In a short while I’m going to have to go down to the bike sheds and put some more air in my and Mrs Nomad’s bikes. And at some point in the near future I think I’m going to have to have someone service my bike – I’ve already had to do some maintenance work on the brakes and gears of all 3 bikes in the family. I’m used to ensuring our car is in good running order (while the current car has a 7 year warranty that warranty only carries on if it is serviced every year) but until recently the bikes have needed very little looking after. But now they are used everyday, and sometimes on roads that are not all that friendly to bikes – potholes, speed bumps, uneven surfaces (especially the cobbles!), or in environments non-conducive to good bike use – the sudden use of brakes is a regular necessity when dealing with Cambridge pedestrians and/or motor traffic! And so our bikes need regular maintenance to keep them usable. I wish I had more skills in this area, or at least a Haynes manual, in order that I didn’t have to worry I was getting it wrong.
I have been wondering recently whether, in some way, part of what I and my friends here at Wesley and elsewhere in the Federation are going through is a training in order that we can maintain ourselves while in the business of ministering to others. For sure, much of what we are doing is so that we can lead, care for, encourage, and bring good news to the church and the world, but there is also a strong element here of personal development in order that we can keep ourselves going at times when we find it difficult. This development of maintenance skills happens in many ways:
There are such things as time management skills and negotiation skills – term can be manically busy, but so will ministerial life be, and we all need to learn how to manage the limited resource of time, and to be able to give enough of it to church, to family and friends, and to ourselves in order that we might be able to properly give it all to God. If we can learn, in the midst of heavy reading lists and impending essay deadlines, to ensure we leave space to sit on the sofa with our family or in the pub/coffeeshop (depending on tastes) with friends then we might be betting somewhere. If we can learn to say “no” to a senior academic because we already have 2 supervision essays to do that week so we simply can’t manage another one as well. And if, at the same time, we can learn to put down the fascinating book and actually write the essay. Then we might be getting somewhere.
There is also the skill of finding time for personal devotion and reflection, in whatever form that might take. It can be so easy, especially for an extrovert like me, to focus on time with others, and even to justify it in terms of engaging with God in other people. But sometimes we all need to spend time just with God, on our own. And managing that in a hectic life is a maintenance skill that needs to be practiced!
There is the need to find what sustains and invigorates your own faith, in terms of what you find interesting and helpful. For me I am being more and more confirmed in the fact that, strange as it may sound to some people, despite being a Preacher and a Student Minister and a long-standing Christian, Biblical Studies just does not ‘float my boat’. I understand the importance of it, and I know I will need to take the lead on much Bible Study when I’m in Circuit, but my areas of academic interest are Doctrine and Ethics. Studying at the moment helps me in two ways in this regard – it helps me identify the really good, simple, supportive (not that they tell me what I already think but that they are user-friendly and encouraging) resources that I can buy and keep on my study bookshelves that will help me with those areas I struggle with, and it helps me identify some really good, complex, challenging resources on subjects I love, that I can keep on my study bookshelf that I can reach for when I need to recharge my intellectual batteries.
There is also the need to find what sustains us in our worshipping life. Especially as itinerant ministers in the Methodist Church, we may often find ourselves leading worship of a style we are not used to. We will not, necessarily, feel it is appropriate to change a church’s worship style, but if we know what sustains us we may either be able to introduce elements of it, or know what to use in our devotions or elsewhere.
So, as well as learning to be Ministers we are learning skills to help maintain, and develop, our own faith while building up and supporting the faith of others. And that’s good, because if our support of others is not built on strong personal foundations we find ourselves falling quite quickly.
And now I really must go and sort those tyres out!