What would you say to your younger self about some of the challenges and delights of ministry?

In his latest book ‘Letters to a Young Pastor’ Ian Stackhouse returns to the art of letter writing, to capture and share something of what God has shown him over the last 25+ years of pastoral ministry with a young mentee called Timothy – and also with us.

We’re delighted to be able to publish another one of these letters here at Seventy-two:

Dear Timothy,

Great to hear from you. And great to hear about the new building campaign. You don’t need me to tell you that building campaigns carry warning signs, especially for the minister. But from what you say, you seem to know where those pitfalls are, and will make every effort to get the right people involved. Building campaigns can’t rehabilitate a church. You are wise to discern that from the very beginning. But at the right time and with the right resources, it can be a real catalyst to health. God bless it.

Which brings me on to something I have been wanting to write to you about for a while, which is the need—buildings campaigns or no—to find a life outside of the church. As you are quickly discovering, congregational life can get a little bit obsessive. Being at the heart of a Christian community is not only a great privilege but also very compelling. Before you know it, your world can quickly shrivel to meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Without even realising it, your range of interests can reduce to subjects as thrilling as church rotas. Add to this a particularly deadly culture-despising fundamentalism that is at large in the church and if you are not careful you will find yourself in a “parallel” if not “paranoid” universe, which is about the worst advert for the gospel as you can find.

So, for the sake of a faith that is commensurate with the grand themes of creation and redemption, and for the sake of keeping yourself interested as well as interesting, create a hinterland away from the church. In other words, don’t make church a hobby. Instead, make it a priority to do things that have nothing to do with the church. Don’t justify it as evangelism, or anything like that.

Just do it for the sheer fun. And when you start to feel guilty, thinking that if you were really spiritual you wouldn’t be mountain biking, or playing football, just remember that carrying the cross is not about destroying your love of life but sanctifying it. Have fun!

The peace of the Lord


Creating A Hinterland is one of 60 reflections on Leadership, Community and the Gospel of Grace in ‘Letters to a Young Pastor’.  Published by Wipf and Stock (click here for a look inside), the book is now available on Amazon.

We previously published another letter from the book here at Seventy-two, you can read Keep Sabbath by clicking on this link.


Ian Stackhouse

Ian Stackhouse is the Senior Minister of Millmead Guildford Baptist Church and has been in pastoral ministry overall for nearly thirty years. He is married to Susanna and they have four sons. For relaxation, Ian likes to go walking in the Surrey Hills, reading anything he can put his hands on, writing poetry (not very well), and singing anything from Bruce Springsteen to Bryn Terfel. He and his family are avid supporters of Burnley FC which in recent years has changed from being a crushing burden into something a blessing.