When we realise it's God's ministry.
Walking along the Mount in Heswall I notice that the young man coming towards me is carrying the book "Chasing the Dragon" by Jackie Pullinger and so I stop him for a short conversation. And some 35 years later, as a direct result of that conversation, I find myself writing this blog in the Brisbane suburb of Springwood in Queensland. It began when my Rector at Heswall, the kindly Robin Morris, asked if Jacqui and I would start a youth fellowship. There were hardly any young people in the congregations at the parish church and at the Good Shepherd. His plan was to start with the large number of young teenagers sent by their parents each year to be confirmed. It was accepted that once they had been 'done', we would never see them again. A great idea but as I pointed out to Robin there was one major flaw - as a curate I would be moving on in two or three years. And there was no one in the church who would be able to take over the leadership of this group. He patiently pointed out to me that if that were the case I wouldn't be doing any ministry. He insisted and so we embarked on a venture which was to have major repercussions over the years in my ministry, especially lessons #1, #2 and #3. So we began. There were about 20 young people coming to our house in two groups; the main group met after the Sunday evening service while a smaller group during the week. And we had a spiritual agenda - after all their parents were sending their offspring to learn about the Christian faith. I can't remember which confirmation course we used but it went well. What I do remember was that the confirmation service was in the middle of the course, at about week six. The big questions was "Would they turn up for week 7?" I recall nervously walking up to our house straight from Evensong. Would anyone be there? After all as far as their parents were concerned, that was it. If they were there, it was because they had chosen to be there, of their free will. Volunteers. As I walked up Feather Lane, not knowing what I was walking into, I resolved to give any credit from any success to God. As we say in the trade, to give God the glory. You can't have it both ways - to take any glory for ourselves while passing onto God our failures. This was lesson #2 for ministry - decide to give God all the credit which means he will take all the hits. Amazingly nearly everyone was there! Jacqui and I were made up, especially when the confirmation class morphed into a youth fellowship meeting each Sunday evening, again in our house. About 15 or so regulars. But it was hard work, especially when I would have already taken three or four services that day. I put a lot into it, often borrowing state of the art audio visual material from other churches in the form of film strips published by Scripture Union and CPAS. We also went to Christian concerts which in those days regularly took place over the Merseyside region. But, as I said, it was hard work. The youngsters seemed totally unresponsive, often just sitting there and saying nothing. The Christmas party - I use the word 'party' in the broadest sense, they just sat there to give me a full-blown migraine the following day. I think being in a mixed group when everyone went to a single-sex school didn't exactly help. After about a year we could see little progress - and I was tired. So I thought "This week I'll just do a simple quiz, general knowledge and and current affairs." Little preparation, no expectations. But no, this was not what we were about. We had a spiritual agenda, a spiritual goal to make disciples for Jesus no less. And so lesson #3 - if I'm going to fail, I'm going to fail properly. And it did seem we had failed. The 1982 World Cup took place at the end of the school year - and the Sunday evening youth fellowship fizzled out. Sad. Except that summer, in one way or other, many of these young people resolved to follow Christ. So we started afresh that September with a totally different ambiance, a fresh determination. Still hard work, of course, but the Holy Spirit was more in evidence. The youth fellowship grew and started to impact the two churches. Some even went, somewhat surprisingly, to Matins. That has to be God. But time was running out and by the end of 1983 we were preparing for our move to Rochdale and there was no one around who would be able to take over from Jacqui and I. We prayed for the right person, of course, while wondering how God could answer our prayer. Until one afternoon I walked along the Mount and saw this bloke about my age coming towards me carrying the Jackie Pullinger book. I assumed that this meant he was a Christian. So I stop him for a short conversation to discover that yes, he was a Christian and had very recently moved into Heswall from Australia. And that he had yet to settle into a church. And that was that. Chris joined the Good Shepherd and prepared to take over from Jacqui and I as we left for Rochdale in February, 1984. The youth fellowship continued to grow under Chris' leadership so that he was able to hand it over in great shape a few years later when he -now married to Pam - moved to Brisbane. Today the ministry with young people at Heswall is outstanding. Which simply goes to demonstrate lesson #1 - when it's God's ministry, then it's God's ministry. As simple as that.
Now Pam is about to serve breakfast on their marvellous terrace because I stopped her husband for a chat 35 years ago. "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6) .