I must round off my experience back at my first church. We shared in a casserole lunch after the service – the church has always been top notch at providing hospitality – and over the meal I had several conversations, stirring joyful memories. ‘You did our wedding’, said two. ‘You baptized me,’ said another. ‘You will know my Dad. He often spoke about you,’ said a more recent member. 'You remember when my son was born, rushing over to congratulate me? And I was in the middle of playing cricket!' said another. Yes, all kinds of memories in a rich community with roots going way back.
But then a couple asked me whether I knew another younger Baptist minister. They wondered if I had any recent information about him.
'No', I said. 'Why, what’s happened'.
‘Well, he’s a wonderful minister. When he left theological college we were with him when he started in his first church. He seemed to have outstanding gifts and were so thrilled for him and the church. It looked as though he had really good ministry ahead. Then we heard that he had a breakdown, and had to leave the church and is now is a very poor state.’
‘He had a breakdown? What happened? ‘
'Well, it seems this particular couple in the church destroyed him. They just made his life so terrible he was completely broken down and have to leave.’
In the last three months or so I have heard of two other Baptist ministers who have suffered breakdowns and are currently out of ministry. Someone said to me, ’It’s getting more and more difficult to be a minister. It’s partly because churches are in decline with increasing tension and tragic power struggles. Sometimes it seems that ministers themselves seem to be different from a previous generation'.
This sadness opens up a big subject. In my own genuine appreciation for church congregational life, I am not blind to destructive power lurking within certain local church cultures. The very positives of a people openly seeking the mind of Christ together allows negative potential too. And then, I fear, Baptist ministry might be the worst job in the world.