Message from Tim

Tim's Sabbatical

On the wall in the Main Hall, where Playschool meet, there is a sign which reads, ‘It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.’

I think that same principle applies to ministers and churches: ‘It is not what you do for your church, but what you enable members of your church to do themselves, that will make them mature Christians.’ This measure assesses a ministry, not by the quality of preaching or worship leading, or the level of pastoral visiting, but by the effectiveness of making disciples, enabling and equipping people to lead authentic Christian lives, and to put their gifts to good use in the service of God’s kingdom. That’s a sobering thought for all of us: when I am called to give an account of my time at Brighton Road, one of the things God will look at is how you have lived your life under my ministry.

I think that being a Baptist minister is about developing partnerships together in the cause of the gospel: less about me working for you, and more about you working with me. Baptist Christians have always cherished the notion of the ‘priesthood of all believers’. Originally that was about making it clear that the minister did not exercise a priestly role, in the sense of acting as some kind of mediator between God and his people. That is definitely not how I see my ministry! But the idea grew and developed into the principle of ‘every member ministry’: we all have a role to play within the Body of Christ, and part of my job is to help us all to discover and fulfil that role.

Like the rest of the country post-Covid, it seems as if we are encountering something of a labour shortage at the moment in Brighton Road, but I can’t explain ours away as a transition towards a highly-skilled, highly paid economy – not least because churches rely to a massive extent on willing volunteers who serve out of the goodness of their heart. So, this my chance to say a heartfelt ‘Thank you!’ to all of you who are doing just that, as our church programmes begin to get under way again. Nevertheless, there are some gaps, and that is one reason why we will need to be flexible in terms of what we do moving forward, so that we don’t end up overloading people.

But what, might you ask, does any of this have to do with my sabbatical? Well, the last thing I want to do is to leave you in the lurch! I last took a sabbatical back in 2014, and I was due another one this year, but 2021 did not seem like a good time to disappear for three months, so plans for a sabbatical were shelved until the beginning of 2022, when I hope to take some time out to explore the theme of Jesus being the Son of David (much to Sue’s chagrin, my sabbaticals never involve trips to anywhere more exotic than the British Library).

It seems to me that a sabbatical benefits ministers by giving us the opportunity to step back, reflect and recharge. But sabbaticals can benefit a church as well, in that over this period the church can’t simply expect the minister to do everything the minister usually does for them. It protects churches from lapsing into an over-reliance on their minister, and it can provide an opportunity for people to grow as disciples, as they come forward and develop new gifts and explore new callings and ministries.

At one point, the Lord told Moses to get seventy of the elders of Israel together, and he would take some of the Spirit that rested on Moses and put it on them, so that they would share with Moses the burden of the people. And when the Lord did this, the seventy ended up prophesying around the tent of meeting. But there were two men who were not included in the seventy, and they started prophesying as well. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, thought that this was out of order and told Moses to stop them, but Moses rebuked him. ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ Moses said (Numbers 11:29).

The good news is that in Christ the Lord has indeed given the Spirit of prophecy to all his people, equipping us with the gifts we need to serve him and to do what he is calling us to do. So, when I get back from sabbatical (and, actually, in the months running up to it) I am quite looking forward to seeing what new ministries will develop and who will come out of left field to surprise us all with the gifts God has given them.

What could that mean for you…?