Friday, March 15, 2013

On being a governor

Being a school governor, my ears pricked up on hearing that governance was in the news again recently. Ofsted head honcho Sir Michael Wilshaw complained, "In the worst cases, governors can be rather like the jury that was dismissed from a high-profile trial last week: ill-informed and not able to make good decisions." Nice. Thanks for that, Sir Michael. The Chief Inspector of Schools floated the idea that paying governors might be one way of raising standards of school governance, a suggestion rejected by the National Governors' Association. Professionalising governance may be more of a hindrance than a help. The fact that governors have nothing to lose financially and career-wise can give them the courage they need to hold senior leaders to account. Currently they don't have to worry that rocking the boat might deprive them of a nice little earner. 

But amateur doesn't have to mean amateurish. Most governors volunteer for the role to try and make a difference in the life of their local school and take governance seriously  Some have a background in education, others, like me, 'have-a-go parent govs', do not. When the latter is the case, newly appointed governors will find themseleves on a steep learning curve. They'll find themselves drowning in an Alphabetti Sphagetti of acronyms; CPD, ECM, TLR, SLT, BANG. I made the last one up. It means 'Baffled by Acronyms New Governor'. But slowly things begin to make sense and attending training courses helps to further clarify matters. The NGA's bi-monthly magazine,  Governing Matters, is always worth a read for those who wish to keep themselves abreast of developments in the world of governance. 

'May you live in interesting times' says the old Chinese curse. We've certainly had some 'interesting times' at the school since I jointed the governing body in January 2012. Not long after being appointed the head teacher announced he was taking early retirement, leading to the appointment of an interim head for the 2012/13 academic year. We've just appointed a new substantive head, due to start in September 2013. We also had to elect a new chair of governors as the previous one stood down. Then we were 'Ofsteaded' a few weeks ago, receiving a 'Requires Improvement' rating, but with some promising features of the school receiving welcome recognition. That leaves plenty of work for governors to do in the quest to drive forward school improvement. 

I'm involved in the Every Child Matters and Staffing committees. I was recently appointed chair of Staffing and have been thinking though how the committee can best help to promote excellence in leadership, teaching and learning. I found the NGA's document, Knowing your School: Governors and Staff Performance helpful in this respect. 

Being a pastor means that within certain constraints I have more flexibility with my time than many in full time work. I've found myself involved in all kinds of stuff; job  interviews, a variety of panels, the Ofsted inspection, and the headteacher appointment process. It has fallen to me to liaise between the school and church leaders in arranging Minister-led assemblies.

One of the most enjoyable things for me is the link with the BV (Beliefs and Values - RE in old money) Dept. As BV link gov I get to talk some serious theology with the BV staff, as well as find out how policies and initiatives are working out on the educational coalface. Sitting in on lessons is indispensable for getting a feel for school life. The ones I've observed were certainly more engaging than when I was in school. No copying out endless lines of text chalked on blackboards, or mind numbingly taking notes as dictated by the teacher these days. Thankfully. 

Being a governor is a challenging and rewarding task. Hands-on governance takes time and won't make you any richer, but there are rewards that can't be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. Playing a small part in helping to create a school where every child matters and all are able to achieve their full educational potential is one of them. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Is the new pope a Catholic?

'Guide me O thou great co-mediatrix?' Francis I prays to Mary 
OK. I get it. White smoke has billowed. A Cardinal has swapped his red get up for a white one. Benedict XVI has disappeared into the shadows never to be seen again. Francis I is the new pope. But is is he a Catholic? No, seriously. Is he? You know, I don't reckon he is. 'Uh' you might say, 'what you talking about Prot-head? Course the pope's a Catholic. Stupid.' Yeah, yeah, I know. But being pope and stuff isn't exactly a Catholic thing to do. Certainly not in the modern Roman Catholic, full-on infallibility mode sense of the word. The infallibility thing only happened at Vatican I in 1870. And despite what they say, there isn't a shred of evidence in the New Testament that the apostle Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. That idea was fabricated later to give a retrospective smattering of biblical authority to the papal office. 

You see, catholicity as in 'We believe in oneholycatholic, and apostolic Church' means holding to the faith revealed in Holy Scripture and believed by the Church throughout the ages. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 882 states: 
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
Who on earth believes that apart from the Roman Catholic Church? Departing from the Catholic faith and then demanding that everybody else subscribes to your distinctives smacks more of a sect than a church with any claim to true catholicity. I mean, 'full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered'? C'mon. You're not the boss of me, Francis I. I acknowledge only One who who has supreme and unhindered power over the whole Church and that's Jesus. The Puritan Richard Sibbes was right to say,

Then, if the question be, which is the catholic truth – Popery or our religion – I say not Popery, but our religion. That which ‘without controversy,’ all churches have held from the apostles’ time…that is catholic. (Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 5, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pp. 477-78). 

