The term is now well and truly up and running. Everyone is back at work. The kids are back at school. We had ‘Rejoice’ the CCB annual thanksgiving prayer meeting last Wednesday. And the term’s preaching programme is about to get under way on Sunday. But one thing we hadn’t done was gathering as a staff team to prepare for the year.
We’d had a staff meeting in which we’d reviewed the summer and planned the term ahead. And usually at this time of year we have the Co-Mission Staff Focus which entails a couple of days away to indoctrinate us all once again in our distinctive ministry DNA! Wonderfully this has now been moved to November. And it’ll function more like the ministry conference that it was beginning to become. And so we needed to do something as a ministry team at CCB. Therefore we had our first proper ‘Staff and Apprentices Training Day’ yesterday.
Aside from the rather obvious choice of studying something together, praying together and eating together I had to think what other ingredients should go into the day to make it a success. Though there would undoubtedly have been some wrong answers, I was pretty sure there were also lots of right answers. But I don’t always find that kind of freedom liberating. I’d gone round and round in circles thinking of various things we could have done.
In the end, I realised that I wasn’t trying to be too ambitious. I was just trying to tee us up for the year ahead. I didn’t have a specific agenda or topic in mind that I wanted to address. But I knew that we needed to meet and set us on the right trajectory.
I wanted us to look at something which had a devotional angle because first and foremost we’re disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so we looked at an article in Bishop J.C. Ryle’s book ‘Practical Religion’ entitled ‘The Best Friend’. It’s written in that typically organised way but it’s no less engaging for its structural idiosyncrasies.
I wanted us to look at something which had a ministry angle because we’re employed as full-time gospel ministers. And so we read an article from Jonathan Leeman on the 9Marks website about evangelism and church. We could have looked at anything really. There are so many things to address. But I’d been struck by a comment in that article which says ‘Wherever a church’s elders are known for their evangelism, you can expect to find an evangelistic church. Where the elders don’t, you won’t’. That sounded about right. But I thought that the same could be said of the staff team and apprentices. If our hearts beat with a passionate zeal to commend the Lord Jesus to unbelieving friends, then that’s going to speak volumes to the congregation we seek to serve. And so it seemed like a sensible article to read, talk through and pray about. And we did all three.
Lastly I wanted us to look at something that had a personal relational angle because we’re members of a church family. And so we read an article from Jamie Dunlop from one of his adult Sunday School classes at Capitol Hill Baptist on the issue of discontentment. Lots of the material was helpful and it provided a jumping off point for us to talk about our relationships with one another, what we find frustrating in life and how we’re going to deal with our dissatisfaction in the year ahead. This was perhaps the most stimulating of the articles as we worked together to clarify definitions and explore the implications of what was being said.
Here are a few reflections of our hastily compiled CCB staff training day.
I like the 9Marks Journal material. I really do. It’s an easy but stimulating read. It’s hugely practical rather than densely theological. In other words, their concern to see churches implement what they’re talking about predisposes them to being simple, clear and punchy. But it’s probably a little lightweight. We should probably only have had one article from that, or have decided to give the whole day over to one of the issues they’ve chosen to address. For example, they’ve written a journal full of articles on the issue of discipling. That’s got to be worth spending a morning studying and discussing.
It’s always good to get someone from a previous era to ‘talk to you’. Ryle drank deeply from the well that is the Puritans. I haven’t because they didn’t speak my language. It may profess to be English but it’s not written in any way that I can easily understand. And I don’t want to use all my intellectual energy trying to work out what on earth they were saying and end up being too exhausted to interact with the implications of what they were saying. And so there are limits on how far back I’m willing to go. Without a good night’s sleep, Ryle is about as far as it goes! But it’s terrific to open yourself up to the ministry influence of other reformed evangelicals who might put things slightly differently and therefore find new ways of getting under our skin and hitting the target.
It’s worth mixing up the manner in which the material is presented. I didn’t give a talk. I’d want to. But I’ve been flat to the boards since I got back from a holiday break I so desperately needed. I didn’t have time to write something new. And so we ended up reading three articles. We let people read the J.C. Ryle one at their own pace. The other two we took it in turns to read aloud. It doesn’t suit everyone. But it works fine. The discussion it leads to is more important. But, when I have our time again, I’ll dig out an online talk from one of the ‘greats’. It might be hard to get live recordings of J.C. Ryle but there’s more than enough Keller, Carson, Piper and Jensen to keep us going for a few years yet.
Yesterday was such a success that it’s created an appetite to do more of the same. And so we’re planning a half termly training day with a topical theme. The issue of pastoring women is one suggestion. And 9Marks have a journal on just that issue!