A race well run (and still going ..)

Last Sunday morning at our wee church we had a farewell visit from Trevor Morrow and his wife Carys. Trevor is retiring after 32 years of ministry in our ‘mother church’, Lucan Presbyterian.

If you are from Ireland you won’t need me to introduce Trevor, so I won’t, save to say he’s one of the best known church leaders on the island.

Trevor spoke on 1 Corinthians 3:5 ff

‘What is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants …. I planted the seed but God made it grow”.

His theme was the joy and privilege of being a servant in ministry. Each are called to do their part but all is from God and all glory is due to him alone.

Paul says in verse 10 that whatever success he had as a missionary-pastor was ‘by the grace God has given me’. So neither will I do a hagiography. Trevor is a friend, is incredibly well thought of by many many people, and is a very gifted preacher so it would be easy to do so  – but it wouldn’t fit with the whole point of the sermon!

But there are two things I would like to say:

What is so encouraging about Trevor & Carys is not “surviving” 32 years of leadership in one place.

It is not just that there was fruitfulness in ministry though that is a very good and important thing.

It is certainly not that he was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland though that is an honour I’m sure.

It isn’t even that he is right about women in ministry

For me it is this:

1. I remember Trevor leading a communion service a couple of days before he was to go in for a life-threatening operation on a brain tumour.  His head was shaved in preparation. And he led it as normal, with joy and hope in the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Lord. He didn’t say this, but it was clear that that joy and hope was just the same when facing death in a couple of days as when all was well in the world.

2. I’ve probably said this before, but the more I go on the less bothered I am about hype and the promise of the next ‘big idea’ that will be a key to ‘success’ in Christian ministry.

At the centre of the Torah (Deut 6:5) is the command to love the Lord with heart, soul and strength. Jesus says love for God and neighbour (who may be your enemy) fulfils the entire Law. For Paul (and for John), love is the hub around which all of the Christian life revolves.

Take Paul: his experience of the love and grace of God shapes his entire life. The love of God demonstrated in Jesus becomes the model for his ministry – a ministry of service for others.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:7-8)

Paul’s new communities of believers from multiple cultures and across Jew / Gentile boundaries are united within a new identity – the family of God. They first and foremost brothers and sisters in the Lord. And they are to love each other as family.

They can do so through the Spirit who is given to all. The Spirit’s primary work is love. The Christian life is essentially a corporate one.  ‘Spirituality’ is worked out in concrete day to day life with others. ‘Love builds up’. Being ‘spiritual’ is to love.

Love is future-focused – only love is eternal for it will never pass away, while faith and hope will (1 Cor 13:13)  Love fulfils the Law (Rom 8:4) and pleases God.

All this is to say why I put ‘surviving’ in quote marks above.

Christian ministry is not some joyless burden just to be borne til it can be dumped with a sigh of relief. Nor is to be marked by a trail of broken relationships and division. For it is a call to love and relationship with God and with others in the household of God.

A truly ‘spiritual’ and authentic ministry has, as its fruit, relationships of deep love.

So for me the most impressive thing on Trevor and Carys’ leaving is that there are many tears and a sense of grief, as well as thankfulness for they are deeply loved.

And this is how it should be. Or am I being naïve?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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