Graduation Reflections…

Posted by on Mar 15, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

You probably know that I serve as the principal of Vose Seminary. Last night was our graduation ceremony. I always find it a bitter sweet event.

On the one hand, students start their studies with the hope of graduation in mind. The evening is about ‘mission accomplished’. Of course it is something to celebrate. And celebrate we do. Ours are not dry and dusty graduations. We delight in God’s presence and we raucously and cheerfully acknowledge each student’s success.

But it is also about saying goodbye. We’ve had the honour of helping to shape and direct each student for 1, 2, 4 sometimes even 5 or 6 years. But then they graduate, and we have to hope that what we have modelled and taught is enough for the journey ahead. Not that they will never come back or that we have held the last conversation with them, for most reappear at Vose regularly for a raft of different reasons. But something does change after graduation. While I don’t want to be overly dramatic, it feels a little like being the father or mother of the bride or groom. You really are delighted for your child, but one of life’s seasons is definitively over.

I would love to think that as many of them embark upon a career in paid Christian ministry they face an easier call than the one I answered over 35 years ago – but I don’t think that is true. By most criteria it is more complex. The missional context in the West is tough. Churches are smaller, and are finding it hard to get a hearing. I was recently asked to lead a seminar on evangelism and my key thought was how much more difficult it is to reach people now than it was a few decades ago. I am conscious that we train our students for a tough call – a call to a world which is a lot more cynical and sceptical than it once was.

For all that the needs have never been greater. Mother Teresa used to say that loneliness is the leprosy of the West. Her insight is penetrating and increasingly accurate.

So it is a world that is simultaneously more needy and more resistant than before. A challenging call…

So much will be asked of our graduates.

They will have to dig deeply into the ‘so what is the Gospel?’ question. And the ‘what does it mean to be church in the 21st century?’ question.

Helping to lead a congregation in a ‘post Christendom’ era is bewildering – albeit often liberating, without the power props from the past to rely upon. They will need much creativity. The church in the western world isn’t waiting for a minor facelift. It needs radical rethinking.

To do so they will need to become expert at the two forms of listening Karl Barth called the church to… Listening to God’s word and listening to God’s world. That careful listening often opens the way to hearing the Spirit’s voice. And it is here that my hope returns.

God continues to speak, and is never missing in action. The Spirit still empowers. The Zechariah 4:6 insight remains valid. It is not by our might or power but by God’s Spirit that the impossible becomes possible. Later in verse 10 Zechariah asks ‘Who dares despise the day of small things’ – a reminder that even modest breakthroughs are to be celebrated, and could foreshadow a more significant harvest to come.

So what do I pray for our graduating students, and indeed for all those who seek to exercise some form of leadership in the church. As I thought this through, I came up with a list of a dozen. I pray that they will:

Stay close to God – for when we are conscious of the presence of God, we see life in the right perspective, and find the courage to do what it right, rather than what is convenient.

Love people deeply from the heart – love them enough to listen to their stories, to be impacted by their stories, to minister with sensitivity to their stories and when appropriate, to challenge their stories.

Risk being vulnerable – so that they speak of and model an authentic faith, not some potted version of what they think should be, but really isn’t.

Dig deeply into Scripture – not to parrot off proof texts but to be impacted by the text and to hear the Spirit speaking afresh through it.

Celebrate their call – for ministry is an immense privilege. Fancy being paid to do the work you love… And even if your ministry is not paid, it is still an incredible privilege.

Pray as naturally and spontaneously as they breath, for prayer is not first a duty but a delight, a way of living with God in every moment of the journey we are called to.

Read widely and thoughtfully… Reading books, people, events, music, politics and art forms in the light of the transforming message that God was in Christ…

Dare to dream – and follow the dreams that God calls them to. And I truly pray that some would dream city – state – country – world transforming dreams… And live to see some of those dreams fulfilled.

Be servant leaders – people who are willing to serve by their courageous leadership, as they genuinely help the groups they serve to be the very best that they can be.

Have skins sensitive enough to be impacted by the vulnerable and needy, thick enough to be impervious to silly, thoughtless and uncalled for criticism.

Have family and friends who will cheer them on in their journey, and walk alongside them through both tough and easy terrain.

See fruit from their labours, but remain faithful and hopeful even if they don’t.

Whatever I do or don’t pray for them, I know that I can entrust them to the God who is fully trustworthy, and who continues to raise up leaders for the church. And I am immensely grateful for the part that the team at Vose have been able to play in their journey.

Our theme last night was ‘Let your light shine…’ To the graduating class of 2016 I say, Go with God, and let the light of God’s presence within you shine in even the darkest of places…

As always, nice chatting…

 

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