Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A letter to the new Archbishop

This is written by J John, the evangelist through whom I came to know Jesus:

'A letter to the new Archbishop of Canterbury

Note: I am sending this out before the Archbishop of Canterbury is appointed. This way l can be thoroughly neutral and avoid anybody thinking that I am commenting on the person appointed! J.John

Dear Archbishop,

First of all may I add my congratulations to the many that you will have received on your appointment to this historic and vital ministry. I know that you will soon be very busy settling in at Lambeth Palace but I thought that I would offer you not just my prayers but also some suggestions!

1) Be encouraged. You have been given an extraordinary task in difficult days. Indeed, it is hard to think of a more problematic time for the Church of England for nearly five centuries. Nevertheless, believe that it is God who has summoned you to this position. You may not feel adequate for the task (I would be concerned if you did) but the important thing is not your strength and abilities but God’s, and of that we can have no doubt.

2) Aim high. You will be told by many that you have inherited an impossible task and that failure is inevitable. Doubtless those who say this mean well but to accept their verdict is not only to deny that God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is stronger than any circumstances but it is also to guarantee the very failure that they prophecy. In Britain at least there is now a moral vacuum that is almost terrifying; we must pray that at this dark hour the Anglican Church will be able to restore the values and principles we desperately need.

3) Read God’s Word. From now on you will be inundated by paper and its digital equivalents: there will be endless memos, reports, statements and letters as well as unending emails. You will have to deal with them but as you do remember the words of Geoffrey Fisher when, as Archbishop of Canterbury at Queen Elizabeth the Second’s coronation, he described the Bible as ‘the most valuable thing that this world affords’. Nothing that has happened in the nearly sixty years since then has altered that verdict. In the Bible you will find light for the darkest days, wisdom for the severest problems and encouragement for the hardest tasks. God has spoken! Listen.

4) Keep Christ central. The little phrase ‘It’s all about Jesus’ may be trite but it is true. Determine that your teaching will be centred on Christ. If you keep talking about Jesus you will suffer no lasting harm; if you ignore him you will enjoy no enduring success. And do not simply talk about Jesus. As much as it is possible, model yourself on him. That other little phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ can be endlessly criticised on theological grounds but it remains a good rule of life. Actions speak more potently than words. How you live may be more effective than what you say.

5) Surround yourself with good and loyal friends. You need to have people around you who love you and who care for you. Their responsibility is to defend you against your enemies and – sometimes – against yourself. Let their voices be those that console you, challenge you and occasionally rebuke you. Let the men and women you choose be wise (which, I remind you, is different to being learned), godly and utterly trustworthy. Ignore them at your peril.

6) Keep the media in perspective. One of the few bloodsports still allowed in Britain involves the pursuit of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The media will no doubt offer you friendship, particularly at the start, but you may be assured that at some point they will turn against you. Not only can the press not be pleased, they do not want to be pleased: condemnation sells more papers than praise and they prefer sinners to saints.

7) Keep your feet on the ground. Although the verdict of the media on how you are doing should be ignored there is a lot to be said for reading the papers – even the tabloids – for they will tell what the average man and woman is thinking and the language they now think in. And if you do find yourself engrossed in highbrow theology and tempted to use its weighty language then bring yourself down to earth by reading such publications as the Sun and the Daily Mail. Like it or not, that’s where many people are at.

8) Stand at a distance from both criticism and praise. If you haven’t already acquired a thick skin, then grow one. When you face criticism (as you will), don’t worry; you are answerable to a far higher power. Be wary of praise, whether from the media or the public. Indeed, we have it on good authority (Luke 6:26) that if everybody praises you, then you are probably doing something wrong. Accept that your labours are most unlikely to be rewarded in this life. You are probably not going to thank me for reminding you that Thomas Cranmer, the man considered now to be the greatest Archbishop of Canterbury, was burnt at the stake!

9) Look upwards. It is easy to be dragged down by the endless challenges of church business, internal disputes and the unlimited problems of society. Don’t let your eyes get dragged down to reading minutes and reports too much. Look up to the God of heaven. Let your spirituality be practical and your practicality spiritual. Keeping your eyes on the eternal truths of God and his Word will also protect you from that great temptation, the desire to be trendy. Remember you can have so many irons in the fire that you put the fire out. Keep the fire burning in personal prayer.

10) Be God’s man. You will be tempted to yield to either fear or favour and must resist both. With one, you may be scared away from doing what is right; with the other you may be swayed into doing wrong. The answer to both is to put God first. ‘To your own self be true’ is a common rule of life but you must hold to the wiser version, ‘To God be true.’ Trust wholeheartedly in God and in the power of his Spirit. ‘Do your best and God will do the rest’ as I frequently told my three sons!

With my prayers,

Revd. Canon J.John'

I know it's not Christmas yet but it will be soon and J John has collected together a collection of sermons called Proclaiming Christmas that are well worth having on the shelf to help and inspire your sermon prep.

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