When the elders say No
In 'Persistently Preaching Christ - fifty years of bible ministry in a Cambridge Church', there is an exceptional instance of Minister and elders (in this case Church Wardens) working together. Mark Ashton writes...
'After twenty years of ministry in Cambridge I approached my churchwardens to ask whether they would consider freeing me up for a wider role in the church at large, a bit like a 'Rector Emeritus'. I felt I had focused within Cambridge quite narrowly for two decades, and it might now be appropriate to play a rather different role, while the very strong staff team handled the day to day running of St Andrew the Great. The church wardens under John Anstead's leadership, asked for time without me present to ponder the question and then in effect replied, 'No!' It was a little more nuanced than that - the exact words of the memo were:
In principle, the wardens are in agreement that you should be able to do more work away from St Andrew the Great. However we believe that God has called you to serve him as our main bible teacher and leader of our congregation and that this should continue to be your principal area of service. We feel that this is vital, not only for the lay congregation, but also for our paid staff and those who are considering full-time Christian work. We would still expect to see you present and active, either preaching or leading at the majority of the services. (Email from John Anstead to Mark Ashton, 6 June 2007)
After initial disappointment, I realised just how affirming such a reply was. The team of four churchwardens was absolutely clear that I was doing what God intended me to do, and I could not be more profitably engaged in the service of the kingdom anywhere else. So I withdrew my request.
That affirmed for me the value of focus in the local church - that the cost of doing the most important things of all as best we can will always entail neglecting other good and worthy things. We need to learn to distinguish what really matters from what matters but matters less.'' (p32)
It's hard to know who to be most impressed with. Mark Ashton for being willing to submit to his leaders and not just announce de facto that he was having a wider ministry and then when his request was refused to suck it up and realise the wisdom of his team or the Church Wardens who give both high level advice but also how that works out in detail. That last sentence of the email particularly leaves Mark Ashton in no doubt what his role should continue to be 'We would still expect to see you present and active, either preaching or leading at the majority of services.'
I've said it many times but we all need people who can get in our face and say no. The longer a man is in a pastorate the harder that is going to be. The need for us all to realise we are accountable men, to God and to others is absolutely vital. We must keep our best men in the local church, preaching, teaching, leading sessions, being tied to one local body of believers. There's no work like the work of the Church.
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