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Pastoral Ministry — But Not Only Pastoral Ministry

This essay responds to a recent article on pastoral care.

By John Bowen

Cole Hartin is right. Of course he’s right. And yet, and yet. Why did his article leave me uneasy?

I think it is because, having worked in evangelistic ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for many years, and then having taught evangelism at Wycliffe College (Toronto) for a further twenty years or so, I came to feel there is an imbalance in our understanding of ministry, and Cole’s article clarified that feeling.

Early on, he refers to the congregation in which he grew up, whose leaders were “talented preachers, administrators, evangelists, and worship leaders.” Then he adds, “few of them, however, were pastors.” I try not to hear a note of criticism in this sentence, and I suspect Cole would speak warmly of these people. And yet, and yet.

Am I against pastoral ministry, or pastoral visiting? God forbid! I would not be here now were it not for fine pastoral care, even though it has very seldom involved visiting me in my home — and not always from my parish priest.

What troubles me, I suppose, is the absence of gifts other than pastoring and teaching among the leadership of Episcopal and Anglican churches in North America. Such was not the case in my growing up in the Church of England. My heroes and role models were evangelists, virtually all of them ordained Anglican priests, men (yes, all of them) who preached the gospel not only in their parish churches but in public places — universities, community centers, town halls, and marketplaces — literal marketplaces.

Older readers will be familiar with names such as David Watson, Michael Green, John Stott, Bryan Green, and others. All of them Anglican priests, and all fine and gifted evangelists. But where is their equivalent in the Anglican and Episcopal churches of North America? There have certainly been some in my limited experience in Ontario, such as Desmond Hunt, later bishop, who preached to businesspeople in the open air of downtown Toronto every Friday for many years. Then there was Harold Percy, rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville, who evangelized from the pulpit and through whom many people came to Christ and asked for baptism.

But who are their equivalents now, and where are they exercising their ministry? I would be delighted to hear that there are many of them, and that it is only my limited experience that means I don’t know their names. (Well, yes, even as a Canadian, I do know the name of Michael Curry!)

My colleague at Wycliffe College, Judy Paulsen, once startled me by pointing out that in the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus leaves the ninety-nine safe in the fold, and goes to search for the one who is lost. So, asked Judy, why is it that we spend 90 percent of our time and effort equipping leaders to care for the ninety-nine who are already safe?

I know it is obvious, but if our ordained leaders minister only to the faithful already in the fold, the church will die. Not that we are interested in survival for its own sake. Jesus hardly encourages us to think that survival is a worthwhile aim in itself! But the Church is meant to be the vehicle for conveying the good news of Jesus Christ to those who do not know it. If our ministry is merely reminding and encouraging people in the gospel truths they already know, a vital element in our overall ministry is lacking.

How has this happened? Episcopalians and Anglicans are the inheritors of the mainstream Reformation. During that period, Protestant leaders taught that the only leaders the church needed were pastors and teachers. Thus Calvin: “of the offices which Paul enumerates, only [pastor and teacher] are perpetual. For God adorned His Church with apostles, evangelists and prophets, only for a time.” Many in Europe had been baptized as infants, and all they needed was good, sound teaching and some church discipline to bring them into line.

The radical Reformation, meanwhile, thought differently. Baptist missiologist Stuart Murray Williams points out that one of the distinctives of the radical wing of the Reformation was an attempt to restore the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4. The church in a missionary situation, almost by definition, does not need only pastors and teachers. It also requires evangelists — and, one could argue, apostles and prophets, if those terms are defined carefully. But where are the people with these gifts? The situation is all the more ironic when one considers that the proportions of sheep inside and outside the fold to which Jesus referred have been more or less reversed these days, with the ninety-nine being outside, and the one left inside!

I believe, as Cole does, that pastors need to give their attention to pastoring and teaching. But I believe equally, perhaps more, that the other gifts are urgently needed in our day.

The Church of England has taken one bold step in what I consider the right direction, by creating a new ordination stream called Ordained Pioneer Ministers. People are selected for this stream, trained, ordained, and placed in such a context where those gifts of apostle, prophet, and evangelist can be exercised freely, yet within the parameters of the institutional church.

Can people who are so gifted pastor adequately? The answer is quite possibly no, even if they are the incumbent of an Anglican parish. When renewal came to Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville, it was not because Harold Percy was a pastor. He was a gifted evangelist, perhaps a prophet, and perhaps apostolic. Harold knew his limitations, however. He trained up a cadre of laypeople to do the pastoral ministry he knew himself to be incapable of doing. Was there pastoral ministry in the church? Absolutely. It’s just that Harold wasn’t the person to do it. It wasn’t his gift.

The same was true in York, England, when David Watson was the incumbent of Saint Michael-le-Belfry. David, though shy, was capable of wonderful pastoring. When my wife and I moved to York in 1973, David was one of our first visitors. I remember him sitting in our little kitchen, when things were still being unpacked, drinking a cup of tea with us, and chatting about life and work and York. But his primary gifts were in evangelism, as was universally recognized. How could he also visit the members of the parish? He could not do that and fulfill the evangelistic ministry to which God had called him. What did the church do? They appointed Graham Cray, later Bishop of Maidstone, as the vicar of the church, thus setting David free to do his global ministry — always rooted in and supported by a healthy congregation back home in York.

Let me reiterate: Cole is absolutely right that pastoral ministry is essential, and that it needs to be done well, please God. However, if that is the only ministry the church and its seminaries encourage and train for, the church will die. And that would be a tragedy, not only for us and our parishioners, but even more for the many — the ninety-nine — outside the fold, who have never heard or experienced the good news of Jesus.

John Bowen is Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Wycliffe College in Toronto. He was recently awarded the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 2021 Alphege Award for Evangelism and Witness.


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