Note: this was originally published for The Anglican Mission in America blog.
Shortly after I began speaking with my pastor about the possibility of pursuing ordination with The Anglican Mission, he passed a copy of Michael Ramsey’s classic The Christian Priest Today my way.
Of course, I had no idea that this little book was by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, or that it was originally a set of addresses to candidates for ordination in the ’70s. As I’ve continued to digest the simple, yet profound wisdom in Michael Ramsey’s The Christian Priest Today, it’s become apparent to me why it’s remained pertinent for over four decades. I suspect it will endure many more.
In today’s world of marketing-speak and leadership-culture-infused ministry books, The Christian Priest Today is a breath of fresh air. Ramsey delves deep into what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of souls. Discussions about developing your “personal brand,” and “leadership strategy” are blessedly absent. Not that there’s anything inherently or necessarily wrong with understanding how to apply those ideas to ministry, but something feels right about the simple way Ramsey speaks of preaching Jesus, living a life of prayer and cultivating a humble heart.
Although The Christian Priest Today is approaching the half-century mark from its first publication, Ramsey’s simple and direct style reinforce the underlying timelessness of his observations regarding the pastoral roles of deacon and priest and bishop. It remains fresh because Ramsey wasn’t seeking to be “cutting edge” (though he didn’t avoid contemporary issues) about a practice and vocation that itself is fundamentally timeless.
I was reminded that shepherding souls will always transcend leadership trends, business strategies, and academic accomplishments. Ramsey’s book gently re-taught me that pastoring has always been and will always be about bringing people to Jesus, pointing people to Jesus, telling people about Jesus.
A few nuggets of wisdom that were impressed on my heart and mind as I read:
“We are called, near to Jesus and with Jesus and in Jesus, to be with God with the people on our heart. That is what you will be promising [in your ordination vows]” (p. 14).
“Let those who are glad to be Catholics or Evangelicals or Liberals set themselves to learn all they can from one another, for the partisan can soon become a person who loves his own apprehension of the truth more than Christ who is the truth, and himself more than either” (p. 72).
“Be ready to accept humiliations. They can hurt terribly, but they help you to be humble…these can be so many changes to be a little nearer to our humble and crucified Lord. There is nothing to fear if you are in his hands.” (p. 80)
“Jesus Christ is himself the gospel we preach…He is himself the essence of the good news” (p. 27)
The Christian Priest Today is the sort of book I can imagine re-reading every year or two, just to help re-center on why I do what I do. It is the sort of book I can imagine giving other young pastors (because if you could only give one book on the pastoral ministry, this would be a strong candidate). It is the sort of book that remains in your thoughts and on your heart long after you’ve finished.
The Christian Priest Today by Michael Ramsey invites you to be refreshed by what God is doing in and through the ordained ministry, by calling you to re-focus on the heart of the Christian faith: the person of Jesus.