I originally trained to be a primary school teacher, but have been in paid ministry in various forms since 1980. That’s led me to what I’m doing now, which is working full time as Senior Lecturer in Youth Work at Oasis College of Higher Education. I’ve been married to Sue for 40 years, and for 21 of those, she has been a Baptist Minister. So my time revolves around being a lecturer, and church ministry (I’m heavily involved in church life and preaching). Oh and we have two sons, both of whom will be becoming fathers in October within a week of each other, which is very exciting!
That sounds pretty busy! What are some of the challenges of balancing full time work and vocational ministry?
When working in a fulltime job and ‘being married’ to ministry, it becomes easy to conceive everything I do as work. The edges of our working patterns are blurred – being a lecturer is most certainly better defined than church ministry. People have told us that we should see our paid employment as two separate jobs – a lecturer and a Baptist Minister. For us this really doesn’t work, - vocational ministry is vocational ministry and we have chosen to commit to it together. On many levels that can be a challenge!
We do struggle to find days off together, particularly as Sue’s working days include Saturdays and Sunday’s. Her day off is a Friday, when I work. So I need to be really careful that on Friday’s I’m intentional to not talk ‘church’ and to respect her days off… needless to say it doesn’t always work!
Have you ever felt the need to please others? How did you handle it?
In church ministry, Christians will often try to define what they think your ministry should look like and express their opinion as though it has come directly from the Almighty. In this situation it’s easy to confuse the notion that you are pleasing God when you are actually pleasing people. Now, I’m not someone who thinks well on my feet – I need time and space to plan and think things through carefully. This includes sermon writing, where I tend to write a full script to read. For some, this doesn’t fit with their ideas about inspiration, as they believe it doesn’t allow the Holy Spirit to work freely in and through me. In these circumstances I feel tempted to please them, to try to be the preacher they want me to be. Over the years I have learnt that it’s OK to say no or not bend to their expectations, but it’s fair to say I’ve tended to learn this the hard way! In the final analysis when people project their opinions onto you, it’s up to you whether or how much you buy into them.
Part of feeling the need to please others in ministry also involves feeling the need to not upset others. As Sue’s husband I do feel like I have a responsibility to not rock the boat with issues at church, which can be really difficult. I will usually run my sermons past her, as I’m aware of the possible consequences of sharing particular views. Most certainly I make it clear that they are my views! In Baptist Ministry the temptation to please could be greater, because the stark reality is that the church membership pay Sue’s wages! Upsetting the membership could potentially put your job on the line.
For some of us, pleasing others is a hard habit to change especially when we are dealing with other members of the body of Christ. Do you have any wisdom about how to break the cycle?
Get older! I have most certainly learnt with experience and over time… No, seriously, on one level, I’d ask what’s wrong with pleasing people? Really, people pleasing is used as a derogatory term. I most certainly would not strive to displease people. It requires a level of personal self-confidence and assertiveness that can cope with pleasing or not pleasing people. Perhaps more important is the support of likeminded others.
When people are passionate about being part of God’s mission, they often want to be involved in everything. With your various hats, you are asked to participate in a large number of projects and initiatives. How do you choose wisely and discern to spend your time on?
Sue and I see our ministry as joint – for us, it’s impossible to see the work at the church as her role alone. Therefore, together, we bring different skill sets. Mostly, we chose wisely and discern the projects and initiatives we do based on our skill sets, and how these can be maximised and part of that process is recognising our tendency to over commit.
If you were able to give a piece of advice to your 20 year old self, what would it be?
I’d say two things. Firstly, get to grips with non-managerial supervision or mentoring earlier. Particular people in my life have been lifelines when we have been stretched from pillar to post, and battered and bruised in the process. In vocational ministry, these lines of accountability have been invaluable.
Secondly, hold on to your integrity. Don’t compromise on this. We have learned from sometimes wondrous and sometimes bitter experience that being honest to yourself about who you are in God is much more important than what anybody else thinks.
Martin Hardwidge is a Baptist Youth Specialist, his wife Sue is a Baptist Minister, they currently live in Stevenage. Martin is a Senior Lecturer at Oasis College in London.