Supporting the ongoing development of Baptist ministers
Tim Fergusson explains the thinking behind the new Continuing Ministerial Development resource being launched this autumn
It wasn’t until I was thirty that I was taught to think. That’s what ministerial training and formation did for me. I already had an engineering degree that taught me to calculate. Put numbers into a formula and new, useful numbers drop out the other side. But I am indebted to my three years at a Baptist college for never providing a formula to crunch out the right answers. Instead, I was asked to develop my own answers for my own context.
Following training, I discovered there are a couple of problems with being taught to think. The first is that there is so much to think about, which has never been more true than during 2020’s upheaval. Fortunately, I have been blessed over the years by a constant supply of real and virtual conversation partners – ministry colleagues, mentors, theological writers, novelists, newspaper columnists, bloggers, conference speakers – who have helped me reflect.
The second problem is that sometimes, actually, I do just need a formula, or at least skills and techniques that others have previously refined. Important though theological reflection is, often I have simply needed training and coaching to learn a new way of approaching an area of ministry. We all need to be told ‘how to’ from time to time.
So as a minister I have by necessity continually developed, theologically and practically. But perhaps the journey has at times been a bit random.
Continuing Ministerial Development, or CMD, has been shaped to help all Baptist ministers become intentional about our ongoing growth. It asks ministers to exhibit five habits. The first of these – Learning – addresses my need above for thinking and training.
But CMD is about much more than keeping our knowledge and skills up to date. In recent years, we have started to describe a minister not just by a suite of mastered competencies, but by a set of common characteristics and behaviours. Who we are is as important as what we do. This is increasingly true because in a de-churched or un-churched society, the tools of our trade are changing. Polished sermons won’t cut it if our ministry supports immigrant workers whose English is limited. Expertise in church governance isn’t so much use if we are ministering as a workplace chaplain to those just made redundant. There’s nothing wrong with either polished sermons or church governance expertise – these are good too! It’s just that ministry today comes in different shapes and sizes.
What CMD aims to foster, across all ministry types, are the Marks of Ministry that are expressed when ministers are:
Mature as a disciple of Christ
Accountable to others
Relational in approach to leadership
Servant-hearted and sacrificial
So alongside the habit of Learning, the new CMD framework asks us as ministers to pursue Attentiveness to God, our own health, and our relationships; Accountability, by having someone outside our ministry setting with whom we can share and reflect; Connection to our fellow Baptist ministers, regional association and Union; and periodic Review through asking others to comment graciously but honestly on our work. CMD expects us to discuss annually with a colleague how we are getting on in practising these habits and, critically, what our development plans are for the coming year. CMD is therefore not a solo activity. It will be worked out in partnership with other ministers as we express our covenant relationship by encouraging one another.
Mind you, CMD is not just about ministers. It is also about churches. Let me be frank. Churches must – must! – get behind the concept of CMD. What benefits the well-being and capability of ministers will benefit their church or mission setting also. So, if you are in leadership alongside a minister, please give them space to read, attend a conference, go on retreat, see a spiritual director, mentor another minister – whatever enables them to remain fresh, accountable and connected. And where possible, please help by providing a CMD budget too.
It comes as a shock to almost any working person I speak to that professional development for Baptist ministers has, to date, been left to chance. As ministers, we each offer spiritual care to between perhaps 30 and 300 people from the oldest to the youngest, the fittest to the most vulnerable. Yet we have been free to work, if we so choose, in our own sweet way with minimal accountability, support or advice! It is time to address this and follow the lead of every other established denomination. It is time to realise that no-one benefits when ministers become tired, stale or isolated. Churches, communities, ministers themselves and, not least, the kingdom of God, are all set to gain when ministers practise Continuing Ministerial Development.
An outline of the CMD framework can be found on the CMD website page here. The full CMD handbook will be available from October.
Tim Fergusson is Ministerial Development Adviser, Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Tim can be contacted via this form.