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Good for the gaps

05 July 2013

Stephen Cottrell finds a new compendium enlightening

Developing Faithful Ministers: A practical and theological handbook
Tim Ling and Lesley Bentley, editors
SCM Press £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50 (Use code CT448 )

I HAVE read this book twice. The first time, I read it in order to provide a commendation for the back cover. The second reading has been more leisurely. The Church Times is generous over deadlines, and I have read a chapter a week for the past couple of months, fitting it in around other things. I don't think I will read it all the way through a third time, but some of these chapters will get revisited; for this book is a compendium of practical wisdom and advice that will be relevant and helpful for all those exercising leadership and ministry in the Church.

In my view, it is essential reading for those involved in the ministerial formation of others, especially training incumbents, but also for those in training, especially the newly ordained. It is also highly desirable reading for most clergy, and especially those who look with embarrassment on the gaps in their own formation, or who feel a bit shaky on some of the more recent developments in the Church's understanding of ministry. But I would also recommend it to bishops, archdeacons, and all those who take overall responsibility for the Church's ministry. I would challenge anyone not to find something here that will challenge and enlighten their ministry, or their understanding of ministry and the formation of others.

I have been particularly helped by Stephen Cherry's fascinating chapter on time wisdom, John Preston's on money, and David Parrott's on the law. As a bishop, how I wish that every priest followed Parrott's eminently sensible advice: "If we are serious about mission in the Church of England, we need to know the rules of the organisation we swore to uphold, so that we can work within their boundaries as easily as possible and not waste our time making mistakes which could have been avoided." I wanted to add: "And mine as well!"

In each of these chapters, I learned just enough to know that I need to find out more. And that is what books like this should do: give us what we need; save us from thinking that we know it all; and encourage a healthy development of ongoing learning and lifelong discipleship. Nevertheless, I like the fact that this book also contains basic but crucial stuff as diverse as chairing meetings and preaching.

The book is in three parts: faithfulness to the vocation itself (Paul Bayes's chapter on making friends is excellent); development, focusing on theoretical and practical concerns to do with the learning relationship between training incumbent and assistant curate (here Roger Matthew's chapter on asking the right questions was the outstanding contribution); and, finally, a practical section on issues of ministry itself.

Don't be embarrassed by what you don't know. Learn a bit more, and learn how to learn. This is how faithful ministry is developed.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell is the Bishop of Chelmsford.

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