'Such a stimulation and support for my ministry'
An organisation committed to providing resources to help ministers thrive is 20 years old. Chairman Paul Beasley Murray highlights some of the achievements of Ministry Today UK
Twenty years ago, on Monday 21 March 1994 the Richard Baxter Institute of Ministry was launched. There was a celebratory buffet lunch in the premises of the Free Church Federal Council in Tavistock Square – and then those of us who were members of the Board walked across to Dr Williams’ Library, where we took down a portrait of Richard Baxter for a formal photo shoot.
At the time we declared that our intention was “to encourage professionalism, creativity and vision in ministry. In a fast-changing world ministers need regular opportunities to update their personal and professional skills and to engage in theological reflection. The RBIM is convinced that the benefits it has to offer will be far-reaching: ministers will continue to grow and develop and thereby find personal fulfilment and enrichment; churches will be led with greater effectiveness and will enjoy the fruits of a more positive ministry; and the wider church will reap a greater investment from its resources as a result of imp[roved ministerial morale and a reduced ministerial fall-out”.
We quoted the words of Richard Baxter: “All churches either rise or fall as the ministry doth rise or fall – not in riches or worldly grandeur, but in knowledge, zeal and ability for their work”.
Although some years later we changed our name to Ministry Today – and more recently to Ministry Today UK - the vision basically remains the same. In the words of our current strap line: Our aim is “to be a supportive resource for all in pastoral leadership, so that they may not only survive, but also grow and develop, becoming more effective in the ministry to which Christ has called them”.
At the original launch in my role as chairman I gave a short presentation, in which I quoted some words from the American ministry guru, Roy Oswald: “The following are some of the things we should anticipate will happen to the clergy we ordain and send into the ministry:
1. Some will be unable to endure the stress of ministry and will experience physical and emotional breakdown.
2. Approximately a quarter of these clergy will experience a failed marriage.
3. Within the first ten years of parish ministry, roughly half will either be fired by their congregations or forced to move. Another 15% will be forced out of their parishes during the last ten years of ministry.
4. Some will lose their sense of call and begin placing money and status above the goals of the kingdom.
5. Some will lose all sense of physical stewardship and allow their bodies to balloon to double their normal weight - making them far less credible healers in their members' eyes.
6. Some will get so caught up in ministry successes and workaholic behaviour that they will cease being good models of Grace.
7. Some will enter new parishes and 'shoot themselves in the foot' in the first six months through serious mistakes in judgment.
8. Some will burn out and become exhausted, cynical, disillusioned, self-deprecating clergy.
9. Some are simply not suited for parish ministry, and will need a way to exit gracefully.
10. Some will experience personal tragedy and be unable to function for a number of months.
11. Some are going to be caught in sexual malfeasance.
12. Some are simply going to die trying to be effective clergy".
Twenty years later, what have we achieved? Like ministry in general, it is difficult to assess the impact we have made on the lives of individual ministers. Let me, however, single out four particular achievement s:
1. Over the 20 years we have broadened the base of Ministry Today UK. Initially all the Board members were Baptists – now only three of the present nine board members are Baptist. Ministry Today now serves all the streams of mainstream Protestantism.
2. Over the last 20 years we have published 60 editions of our journal, Ministry Today. Every edition contains 60 pages of fascinating articles on all kinds of aspects of ministry along with stacks of reviews. The very latest journal, for instance, includes articles on church conflict retirement , ministry in the Rhondda, the purpose of funerals, Christian music in a digital age, the lack of Bible reading in the church, and a sermon on the four marks of Christian marriage! Amazingly Ministry Today still remains the only ecumenical journal in the UK devoted to the practice of ministry.
3. Over the last 20 years we have developed a great web-site: see www.ministrytoday.org.uk
. The web-site includes electronic copies of all the articles published in Ministry Today – but ensures that the articles in the latest three editions are never available (otherwise why would people subscribe to Ministry Today?). Furthermore, there is a most helpful search-engine for everything which has been published in Ministry Today, with the result that our website boasts what is probably the most comprehensive pastoral resource on the web!
4. Over the last 20 years we have run some great 24 hour conferences, as is evidenced by the terrific feedback we receive: “We all attend conferences, but none has stimulated so consistently and deeply as Ministry Today. It is my only ‘red-line’ event of the year; “'For me, this short conference has been far more stimulating, challenging and refreshing than many longer ones; a real blessing.'; “This is now the only conference I want to attend. No conference I have ever attended in the past has supported and resourced my ministry as effectively as the Ministry Today". The speaker, for instance, at this year’s 20th anniversary conference (18/19 March) is Tim Marks, a former Baptist minister, who now amongst other things trains future bishops for the Church of England
On a personal note, I know of no other Christian body or organisation in this country which in the last 20 years has proved such a stimulation and support for my own ministry.