Ffald y Brenin Trustee Stuart Bell has written a new book with the title above and we wanted to know more about it, so we asked him some questions:
FyB: Stuart, congratulations on the book! Tell us about it.
S.R.B.: I was ordained in 1971 so have over fifty years of experience in church leadership. Just as lockdown was taking effect a number of friends contacted me and asked me to write down some of the lessons learned over a lifetime of ministry. Of course, the most brutal and valuable lessons are the ones learned from our mistakes, and there have been plenty of them in my own experience. The most embarrassing ones are not in my book. I just couldn’t bear to write them down. However, what I have done is to try to give some pointers on really important issues for the Christian leader. I’ve tried to address some issues that I’ve not found in other books, like ‘Stopping the revolving door syndrome’ and ‘Breaking the rules’ and ‘Values and Aspirations for the congregation’. Those chapters alone would make this a book worth reading.
FyB: Apart from “Read my book”, what would you say to someone embarking on Christian leadership in Wales?
S.R.B.: That is a big question and can’t be answered in a few short paragraphs. But as a Trinitarian preacher whose mind works in threes here are a few suggestions.
One is longevity in ministry in the same place. Too often we Christian leaders are so impatient for results that if we don’t see anything happening quite quickly then we’re tempted to move to that ‘sweet spot’ which is just over the horizon where we believe we will thrive. Research indicates that it will take at least seven years to bring about lasting transformation in a local congregation.
Secondly, encourage your congregation to become itself. The Christian community is as bad as anyone else for its bandwagons and I have mistakenly climbed onto many of them over the years. We see someone else having success through a particular programme or emphasis and guiltily feel that we should do the same. It’s clear to me now that the Lord wants each local congregation to become itself with its own unique mix of people and gifts. No two congregations should be exactly alike because the Lord never intended us to be. We should be exercising different ministries according to the personalities and strengths that we have.
Thirdly, pay particular attention to what you and your congregation do on Sundays. On reflection over those fifty years of ministry the most fruitful evangelistic events that we put on were our weekly Sunday services. It was there that we saw more conversions than anywhere else. People came, listened, watched and believed. Today I would give far more attention to what we do on Sundays than to anything else that we do.
FyB: You’ve been involved with Ffald y Brenin for many years; how can we all be praying for the church and the nation of Wales at this time?
S.R.B.: Many of us are deeply disappointed and discouraged by the direction of travel of the historic denominations as well as the direction of travel of society around us. Initially we need to ask for two things. Firstly we need to pray the Elisha prayer, not for others but for ourselves, ‘Open our eyes that we might see’. When the Lord heard Elisha’s prayer and opened the eyes of his servant, the man saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire. We need to be reminded of the ‘hidden’ presence of the forces of God both in the church and in the world.
Secondly, a further prayer we need to pray for ourselves is that the Lord will show us where and how his Spirit is at work in Wales today. This too, we need for our encouragement. People are being converted around Wales today, they are being baptised and discipled and are becoming fruitful. We need the Lord to remind us of this and let us see a little bit of his Spirit on the move.
When we receive these answers to our prayers for ourselves, which at first seem so selfish, we’ll be in a position to pray expectantly for more for ourselves, our congregations, our communities and for Wales itself. Expectation is one of the keys to effective, persevering and faith-filled praying.
”Recovering His Reputation”, by Canon Stuart Bell, is available from Amazon or from the onsite bookshop at Ffald y Brenin.