Thursday, December 24, 2015

Last Minute Plea – Why not going to church this Christmas is like having a Reception without a Wedding.

Christmas Eve afternoon and the remainder of my day will be structured around the Christmas Eve service at my home church. For others Christingles, Family Carol services and Watchnights will be complemented tomorrow by a Christmas Day morning service. These times to pause, and reflect on the story behind the tinsel and glitter, give substance to what otherwise could easily become a rather superficial binge of materialism and self-indulgence.

Indeed the relentless march over recent decades of the Christ-less Christmas is, I’m sure, one reason that the December festivities are wearing increasingly thin for many in our society. You see, if Christmas is just another excuse for a party it’s fated to just feel like more of the same in our affluent Western society. Other than the present giving will the next 48 hours be that much different from any other weekend of heavy drinking and eating too much? In the West of Scotland Christmas is just one of numerous excuses throughout the year for a bit of self-indulgence.  

Without Christ and hollowed out of its spiritual truth Christmas just becomes a Reception without a Wedding. And like all celebrations without something to actually celebrate it quickly becomes jaded and even burdensome.

So this Christmas go to church and ponder – ponder the thought that in the depths of darkness a light began to shine. Ponder the thought that in a world of taking - God gave us the most precious thing He had. Ponder the thought that in the dreary succession of human failures something broke the cycle. Ponder the thought that in Bethlehem 2000 years ago something so profound happened that your life now can be different.

Then you’ll have a real reason for the lights, the gifts and the celebrations.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Long and Winding Road (into vocational Christian Ministry).

An article written for the Pathways Conference website. For more info and to book a place go to:

I guess there are some folks who in a moment of ‘blinding light’ just know that their future should be some form of vocational Christian ministry. For most, however, certainly the great majority of people I met at Bible College, that point of clarity came at the end of a long and winding road of prayer, discussions, reflections, doubts and encouragements, followed by more prayer, discussions…etc

Personally the impulse to serve God vocationally was in my heart throughout my 20s and early 30s. I was heavily involved in Christian service to the point that my church life had almost become the equivalent of a second job. Yet despite the desire and the practical engagement I never quite felt confident enough to put myself forward. I was anxious that to do so would be presumptuous or that I might end up in a situation that God didn’t want me to be in. I had encouragements in the sense of being asked to be involved in church leadership and felt that my contributions were generally seen as positive – but there never seemed to be that ‘clincher moment’ when the doubts vanished and becoming a vocational Christian worker just became the clear-cut thing that I should do.

So what made the difference between then and now, between working for Strathclyde Passenger Transport and working for the church, between constantly hesitating and making those first concrete steps towards full-time vocational ministry?

I was challenged
If there was a key moment it came when a church pastor I knew who took me out for lunch. As he listened to my ruminations he challenged me. I remember his words clearly, ‘Andy, sorting out transport in the West of Scotland is an important and needed task but there are doubtless many able to do it – there are few, however, ready and willing to do full-time Christian ministry, the need is huge and life is short.’. It was a moment of challenge that cut through a lot of ‘the fog’ I had felt up to then about my future. 

I was confirmed
The next crucial step was getting feedback from mature and experienced church leaders. Friends will generally be nice to you and tend to say things that affirm you – so getting some objective and impartial guidance is essential. Your own church leaders must be the first ‘port of call’ for this. They know you best and are the people who will have seen your ministry work first-hand. For myself and my wife it was a meeting with our elders to tell them what was on our heart and to hear what they thought about it. This primary input of my local church leaders was also added to and helped by speaking to other Christian workers and learning from their experiences of vocational ministry. All of which combined to broaden my understanding about the realities of vocational ministry and my suitability for it.

I was counselled
Stepping out of a secure/pensioned job, at the age of 33 with a wife, child and another on the way was a big challenge. I was convinced that if the rest of my life was going to be vocational ministry I needed to invest in some training at the outset. But where to go, how to pay for it and, especially as someone from an Independent church, where would I end up? 

For example when I first figured out how much I’d need to raise to go to Bible College – I felt sick and honestly thought that was the end of that idea! But actually, I wasn’t the first person to have faced these challenges. So with a big intake of faith and with the encouragement and advice of others, who had faced those challenges and been down that road before me, it did work out – it was possible.

So wherever you are on that ‘long and winding road’ book your space at the Pathways Conference for…

·         CHALLENGE – what needs done?
·         CONFIRMATION – should you do it?
·         COUNSEL – how you can do it?