What I know now, that I wish I knew when I started out…

I never realised that I would be become the main fundraiser in the church.

Money follows vision. I was involved with a church recently which was very reluctant to get involved in the Presbytery’s recommended mission planning exercise. Over the course of the evening one of the vocal “anti” members lamented the fact that money was short. I suggested that I wouldn’t give any money either to an organisation that had no idea of their future direction and no sense of mission – why would I?

One thing I never realised at the beginning of my ministry is the close relationship between money and vision. The person who articulates the vision and carries it in their heart is usually the senior pastor. This makes preaching so crucial. Even though as preachers we may not be preaching on “vision”, it comes out of who we are. “Who we are” gets revealed through our preaching whether we like it or not. People read our heart. As they get to know us, they begin to see what we stand for and whether we are trustworthy. They are also able to discern our degree of commitment to the vision we proclaim. Vision is more than what gets stated in our written vision statements, although verbalising it is important. But there is an aspect of vision that is “incarnated” through our living and lifestyle, however imperfectly we do that.

The “preferred future” expressed through an imperfect human vessel who displays a high level of commitment to it and who carries it in their heart, will, I think, inspire faithful and sacrificial giving.

I never realised the value of building up a bank of prayer: Church history tells us that all renewal and revival movements find their genesis in a small group of praying people. How do you mobilise a church to pray? In all of the conferences I have been to, seldom has intercessory prayer been on the topic list. I understand why. It’s hard to do in practice and difficult to figure out the theology of it.

But one of the things I inherited at Hornby was a church that knew the importance of prayer. It was already established as a value. One 6.00am prayer meeting a week became two (Tues and Thurs); a Friday morning intercessory group was established; a Sat night one-hour prayer meeting to cover Sunday services and activities was added; then two 7.15am prayer meetings on Tues and Thursday as well. Plus, we began the year with three or four weeks of prayer, and delayed the start of our weekly programmes until after that.

The result? Who can tell – except as C.S. Lewis notes, “some wonderful coincidences began to occur”. We were blessed with the quality of ministry leaders that God sent us at just the right time; we could see God’s hand at work in a variety of community ministry opportunities that opened up; there was a sense that God was going ahead of us. It seems that when we had a need, it was simply a matter for drawing down on the “bank deposit” already made – if that isn’t too crude a way to express it.

If I was to start over again, I think that’s where I would start…

A temptation I’m glad I managed to avoid: It is very tempting to gather around us like-minded people with whom we can “chew the fat”. These people can become an “informal leadership team” who process with you and then you take the final suggestion to the formal leadership team for decision.

I began to fall into that trap at one stage, but realised what was happening and was able to bring correction. Working with existing elders and having them process with you is vital for sound and meaningful decision-making, and builds unity and trust. They sense when the process results in them being sidelined. I’m glad something “clicked” in my mind before the situation escalated.

One of my best decisions: In Christchurch a group of pastors meet fortnightly led by Murray Robertson of Spreydon Baptist. This group is multi-denominational. I made the decision at the beginning of every year to commit to this fortnightly meeting and wrote it up in my diary a year ahead. That was where I was mentored; it was where I received courage to make the difficult decisions; it was where I learnt to reflect on what was happening at arm’s length.

Interestingly enough, the most well-attended meetings were the ones where Murray told us beforehand (he always told us the topic a few days before) that he would be sharing either a personal struggle, or a crisis that was happening at Spreydon. That always drew the crowds. I think we find it easier to relate to each other’s weaknesses and struggles than we do to each other’s strengths and successes.

Strange people us pastors.

Murray Talbot

From 1988 until his recent retirement, Murray has served at Hornby Presbyterian Church, more latterly known as Hope Presbyterian.

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