Recently I was reading 'Dr Joseph Parker', one of the recognised great English preachers of the second half of the 1800s in London. A fascinating comment Joseph Parker made when relating to ministers was as follows: "An un-tempted minister will never do us any good, and an untried one will talk over our heads."
I have often reflected on this as I for one would have been greatly blessed and enhanced in ministry to have sat under Joseph Parker's preaching and teaching.
Morling Seminary in the seventies, when I was there, had similar wisdom in its entry requirements. Candidates for Ordination needed to have worked in 'the real world' for a minimum of five years before gaining acceptance into that theological college.
Similarly, the InterChurch Trade and Industry Mission (ITIM) for which he later served, required Chaplains to have had five years of pastoral ministry under their belt.
All these three reflect a basic understanding of the value of experience; experience in which the aspiring cleric would not only have ample opportunities to be 'tried' by any number of 'temptations', but would also have seen others also overcome (or succumb to) their own temptations.
Dr Joseph Parker was reflecting a well established tenet of ministry, that having been through the mill of life, one might more effectively minister to God's people. Certainly the Biblical stories tell of temptations â€“ money matters seem to be the major theme, but sexual attractions are another.
Of course, the most famous and first example of one who did succumb to temptation was Eve this was neither money nor sex, but something more cerebral and enigmatic - the quest for forbidden knowledge (Genesis 3:6). The consequences have influenced the rest of humanity since then, because it led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
But there are also many stories from both Old and New Testaments of those who refrained from 'giving in', such as Abraham, who refused to accept a reward for service to King of Sodom after a battle (Genesis 14:22-24); and Peter who refused a bribe. Acts 8:20 reads: "Peter answered: 'May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!'"
Jesus himself was tempted by Satan, with a bribe of power to change allegiance rather than money or sex. He successfully came through that trial by telling Satan, 'It is written: "Worship the Lord your God and serve him only." (Luke 4:5-8). Jesus became man and lived as a perfect example to us. Hebrews 2:18 says, "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Dr Joseph Parker makes the point, that all men (or women) who have been tempted, and thus 'tried', and have themselves needed to find strategies to continue, understands the dynamics and struggle associated with such temptation.
The second part of the statement by Dr Parker indicates that those clerics who do understand these daily struggles of common people, will also be able to talk to their congregation in Plain English, using everyday examples that the working families will understand.
Jesus is the prime example of this too. He was an excellent communicator. Because He did understand the people to whom he was ministering, His Parables are some of the best examples of using common illustrations to explain complex behaviour and theology.
This is the very opposite that sometimes we see with young ministers, who sometimes have a tendency to spout knowledge without practical input; as Dr Joseph Parker remarked, "talk over our heads". It is an experience every parishioner has had to endure at some time or another.
I have also tried to encourage my young comment writers for Christian Today, all of whom have excellent ideas, to express their message in a more down-to-Earth language, rather than follow their occasional habit of writing something that looks like an academic University essay.
The mandatory five years of working experience prior to coming into the halls of theological learning is a statement of recognition that all the theology books in the world cannot prepare a minister for what he will face in real life ministry.
ITIM's industrial chaplaincy situation takes on another challenge. Among Australian workers in commerce and industry, only 15-20% of the population have ever graced a church on a regular basis. The industrial chaplain therefore needs a much broader experience of life and ministry to effectively minister in this arena.
Five years of pastoral ministry provides a good back drop to the range of issues a minister might find in people's lives within a work force.
Having served myself for twelve years as an ITIM industrial padre during the eighties and early nineties, I discovered that the personal issues that came across my ministry path were considerably wider than what he had experienced in ministry in a Baptist congregation.
It is a nasty world out there beyond the cloisters of the church and many a minister has helped a situation, not through pious words and bible verses being recited, but by the practical knowledge of experience of life from within their own family and work situations.
The experience of life in all its persuasions is a 'must' for any minister and Dr Joseph Parker's words hold as true today as they did all those years ago in the late 1800s.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. The above photo is the upper part from this portrait.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html