The Vicar Factor(y)

2 02 2008

Amanda Lynch of The Times has had her concept of what makes a minister stretched and challenged. In a fascinating article in Saturday 26th January’s magazine, she followed the training and experiences of individuals enrolled for theological education in Oak Hill College, London, and Trinity College, Bristol. Many of her preconceptions were exposed as she wrestled with the fact that individuals in these ministry training programmes are not merely irrelevant incompetants who wish to become professional irrelevant incompetants. Instead, she encountered a group of people enrolled in a course which actually seeks to make people into clear and competent preachers, communicators of God’s Word to the modern world. She observes that ‘the days of the simple country clergyman droning his way through a tedious sermon before his uncomplaining flock have all but disappeared’. Her words carry a certain element of lament, as she likens the training programmes and sermon criticism classes to ‘the X-Factor for vicars’.

What emerges from the article, however, is a picture of evangelical training institutions which are deeply concerned about clarity and communication, and which eschew all images of the parish vicar whose life and ministry bear no relation or connection to the real world. Lynch follows student Olly Mears, aged 27, as he preaches in Redland Parish Church, Bristol. He is described as someone whose face ‘shines with eagerness and even his hair curls with a muscular Christianity’. She listens to his message, and then attends the sermon crit class which takes place the next day. Her main observations from this are the ‘clerical in-jokes’ cracked by those in attendance, the warm and friendly atmosphere, and the politeness and grace which characterises the criticisms offer. At the end of her piece, Lynch writes with a certain degree of admiration for young people who have turned their backs on other professions in order to serve God in preaching, showing an appreciation for the sacrifice involved that some Christian believers might struggle to attain. ‘Three cheers for Olly Mears’, she writes, ‘The Flock lucky enough to have him as their shepherd will be blessed indeed’.

It is refreshing to read an article like this from a secular source. It shows the changing face of evangelical ministry training, and the impact which authenticity, simplicity and clarity can have on an unbelieving world.

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