(*please skip if you are not following the story). Just before Christmas I had brought the first year's story to a close with that astonishing prayer target of 50 new members allied with a church text for the new year: All things are possible...
Anyone reading so far might assume that this year (1980) of such apparent good news filled my ministry with an immense glow of blessing. How wonderful for such a relatively small group of people to come together in prayer and commitment so that such striking events could happen! Surely, I must have felt exhilarated. But, honestly, did it seem a glorious God adventure?
It seems counter-intuitive that Carol and I looked back on this first year as one of the worst years of our ministry. What? I guess part of it was being in double bereavement with the tragic death of my mother who had just moved to be close to our family, and also how much we missed friends and excitement of our previous church with its immense resources of people and weekly exhilaration of worship. Our two boys took to the move badly at school and I could understand their pain. In contrast with all we left behind, St. Andrew's St. had very few people our age and an ethos which took some adjustment (to put it mildly). One of the senior trustees, an academic, called everyone by their surname (including me!) and that spoke volumes about the church's formality. Coupled with so few resources it all seemed daunting.
Yet, it was this very lack of human resources that pushed me so hard into ministry practice in two areas especially:
- preaching really had to make a difference. If people were to learn to practice prayer together, my preaching needed to be clear, specific and encouraging. If people were to be won to Christ, I had to preach for a verdict. Nothing generic and aimed just for the head but preaching which God could use to make things happen to whole lives and a whole community. It was many years later that I wrote: 360degree leadership - preaching to transform congregations but here my conviction about leading through preaching was birthed.
- expectant corporate prayer - this grew out of preaching and was the single most important happening in church life. In my previous church where spiritual life bubbled along I never saw an urgent need for corporate prayer. But now I learned a lesson for life because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, when you are truly desperate without a clue where to go next you are in a good place to grow in dependency. And we did! It's never comfortable to be truly desperate....that's why this first year was a difficult one. But it proved to be so necessary for the unfolding story.