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'The shaping of lives for the service of Christ, his church and world'

An interview with Paul Goodliff on his latest bookwhich explores how we form Christian ministers now, and how we might strengthen that formation by more consciously linking the practices of ministry with the person, spirituality, and wisdom of the practitioner.



Shaped for Service What prompted you to write this book?
I was interested in the ways in which we form ministers, and had already found virtue ethics intellectually and practically convincing in the context of doctoral research, and which resulted in my book Ministry, Sacrament and Representation (Oxford: Regent’s Park, 2010). I wanted to see how these two interests might interact.

What does the title Shaped for Service tell us about the book?
Ministerial formation (it used to be called theological education or theological training) has as its purpose, from a virtue ethics point of view, the shaping of lives for the service of Christ, his church and world. It is not the shaping of lives for self-fulfilment or self-interest, but for a kind of sacrificial offering of the whole of life that I describe as a form of focused and exemplary discipleship, or practical wisdom.

Why do you think Baptists have not written much with regards to the formation or training of ministers?
We are nothing if not pragmatists as Baptists, and tend to just get on with it. Having said that, Chris Ellis has written about ministerial formation from his experience as tutor and principal of a Baptist college, and I know that there is plenty of reflection on this at all of our colleges.

Is this a book written specifically for Baptists involved in ministerial formation?
No. While I have drawn heavily from my Baptist heritage, it is not about Baptist formation only, but, more generally, the way in which (largely) Protestant churches invest in this endeavour. I hope Anglicans, Methodists and others who have the task of forming ministers will benefit from the book.

Moreover, as I suggest in the book, this might be a good introduction for someone starting out on the journey of formation (that is, of being formed) and trying to understand what on earth this process is meant to be about and what it aims to achieve. I would like as wide an audience as possible!

Having been a regional minister and then Head of Ministry for 15 years, what have you learned since returning to ministry in the local church?
As I suspected, what I need to know now (or am expected to know now) has grown exponentially since I was last in pastoral charge in the 1990s at Bunyan Baptist, Stevenage. The job is more demanding then I remember it from then, but not as challenging as being a Regional Minister, and especially serving as Head of Ministry, by a long way. I reckon that was the most difficult post I have ever held, or am likely to hold.

What I am more convinced of than ever is the value in reading and learning and continuing to grow. I pray the aspirations to develop this that are embedded in the Ignite Report will be rolled out sooner than later as an expectation upon every minister.

Secondly, the need for good boundaries; thirdly, a clear conviction about the importance of those basic tasks of ministry— thorough preparation for the ministry of the Word, pastoral visiting and assiduous administrative organisation— and finally, the importance of enabling the church to bear witness to the truth as it is in Jesus Christ (which means so much more than simply doing evangelism, although it most certainly must embrace that.)

What signs do you see among our colleges and churches that point towards the kind of formation and ministry you suggest is needed in the book?
Oh, many more than when I was training at Spurgeon’s in the mid-1980s. There are expectations upon the personal development of the minister-in-training, their spiritual well-being and growth, and the development of their character that are much greater than in those dim and distant times!

Having said that, I am also convinced we have a way to go, and that is not helped by any move to thin out the formation, reduce the time it takes or the manner in which it is presented. We need women and men who are deeply and richly formed — and if that means fewer of them, but better “quality”, then I would advocate moving in that direction, supplemented by much wider and intentional formation of those who serve as deacons, elders and educators in our churches. I am still convinced there is much potential in networking among the churches, not least in sharing the ministry of those whom we have ‘professionally’ trained.

A recent event hosted by the publishers SCM asked the question, does the church need academic theology? I wonder what you think.
It needs it as much as at any time. Indeed, if I read the times aright — with the growth in populism, in the flight from integrity and truthfulness in public life and the potential for authoritarian regimes arising in the most unlikely places (the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain not excepted) — then, like Karl Barth in the 1930s, the practice of theology will be indispensable if we are to negotiate our way as church and society through those uncertain and stormy waters. The church ‘thinking about God’ when there are apparently powerful pretenders to His throne is one of the great acts of faithfulness.

When everything is reduced to “relevance” then we cease to be the church, and become utterly irrelevant as an unintended result.

Have you got plans for another book?
Nothing fixed, although I have some chapters in books that are awaiting publication on, variously, the themes of Natural Law and Baptists, discipleship and the feast of the annunciation (not all in the same chapter!) I am tempted to work on a book relating the themes of the Christian year to theology and their representation in the art of the last 1,000 years, but I have to work out the ‘self-indulgence quota’ first, since, while it might be enjoyable, it might not be very widely appreciated. If I reckon it ‘has legs’, then I would start work later in the year.

Meanwhile, I have recently been writing some poetry, and if I managed to get some published, then I might also work on a collection — but that is even further down Fantasy Lane, I fear. I think there is a book or two left in me yet.

Shaped for Service - Ministerial Formation and Virtue Ethics By Paul W. Goodliff is published by Wipf and Stock.

Paul is currently co-minister of Abingdon Baptist Church (ABC), Oxfordshire. He has held two pastorates prior to coming to ABC, as well as regional and national posts of leadership and oversight, including Head of Ministry at the Baptist Union of Great Britian. This is his fourth on pastoral care and ministry.

Baptist Times, 30/03/2017
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