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In February, I had the immense privilege of celebrating 50 years in ordained ministry. I was ordained on 8th Feb 1970, to serve my curacy at St James’ Ivanhoe. It seems a long time ago. I was ordained at 23, so made lots of mistakes—but also greatly enjoyed getting straight into ministry. And it has all gone so quickly!

Here are some reflections on many years in ministry.

  1. I have loved the challenges of ministry. I have found it challenging personally, spiritually, relationally, emotionally, intellectually, theologically, administratively, evangelistically. It has been as demanding as it has been rewarding!
  2. In the first years of ministry it was wonderful to find what gifts God has given, to enjoy using them and honing them, and to see God using them. Then, soon after, it was even more exciting to discover that God can use my weaknesses as well!
  3. I continue to praise God for his love to us in the atoning death of his Son on the cross. It is marvellous that he forgives our sins when we become Christians: it is marvellous that he forgives even our habitual sins as believers. And it is even more marvellous that he forgives our sins of ministry. People sometimes say to me that it must be wonderful being in ministry because there must be so few opportunities to sin. I always reply that being in ministry increase opportunities for sin! Yet grace abounds, even for ministers! God loves forgiving our sins.

I continue to praise God for his love to us in the atoning death of his Son. It is marvellous that he forgives our sins … that he forgives even our habitual sins as believers. And it is even more marvellous that he forgives our sins of ministry.

  1. I was recently asked at a preaching conference if I had one good piece of advice for preachers. I thought I had actually given quite a lot of good advice! I replied, ‘Whenever you come to preach a part of the Bible you know well, stop, and study it intensively all over again.’ One of remarkable features of the Bible is that you can always dig deeper, always study more closely, always find new features, or see old lessons with a new clarity. It is inexhaustible! Always start preparation afresh, with an inquiring mind, and prayer to God.
  2. I think that 2 Timothy has been the most influential texts shaping my ministry. Here are its key instructions:
  • Fan into flame the gift of God
  • Don’t be ashamed, share in suffering for the gospel
  • Guard the truth of the gospel with the help of the Holy Spirit
  • Be strong to teach and train faithful people who will be able to teach others also
  • Present yourself to God, an unashamed worker, correctly handling the word of truth
  • Flee evil passions … pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace
  • Correct opponents with gentleness
  • Avoid evil teachers
  • Follow Paul’s model of ministry
  • Know the Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus
  • Be equipped for every good work by the Bible
  • Preach the word … in season and out of season … reprove, rebuke, exhort … with patience and teaching
  • Be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry
  • Fight the good fight, finish and race, keep the faith, and long for Christ’s appearing
  • Value the team, that the message may be fully proclaimed, and all the nations might hear it.[1]
  1. One of the most moving questions I was asked at a preaching conference was whether ministers would be bitter for eternity because of the pains and suffering of Christian ministry. I replied that Christ’s ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ would wipe all the tears from our eyes. In the meantime, we must find our consolation in God, ‘the father of mercies and the God of all consolation’ (2 Corinthians 1). Finding consolation in success, alcohol, drugs, flattery, appreciation, food, unhealthy relationships, pornography or distractions is no substitute.
  2. One of the frustrations of ministry is that it is so difficult to evaluate the quality of what we do. Our feelings are no reliable guide, nor are the positive or negative reactions of others. We have to wait for the return of Christ to have our lives and ministries evaluated. Our best guide to quality ministry is to do it for God’s approval, for God’s glory, and following God’s instructions in the Bible. Then we must trust God for the outcome.
  3. I am so thankful that the man who converted me, Harrie Scott Simmons, then met with me every week for 3 years to disciple me. I came from a non-Christian background, and there was so much that I needed to learn from his intentional discipling, backed up by constant prayer. I taught and trained me to pray, to read the Bible, to live the Christian life, to confess my sins, to witness to my faith, to stand firm for Christ, to trust the Bible, to depend on God, to serve with humility, to die to self and to the world’s approval, to do ministry, and to prepare for ordination. What a wonderful personal investment!

I am so thankful that the man who converted me, then met with me every week for 3 years to disciple me. He trained me to pray, to read the Bible, to live the Christian life, to confess my sins, to witness to my faith, to stand firm for Christ, to trust the Bible, to depend on God, to serve with humility, to die to self and to the world’s approval, to do ministry, and to prepare for ordination.

