To serve faithfully behind the scenes

John has been entrusted by God with a peculiar passion, one to which he has devoted his life.

As it happens John and I were at university together all those years ago and members of the Christian Union but in different colleges and doing different subjects, so we never knew each other.  But over the years we have exchanged letters and more recently emails. However, it is was only yesterday that we actually met in person for the first time.

This was at a clergy day course at Liverpool Hope, attended by about 25 assorted characters.  Strangely the event had been trailed not only in the Church Times but also in Saturday’s Times.  (If you still have your copy in recycling please dig it out for me.)

The course was on church administration for clergy – goodness knows what drew the attention of the Times!

And John’s passion?  Church administration.  “I am at heart a passionate behind-the-scenes administrator who loves “sorting things out” and “tidying things up.”

The final session of the day was how to open your mail and how to file documents.  It was altogether fascinating.  Had you told me beforehand that I would be gripped and not griped by a talk on filing I would never have believed you.  It was thrilling stuff, really!  For John communicates his passion with er – passion.

To this he has devoted his entire working life. Not least he has inspired a whole generation of Christians to see administration as their God-given calling.  In 1981 he set up the hugely influential Administry.  Only very recently I entrusted my entire stock of their publications to son-in-law Tim (now vicar of Bunbury) and to our curate Phil.  This was ground-breaking material.

Never forget, administration is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:  “And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration.”

The thing about the particular gift of administration is that, as John pointed out to us, it should be totally invisible.  If a church is working well, if the service flows smoothly, you simply take it for granted.  Administration only becomes visible if it breaks down.

Not least administrators set others free to do their own calling – they allow others to take centre stage. Notice how John describes his own ministry as “behind-the-scenes.”

A good example from the early church is when in Acts 6 the apostles are in danger of being overwhelmed by overseeing the daily distribution of food.  So seven men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom are given the responsibility of running this ministry.  This enables the apostles to “give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

As it happens we know their names of these seven servants.  Stephen and Philip are the ones we remember: the first martyr and for encountering the Ethiopian treasurer.  But what about Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas?  The success of their ministry is shown by that we never hear of them again.  My spell check doesn’t know them.

This is truly a mark of the Holy Spirit, whose key ministry is to point us away from him to Jesus. And for those administrators, like John, who are prepared to work faithfully and unobtrusively to bring the Kingdom of God without expectation of any acknowledgement.  A true role model.

General George Marshal could be speaking of the Kingdom of God when he says:  “There’s no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  May we our aim simply be to point people to Jesus.

(I have just reread this letter and realized I forgot to give John’s full name.)