My Baptist colleague in Portadown, Pastor Clifford Morrison, has resigned from the pastorate in Portadown in order to take up a new charge in Carr Baptist Church. Clifford and his wife Margaret have served Thomas Street Baptist Church in Portadown for over 24 years. The picture shows Clifford and Margaret, along with the congregation’s two elders, Carl Sands and Raymond Pollock and their wives at the farewell service. It was a great evening of fellowship and thanksgiving, when a number of people expressed their appreciation for Clifford’s ministry in Portadown. I was particularly pleased to be included in the service since Clifford had shown me such friendship when I arrived in Portadown. My Baptist brothers and sisters welcomed us so warmly. And the highlight of the supper afterwards was the rhubarb tart…simply delicious!
Two things struck me as I sat through the service. I was reminded of the sentiment expressed by the late Edmund Clowney of how wonderful it would be if those of us within the Reformed family could resolve our differences on the issue of baptism. In terms of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) we are totally agreed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, and is in Christ alone. The differences emerge in terms of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) and with regard to those whom we consider to be members of the church. Does the covenant of grace embrace believers only, or does it reach to their children? Did Christ ever intend us to come to such different answers to that question? In an increasingly secular community, we need to affirm what we share and believe in terms of the Gospel, rather than emphasising the issues on which we disagree. Let true biblical ecumenism flourish!
I was also thinking that 25 year ministries like Clifford’s are becoming less common. Many pastors starting out in the ministry “blow up” in the first five years, and others “burn out” before they have reached the twenty year mark. The attitudes, character and skills needed to survive in the ministry over the long haul are considerable. Leading and pastoring a Christian congregation can be a challenging and bruising activity, especially when contemporary Christians have such high expectations in terms of worship, preaching, church programmes and pastoral care. It seems that congregations of fifty years ago were less demanding, and had a lifetime commitment to a local church. There is a greater readiness today to change churches with the result that pastors are under pressure to be “successful” in terms of numbers, facilities and finances. And “unsuccessful” pastors feel the pressure to move on or even to resign completely from the ministry. If healthy churches are pastored by healthy ministers, then the church needs to pray and work so that there is a steady supply of suitably qualified and gifted ministers who can minister and serve Christ and his Church for a lifetime.