Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.2 Timothy 4:2 (NKJV)
St. Paul commended Timothy to always preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Timothy was discipled by his master to constantly and vigilantly be prepared to teach the Word of God regardless the season, the circumstance, and the adversity.
What does this look like today? While I can only attest from my personal ministry, I share my experience and lessons (from my failures) for the benefit of ministers beginning their ministry.
The life of this suburban vicar at a church plant has been filled with many surprises: last minute phone calls, sick visitations, death, and deep questions at all hours of the day (and night). In my limited experience thus far, I feel compelled to share what I have learned in hopes that the newly minted minister can avoid being caught unprepared.
My first tip is to always practice and refine your elevator pitch regarding 1) the Gospel and 2) your ministry. The thought of summarizing either into an elevator pitch may seem more fit for corporate America than the Kingdom of God but often we have a limited time in encountering neighbors in the workplace, in the coffee-shop, and elsewhere. Since everyone lives over-scheduled lives, it is important that when you have the opportunity to explain the Gospel, you are able to quickly adapt it to the context of the person you are encountering and the circumstances in which you find them.
Likewise, be ready to answer the “All-American” question of “What do you do?” with a quick and easy explanation that you serve as a minister and where your mission/parish is located. This response should also include an ever-so-succinct explanation of what an Anglican is exactly. If you find yourself in the Deep South (where I am) or out West, you will especially need to have a concise explanation as to what is an Anglican. In some areas, saying you are a “biblical catholic” or “reformed and catholic” will cause more confusion than clarity due to the widespread use of “Roman Catholic” always evokes images of the Pope when you mention the word catholic (unfortunately). “Historic Christianity”, “biblical preaching with reverent worship”, “worshiping in Word and Sacrament”, or “traditional faith and historic worship” may or may not be better in such contexts without having to go through a long explanation of the history of our church (as much as I love discussing the in-depth history of Anglicanism it shockingly does not always win over the lady or gent sitting next to me in the coffee-shop). I welcome hearing more elevator pitches on “What is an Anglican?” in your comments below. I do not proclaim any expertise in having cornered the market on quickly explaining within one or two sentences.
A newly ordained deacon (or priest for that matter) should always keep a clergy shirt and collar in his vehicle to be prepared in case he receives a call while away from his home or office to visit a parishioner. If you are blessed to serve in full-time ministry then I strongly recommend wearing your collar always but it is more difficult if you are bi-vocational or have a part-time job where you cannot wear a clergy shirt. Therefore, keep a spare shirt in your car (preferably hung in the back to avoid wrinkling) so you can answer the call to serve when needed.
Which brings me to the more important items to have: a Bible and a prayer book. It is unfortunate how often I have found myself visiting a hospital or home after the unexpected happens. In the blink of an eye you could be preparing for a sermon or working in the yard when the call to serve your parishioner comes due to an unforeseen hospitalization or death. Therefore, ensure you have a Bible and a prayer book in your vehicle and keep a copy of both where you frequent – your home, your work (if working outside the church), and of course in your church office (hopefully not a problem!). Ultimately, having a prayer book on your person keeps you prepared in all seasons, especially when you meet someone new who is curious about Anglicanism. It is nice to be able to quickly turn to the Articles of Religion to answer a question or flip to the baptismal office to answer an inquirer’s question.
What I have learned in my brief tenure as vicar of Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd is that it is always better to carry two prayer books on you rather than one. This makes it easier to do a visitation or communion of the sick or a daily office on the go since you can loan a prayer book to the person you are visiting. The same is true regarding the Holy Scriptures – try to obtain cheap but large print copies of the Bible to leave with a parishioner who is hospitalized and likely did not have time to take their personal copy with them. Also, Gideon Bibles are harder to come by in hospital rooms (perhaps due to shifting popular opinions in our culture or concerns about spreading infection). Additionally, if it is the practice of your diocese to carry blessed oils then I recommend carrying it on your person in case it is needed at a moment’s notice. Memorize James 5:14 and Mark 6:13 to be able to explain the use of oil to anoint the sick if you live in an area saturated with non-sacramental believers.
Nevertheless, at some point you will be called to action and find yourself without a much needed Bible or prayer book. Download the ESV Bible app today and bookmark the Book of Common Prayer on your phone (there is an app for the 1662 BCP or try here for the 1928 and here for the 2019). More importantly, memorize the prayers throughout the prayer book and Scripture passages (especially those referenced throughout the BCP) to be ready an able to pray and advise on how the Word informs a parishioner’s or neighbor’s situation or concern. When in doubt, always pray the Lord’s Prayer since many Christians are still able to join in prayer and may be able to join in reciting the Apostles Creed as well.
The life of any minister is one of uncertainty. Yet we must be prepared at a moment’s notice to celebrate the joys, mourn the losses, guide the concerned, and preach the Gospel to all we encounter. We shepherd souls and will be required to give an account of our ministry at the end of this age (James 3:1). An effective ministry requires being prepared as best we can despite the season a minster finds himself in his own life. After all, we have been given a call to oversee a flock and to seek out the lost sheep. Unless we have our staff and rod nearby, how shall we protect the flock? Prepare for unexpected, put your hand to the plow, and don’t look back.