tell us some books that you have found particularly helpful in ministry?
None hugely jump to mind with regards to ministry in particular. But the three books that have most influenced my understanding are: How Long O Lord by Don Carson because I was blown away by how Biblically rooted it was; The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by Don Carson which was hugely significant in a theological paradigm shift; Showing the Spirit by....Don Carson (!) - particularly for its final chapter which discusses spiritual gifts for the church today.

Related to that Paul, you describe yourself as a Reformed Charismatic - can you tell us why and what it looks like in the practice of your church?
I have always been fascinated by what labels to put on yourself and what to avoid but currently Reformed Charismatic is somewhat of an aspiration. We run a service called Cafe Church fortnightly on a Sunday evening in which we have tentatively sought to be more open to certain charismatic gifts such as prophecy. Sometimes it feels that those who are into prophecy aren't into exposition of the word. We want to keep teaching central and yet by open to using the git of propecy. I would like Cafe Church to be an example of using gifts like prophecy in a way that doesn't move the exposition of the word from the centre.

Can I ask what you think NT prophecy looks like?
My thinking on this is largely shaped by Carson's Showing the Spirit but where as many in Reformed circles might agree with what Carson says (i.e. they would not be cessationists), they seem not to be too keen to put it into practice. I think that the gift of prophecy has a revelatory function - primarily to encourage Christians but must always be weighed.

How do you ensure the prophecies are weighed?
Our plan is that prophecies would be run by myself and David (our intern) who are responsible for teaching in Cafe Church. We would try and ensure that there is nothing that contradicts Scripture in them and explain to the Congregation that prophecies must be taken with degree of tentativeness. We must accept prophecy with a degree of humility in that the weighing of it implying a mixed content. We are at the very early stages of using this gift.

A final question: What do you like to do to relax?
On a Monday afternoon I go to the Movies on my own. And my family is an ever-increasing source of joy. I love Rugby and take great joy in Munster's success [editors note: Muntser are the second best Rugby team in Ireland behind Ulster] and have managed to get to three crucial rugby matches - Munster vs Leinster in the SF of the Heiniken Cup (at Landsdowne Road); Ireland vs England at Croke Park which was the first time that God Save the Queen was ever sung at Croke Park (that had huge historical significance); and the Heiniken Cup final this year when Munster beat Toulose.

Thanks Paul!

Friday, 15 August 2008

A new creation

All Saints Methven has just launched it's newly created website. Our good friends at safi made it for us, and were excellent and doing everything we were after. It's got all the usual guff of a church website, but one thing I'm keen to do, given the number of tourists and travellers we get through here, is to have a very strong links page. That is, I'd love to be able to recommend churches all around the world, so no matter where people go after Methven they are able to find a solid church where they'll be welcomed and hear the Scriptures faithfully proclaimed. To that end, if you know of any such churches, particularly in traveller-heavy places, or places off the beaten track, I'd love to get their details from you. Also, if you have a church, or are part of a church, please consider popping us on your links page, so that when your people come here to ski or just visit this beautiful part of the world, they know where they can find family.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Joy in you.

I've just finished meeting up with Greg, a friend of a friend (but now a friend in his own right) who works up at Mt Hutt. Greg and I catch up each week, share our lives, read the Bible together, and spend some time in prayer. We've been working our way through 1 Thessalonians, and came tonight to the end of chapter 3. Lots of things struck us (including what exactly was lacking in the Thessalonians's faith - 3:10), but one thing in particular. Paul is ecstatic about the Thessalonians' perseverance in the faith.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:8-9

We were both struck by the fact that we don't feel the same way about other Christians. Sure, I'm pretty happy when someone becomes a Christian, but my Christian life isn't marked by joy at other people's standing before God. And it's not just us - think about Christian songs of joy and praise that you sing - do any of them speak of joy in other believers? Joy in God. Joy in Christ. Joy in salvation. Yes. But joy because other believers are standing firm?

And that got us wondering. Why don't we have this joy? Surely here is an area of Christian experience that we are missing out on (to use very selfish language!) And we wondered if part of it is our strongly individualistic western upbringing. And it might also be our pomo relativistic worldview. But I wonder if for Christians part of the reason that we don't have this joy is because we are reluctant to really be involved in the lives of other believers. For if we get involved in their lives we'll see sin. Theirs and ours. And they might tell us about ours. And we might feel compelled to tell them about theirs. And then things might get messy. And so we don't get that involved in each others' lives. And so we miss out on joy. Joy which exceeds thankfulness. Joy which makes us 'really live'.

How to Really Love Your Child

I have read a few books on being a parent, but 'How to Love Your Child' is one of the best. The title reveals what the author considers the basic way we are to relate to our children – love. This in itself was thought provoking. We can easily think of discipline, training, parenting or raising children, but Campbell wants us to see that the fundamental way we must relate to our children is by loving them.
However, insightfully, Campbell points out that there may be a gap between our love for our children and their perception of it. He gives countless examples of children growing up in families where they were obviously loved by their parents but where the parents did not work hard at communicating that love. As a result the children reach their teenage years smouldering with resentment.

