It was in 1987 that I first moved from one pastorate to another. I recall thanking the people of those Stockport churches for enabling me to cut my ministerial teeth. And every time I have moved since then, I have found myself thanking people for precisely the same thing, because each context has offered and asked significantly new things.
It is no different this autumn, as I am embraced by the privileges and responsibilities of being one of the General Assembly Moderators; I am cutting my moderatorial teeth. The development of which I am particularly aware now is a renewed sense of how inescapable it is in what I say – sermons, addresses, articles, blogs, conversation – to hold in tension the pastoral and the prophetic.
The vocation of the church is to be the embodiment of something of the God we see in Jesus Christ. There are times when that is shaped by a radical love that is motivated Christ’s. W. H. Vanstone used to speak of it as ‘Love that gives, gives ever more, gives with zeal, with eager hands, spares not, keeps not, all outpours, ventures all its all expends.’ (Love’s endeavour, Love’s expense 1977 DLT page 119). Are we not most authentically and credibly The Church when our worship rejoices in that and our service echoes it? I am more than ever persuaded this is what our aspiration to be pastoral is all about.
But that is not – cannot – be all we bring to today’s world. In our era of confident atheism and self-sufficiency, which means that by definition God is off many agendas, our pastoral hallmark must surely be complemented by a commitment to speak a prophetic word. In Romans 10, Paul asks how people will believe in one of whom they have not heard, and how they will hear of one who is not proclaimed to them. So it is for our generation: on countless topics our vocation is to speak into the world’s condition a prophetic word inspired by Scripture and our faith. How will it be heard if we do not do so? Continue reading