I was reflecting today that in the last fortnight I've received four pearls of wisdom from four Anglican bishops. That's right, I said Anglican bishops.
The first pearl came from retired Bishop John Taylor who spoke at our ordination retreat. He told the story of a pastoral visit to a very ill woman in hospital. It represents brilliantly what I think pastoral practice (and good evangelism) boils down to. Here's how I remember his re-telling:
I told her God's grace was for her - even for her.
She said "No, it couldn't be, you don't know what I've done."
I told her "Christ said 'The healthy don't need a doctor, the sick do. I've not come to call the righteous but sinner.' It really is for you."
She said "No."
I said "Yes!"...
...Eventually she received Christ.
Brilliant! The word from beyond comes, contradicts and finally comforts. It perfectly encapsulates my understanding of ministry.
The next pearl comes from my Bishop of Chichester in his charge to us priests prior to ordination. He spoke about public worship:
It is fundamental for biblical faith that God is the subject and not the object of the liturgy. In [OT] Temple worship, it is God who reveals himself, his presence, his name, his will. The cultus was not a kind of magical conjuring up of a compliant deity but the place at which by thankful remembrance of what God has done in the past God himself has the opening to disclose himself again, here and now, to renew faith and secure its transmission to the next generation... it is something which lies in God's own hands...
...Let me finish by trying to draw together a few scattered strands of this charge. First, I would like you to remember always that true worship is not something we do, but a moment in which God discloses himself to us. Second, I would like you to remember that both praise of God and thanksgiving for his actual gifts are central to authentic worship and third, I would like you to remember that worship has an important role in reconvincing people of his concrete, actual, historical acts of mercy so that they can become effective witnesses to those who do not believe. And finally, I would like you to remember that if our worship is genuine, it can be a powerful witness to both those who believe and those who do not yet believe, that God is real and has been among his people.
We do not pull God down (through our faithful preaching, our good music or our sacramental practice). These things, in God's good pleasure, are a means of His grace. The direction of the arrow is DOWN.
Next pearl was from my area Bishop, Wallace Benn who preached at my ordination. His passage was John 21:1-19. He spoke of the importance of feeding the sheep (v15-17) and of the sure expectation of suffering in ministry (v18-19). But first and foremost he drummed into us the vital importance of 'maintaining your love relationship with the Lord' (v15-17).
Finally, Douglas Milmine - former Bishop of Paraguay - was at my ordination. He's been ordained since 1947, been a bishop for 35 years and absolutely brim full of the joy of the Lord. Just minutes before the ordination service he said to us in the vestry:
I've only one regret in my ministry - that I didn't save more souls. That's the only reason we're here - saving souls.