So, is the pope a Catholic? Well, no, actually. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp

Crossway, 2012, e-book, $5.99 (special offer price)

With a title like that you might have thought Paul David Tripp was writing about the perils of being a fireman, a deep sea diver or a soldier on the front line in Afghanistan. But no, the 'dangerous calling' in question is pastoral ministry. 'Oh, that 'dangerous calling', I hear you say. True, if you are a pastor you are unlikely to get fried alive, drowned, or shot at, but the work is nevertheless fraught with perils. The number of pastors who burn out, drop out, or keep slogging away in ministry when then they have lost all passion for the work is testimony to that. 

Tripp claims that the problem begins in theological seminary, where the emphasis is often on ministerial knowledge and skill at the expense of godly character formation. That can cause rookie ministers to think they have arrived spiritually because they know more stuff than their people, although they fall short when it comes to living a consistently holy life. I'm grateful that at the London Theological Seminary, where I trained for the ministry, the lectures were all serving pastors, or at least men with pastoral experience as well as theologians and biblical scholars. Students were repeatedly urged to pursue godliness as well as develop their ministry gifts. Even so, there have been casualties among LTS alumni. Some are no longer in pastoral work due to serious spiritual  and moral failings. Let he who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. 

Tripp writes with an awareness of the dangers of pastoral ministry because he has experienced many of them himself. He highlights issues like the frequent disjunction between the pastor's public persona and private life, the stresses and strains of family life, fractious relations in the church leadership team and pastors falling out with the churches they serve. The writer provides examples of this kind of thing from his own experience and from the lives of other ministers he has tried to help.

One of the key dangers is that of ministerial professionalism. Something that is repeatedly denounced in D. M. Lloyd-Jones' magesterial Preaching and Preachers as an 'abomination'. We can get into a position where we only read the Bible for sermon prep and forget the need to seek God's face and hear his voice for ourselves as Christian believers. For that is what we are above all else, broken, needy, grace-dependent believers in the all-sufficient triune God of the gospel. We need that gospel and its life-transforming power as must as the people to whom we proclaim the good news of Jesus. Pastoral ministry is a very dangerous calling when we forget just that. 

This is a heart-searching book that all ministers, whether newbies or greybeards should read reflectively, prayerfully and penitently. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

A Tale of Two Saturdays

Two Satudays running I've found myself in London, but for two very different reasons. On Saturday 23rd February I took my son to the Emirates Stadium to watch Arsenal v. Aston Villa as an 18th birthday treat. His birthday was back in January, but better late than never. It was a bitterly cold day, but we enjoyed the game, which Arsenal won 2-1. I'm a rugby rather than football fan really and didn't know what I'd make of it all, but it was a great boys day out. I managed to keep a weather eye on the progress of the Italy v. Wales Six Nations game on my phone. We watched the second half of the England v. France match in a bar/restaurant on Waterloo Station while waiting for the train home. The piping hot beef stew helped us to thaw out.

Last Saturday the wife and I, together with friends from local churches went to the British Museum for a Day One guided tour with Clive Anderson, joint-author of Through the British Museum - with the Bible (Day One). It was a early start for a Saturday (usually my day off). We jumped on the coach at 7am in order to arrive at the museum at 10am in time for the tour's 10.45am kick off. I'd not met Clive before and wasn't sure quite what to expect, but he was an engaging and well informed guide. The diminutive chap claimed that both Samson and the apostle Paul probably looked a bit like him. What archaeological evidence he has for that I don't know, but there we are.

I'd been taken around the museum by my parents when a child and a guided tour had been laid on for students when I was at the London Theological Seminary, but I'd forgotten much of what is on display. Seeing the mummy with a tuft of ginger hair jogged a childhood memory. The sight of the hair on the long-dead man really spooked me as a kid. I'd not seen a 'real life' dead body before. It's still a macabre sight as the corpse bears its silent witness to human mortality. The replica of the Assyrian city gates were about the only thing I could recollect from the LTS tour. Strange that. Huge as they are, the doors are hardly the most impressive thing about the place. 

With memories of earlier visits fading, most of what I saw in the museum was fresh to me. Clive Anderson's lively commentary gave added interest to the exhibits we paused to look at as our party made its way though the vast museum. I'm not even going to try and give a blow-by-blow account all that we saw. If you're that interested, book your place on a Day One British Museum Tour. But my highlights included the magnificently exhibited Parthenon Sculptures (no Greece, you can't have 'em back), an assortment of beautiful classical statuary, the Rosetta Stone, King Artaxerxes' wine bowl, possibly kept in plentiful supply by Nehemiah, artefacts from an ancient British villa replete with Christian symbolism and Oliver Cromwell's suitably modest Puritan pocket watch. Maybe the Banner of Truth could produce replicas of the last item to compliment their 'Pocket Puritan' titles. Oh, and it was good to see old ginger again. Well, not really. He didn't look any better. 

On a more reflective note, walking amongst the ruins of once great empires and civilisations put me in mind of Rudyard Kipling's poem, Recessional, a verse of which says,

Far-called our navies melt away—
On dune and headland sinks the fire—
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!