Accordingly, Campbell identifies the ways in which we can show our children how we love them: Eye contact, physical contact, focussed attention and discipline. His treatment of each of these is very helpful, practical and, perhaps most importantly, realistic. I had never realised how important eye contact was and am now trying to engage each of my children more deliberately. (They are probably getting a bit freaked out by their Dad suddenly staring at them....) Perhaps the hardest one to put into practice is focussed attention. In our age of DVDs etc., it is all too easy to try and satisfy your children's needs in a very lazy way by putting them in front of a TV and to assuage your conscience by making sure that the program is at least educational. However, it is only deliberate, focussed attention that will reinforce to your child that you love him or her.

In terms of practical ways to show your child you love them, then this book cannot be faulted. The question , however, is whether Campbell is right that the fundamental need of a child is to know that they are loved. This is obviously a Christian book but there is not a great deal of detailed interaction with the Bible. However, I do think that Campbell is on to something. He has taken the most basic command of Scripture – to love one another and basically expounded it in the context of parents relating to their children. In that sense, it is a thoroughly Christian book. Campbell does not shy away from treating the whole area of discipline – he devotes three chapters to it and cautions against both dealing with misbehaviour too permissively or too harshly And although he does not see the idea of 'training' children as fundamental, it is there – so there is a chapter on 'Helping your child spiritually'.

In general then, I do think this is one of the most helpful books I have read on parenting. However, I did have one main area of concern. I wonder if there may be a very subtle downplaying of the doctrine of sin. Campbell seems to argue (almost exclusively) that when a child is misbehaving it is testing our love: 'Most behaviour in a child is determined by how much he feels loved [...] a child continually tests our love by his behaviour [...] It stands to reason that when anyone is desperate enough, his behaviour may become in appropriate. Nothing makes a child more desperate than the lack of love. This is the primary cause of misbehaviour in a child.' [106-107] Surely, while this is a helpful insight into the nature of some misbehaviour, it fails to take account of the Bible's testimony of human sinfulness. As such, while I heartily recommend this book, it is with the caution that even if we follow it we will not create perfect children. Fundamentally, parenting involves prayerful, humble dependence on God to change our children. As we do that then we are really loving our children.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A questionable day?

Amanda and I have been away on holiday for the past week, hence the dearth of posts. We got back a couple of days ago, and have been straight back into it all.

Particularly today, when I feel that I have made it as a small town minister. For today I judged the local Catholic school's speech competition. 5 year olds through to 13 year olds. 'Speeches' (and I use that word loosely) ranging in topic from the evils of animal testing to why league is better than union (that kid won - he was brilliant). Mums and Dads popping in to see their kids speak, and the kids themselves urging each other on. it was beautiful - just like you imagine a small town school to be.

Now some of you may mock. Some of you may have questions about this. Some of you may question my use of time in doing this. Some of you may say 'that wasn't gospel ministry'. 'That wasn't the ministry of prayer and the word.' Some of you may question why I, a good, some would say uberconservative evangelical, was going into the Roman Catholic School at all. Wasn't this taking time away from the minister's 'core business'? Couldn't I have been spending time on sermon preparation, visiting, evangelism? Fair questions.

But at the end of the competition I was asked by the principal to give the kids a few pointers on how to speak in public. I asked her if there was anything that she particularly wanted me to get across, and she said 'not particularly, why don't you tell them that while we tell the good news about Jesus in lots of different ways, being able to speak it clearly in public is very important, and this speech competition gives them practice in that.' So I stood up and said some nice things about public speaking, and reminded these 30 or so kids, and the 8 or so parents, and the 6 or so staff about the gospel. That Jesus died for us and offers us forgiveness when we put our trust in him.

A questionable use of time? I don't think so.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

An English Addition

Last night I went to hear Vaughn Roberts, who was speaking at a meeting of the Latimer Fellowship. A hugely encouraging night, not least because of the 200+ people who were there, and the large numbers of people in their 20s and 30s.
Vaughn was speaking about releasing the Word - about how we keep the Word central in our ministries, but ensure that we are doing things which keep it central. He spoke in the areas of time (setting aside people who minister the word to minister the word), of contexts (not just restricting word ministry to church - and the way in which we've sometimes turned the 'go' of the great commission into a 'come to church'), and people. He said much on all three areas which was valuable and helpful, but I was particularly struck by one of his last points. In his stress on expanding ministries, and drawing people into ministry, he spoke of recruit - train - deploy. For those of us from Sydney this is a common progression.
But there was an English addition - maintain. Recruit - train - deploy - maintain. Maintain those who have gone into ministry. Meet with them, plan for that meeting, make it a priority. Ensure that they don't drift or become disillusioned after 5, 10, 15 years of hard gospel work. And what struck me, although it wasn't elaborated on, was the way in which this maintenance is not only for newbies like myself, but indeed for all in ministry. For we're encouraged to keep on going as we meet together, to spur each other on, to share the joys and the difficulties. There is a danger of comparison, but the joys and benefits outweigh this (see here). Maintain, people, maintain.