What does pastoring mean in practice? For me, one very important task is trying to look ahead and see what teaching the church needs at any one given time. I could each Sunday follow the lectionary, but, firstly, it only covers a very limited range of Scriptures and then frequently not in canonical order, and secondly the passages chosen may not be the ones most appropriate for the cirucmstances of this particular congregation. So instead every few months I try and carve out the space to pray, to think through where the churches are at, and try and listen to what the Spirit is saying at this particular time.
I realise that one danger when a minister devises his own preaching programme stems from the simple fact he only chooses the passages he likes or is most familiar with. So part of the planning involves going back over a few years to see what passages have been used, and where there are obvious gaps. Then armed with that knowledge, I begin to look at the weeks ahead.
So, for example, this year we are very much planning towards Hope 2014. That’s why in Lent we are looking at the great Old Testament heroes of prayer. Mission needs to be rooted in prayer. But prayer is something that people often see as abstract and difficult, so we’re using stories instead, to show how prayer relates to real life and the sort of situations we ourselves might encounter. Certainly I remember when I was a young Christian how much I learnt practically about prayer simply by reading the Old Testament.
Then after Lent, we are moving into the book of Acts to see how the early church spread the good news of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t simply that they went around telling everyone they met. The growth of the church was, as you might expect, rooted in prayer. It was an outworking of their unity and the fact everyone in the church played a part. I hope through this series people see that spreading the Christian faith is more than one individual going round telling others. It’s about the life we live together as the people of God – something that I hope is clear from our mission statement.
So that takes us up to the beginning of June. The first two weeks of June are the Hope 2014 Sundays and one of them is Pentecost, so really all I need to do is think about the passage for the first Sunday. And then what? Well, I haven’t planned in detail yet, but after an Old Testament series and a series on Acts, it would be good to go back to a gospel, and I would like to reckon on there being some new Christians coming to the church for the first time. I see we have covered Matthew, Luke and John fairly recently, so that leaves Mark, which we last looked at in 2009, and would tie up well with any Christianity Explored course that starts. Now I have worked that out, I need to take time for some detailed planning, and also think about what material would be suitable for our small groups.
But no matter what I plan, I need to keep listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. There is, after all, nothing worse than being pleased with what you’ve dreamt up, only to realise later it’s only the product of your cleverness.