  1. There are many advantages in long-term Christian living and ministry.
  • You learn that living as a Christian is fundamental to useful ministry.
  • You see how God has turned what seemed to be tragedies into triumphs of his grace and kindness in your own life and in the lives of others. There were three excellent outcomes of my time of clinical depression in the 1980s.
    • I had to decide to trust my negative and erratic feelings, or to trust the Bible. The two options were lunacy or sanity. Very helpful!
    • I learnt to ask for help when needed.
    • And I became more sympathetic and less harsh in my public ministry. Gold!
  • You see how God has used you while pushing you out of your comfort zone and away from your heartfelt desires. In 1981 did not want to go to St Jude’s; then in 1987 I did not want to stay at St Jude’s; then in 2001 I did not want to leave St Jude’s and did not want to go to Ridley; then in 2010 I did not want to leave Ridley. And every time I was wrong and God was right!
  1. Another advantage is that you see God’s wonderful answers to long-term praying, your own prayers and the prayers of others.
  • My brother John was converted exactly 50 years after I was converted (I wish I could say I had prayed every day, but I had often given up!)
  • Early in my time at St Jude’s I began to pray and asked others to pray that God would send 50 members of St Jude’s into gospel ministry in Australia and overseas. God answered that prayer, prayed by many.
  • At the same time I began to pray what others were praying, that God would restore gospel ministry and Biblical faith throughout the Diocese of Melbourne. God is answering that prayer!
  • When I suffered my extreme depression in 1987, in order to counteract strong suicidal thoughts, I began praying for a long life and a long ministry. God answered that prayer.
  • More recently I realised that my long-term tendency to self-pity and envy of others was very likely to turn me into an especially grumpy old man, so began praying, and asked others to pray, for the gift and habit of godly contentment. (Thomas Brooks, ‘It is rare to find a humble young man, and rare to find a contented old man’). God is answering my prayer.
  1. Life-long learning is one of the joys of life, and especially important for those in ministry. We always have much to learn from the Scriptures, about ourselves, about others, about our society, about our ministry, and about God. I love the challenge and stimulation of life-long learning, life-long growing, and life-long changing. You can teach an old dog new tricks! I am constantly learning from God and his Bible, constantly finding new sins to confess and new graces to grow into, constantly trying to improve my ministry in teaching, preaching, writing, mentoring, advising, and training.
    Life-long learning is needed more and more, as our culture and sub-cultures change and adapt more and more quickly. Survival and fruitfulness depend on fitness to adapt.
  2. At the same time, though my theology and ministry practice have, I hope, deepened, they have not changed fundamentally. I still believe the Biblical Christianity into which I was converted. God, creator, judge and Father; the incarnate Son and his atoning sacrifice for our sins and his mighty resurrection and his return; the Holy Spirit of truth and power: the Bible as the word of God and chief instrument of ministry; our dependence on God expressed in prayer and trust; and the church as God’s own people; human sinfulness and gospel grace; and God’s global gospel plan for the world.
    Six months after I was converted, I went to University, and was befriended by a theological student from Queen’s College, who worked hard to deliver me from ‘fundamentalism’. It was about a nine-month struggle, but, praise God, I emerged still trusting the verbally inspired Scriptures. I was greatly helped by John Stott’s book Christ the Controversalist, and by the solemn warning of Christ’s words in Mark 8:38. ‘If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
    It is not enough not to be ashamed of Christ: we must also not be ashamed of his words.
    From Leon Morris, Principal at Ridley, I learnt the lesson that the two great tests of any form of Christianity are the Bible and the Atonement. If either are ignored, misunderstood, or distorted, then there is little of value left.

From Leon Morris, Principal at Ridley, I learnt the lesson that the two great tests of any form of Christianity are the Bible and the Atonement. If either are ignored, misunderstood, or distorted, then there is little of value left.

  1. I must confess that I have always found prayer difficult, and am constantly frustrated by this. However, I have learnt to pray anyway, and in God’s kindness, my prayers have become richer in recent years. I think this is because I have grown in faith, in love, and in hope (that famous Pauline triad), and because I have become more intentional in my praying, and learnt to pray from the Bible. I have just decided to pray that God would bring every Anglican diocese in Australia (there are 23 of them) to strong gospel ministry. I am now praying for each one by name every time I drive.
  2. I am constantly aware of being part of a local and global gospel team, and I highly value our great team of fellow-workers around the world. So I am constantly encouraged by those who continue in the daily struggle of gospel ministry. Thank you!
  3. I have been deeply enriched by the many extraordinary ordinary believers whom I have been privileged to meet over my life-time. They may not have had great gifts or great opportunities, but the glory of God has shone through their transformed lives, as they have conformed to the image of Christ. God’s saints are so beautiful: praise God for them.
  4. I have also been deeply enriched by saints I have not met! Reading Christian history and Christian biographies have deepened my life, not least because of the striking examples of those who have not been limited by contemporary Western Christianity. You can see some examples in another recent article on this website.
  5. I have also been sustained and strengthened by the prayers and support of others. All my life I have been strongly aware of other people praying for me. So often when I have not been praying myself, have been flirting with unbelief, or have been at risk of spiritual disaster, God has used the prayers of others to keep me. Praise him, and thank you to them! I am strongly aware of the invaluable strength and encouragement given to me by those who pray for me, care for me, encourage me, and challenge me. In God’s kindness this has been a long-term means of grace. I am daily aware of this ministry and this kindness.

[1] John Calvin on 2 Timothy: ‘as for me, I know I have profited, and do daily profit, more by this Epistle, than by any other book of the scripture.’

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