My friend David Strain is about to take up a pastorate in the US. As the Strain family prepare to leave these shores David has written the following reflections. They are both honest and searching, and I found them a really valuable read. I hope that you benefit from them too:
So after almost five years of life and ministry in London my family and I have departed London City Presbyterian Church, for a short time of vacation with family in Scotland before moving on to serve at Main Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus Mississippi.
Here are some lessons I hope I have begun to learn through my time in London:
1. In ministry in a local church, always prioritise spiritual change over structural or organisational change. Without the former who can bear the latter?
2. The gospel really is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. Ministers can’t save anyone. Grasping this truth is the only thing that keeps me climbing the pulpit steps.
3. Churches turn corners spiritually when they pray together. If they don’t, generally speaking, they won’t.
4. Ministry never clashes with family time unless ministers let it. It is vital to keep on plugging away at getting the balance right.
5. In Britain in general, and in the Free Church of Scotland in particular, we suffer from ADD (Affirmation Deficit Disorder). I hope that it has been good for my pride to serve in a context where affirmation does not come easily.
6. While single sermons can have great power to effect change, nothing compares to the drip feed effect of sustained exposure to the teaching of whole books of scripture over a period of years. A huge change in my thinking after 5 years in London has been to expect, as the ordinary pattern, incremental spiritual growth in people through a steady diet of gospel truth over the long haul, rather than cataclysmic life transformation through a single sermon.
7. Being a pastor is not an inoculation against spiritual decline in my own soul.
8. It is vital that I guard against becoming a sermon factory, churning out a manuscript in time for the Sunday deadline. The nurture of my own soul is almost as important to the welfare of my family and my flock as it is to myself.