I was ordained in my home church the year I finished graduate school and one year before I entered seminary. I didn’t really want to be ordained. I got convinced by a few people that it was something to do. I think back to that decision, to that time, and laugh at myself because I went kicking and screaming.
Now, I am finishing up the process of ordination for our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, and my attitude is completely different. Because I’m in a new denomination, I had to pursue its ordination in order to serve. Well, I didn’t have to. But it was very clear to me that ordination was a good idea.
As I prepare to write my paper describing my understanding of the “Central Affirmations,” along with several of my own theological understandings of the church, the role of a pastor, and the person and work of Jesus in both of them; as I look forward to an interview in October and piecing together my profile and “examples of proclamation” for the various committees and departments, I think it’s healthy to remind myself why I do the things I do. And I’m sharing them with you.
I realize that everyone who works at a job, who serves in a particular role, doesn’t feel called to that job or role. But I encourage you to think about why you’re up to the things you are. Whether you do feel a sense of call or conviction for what you do. Whether you should even.
Here’s an example of some of the things I need to spend the next couple weeks fleshing out for my process:
- Ordination has to mean something. I’ve been ordained before, by a local church, and if ordination hasn’t taken on deeper meaning for me, that’s a problem. Being a professional religious person has its benefits but it has pitfalls. Sacrifices come. Often. As I say yes to ordination, I do so with a better understanding that’s come with a few more years of pastoral ministry.
- I’m made for a congregation. As much as I enjoy writing and talking to people about solutions to problems, I think the best place for me to do that is within a church. I’ve struggled for years to find contentment in the church as a staff person. I’ve felt comfortable in other settings, and still do. But even though I’m comfortable doing other things and even with my struggles, I get to serve in a general way, inside a congregation, that captures what I enjoy.
- I love people. I love to serve people. I love to see people change, even when that change takes a long time. One of the books on my desk is titled, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” It’s by Eugene Peterson and it’s a book about Christian discipleship. It describes how slow following Jesus is, how tedious looking at Jesus and following his steps, if you will, can be. It’s a reminder–just the title–that what I do is slow work. But I love it.
- I don’t always love people. When you love and don’t love people, the best place for that movement is the church. If there is a place where I should be honest about my feelings about the people I work with and for and alongside, it’s God’s church.
- Other people think my being here is a good idea. This can be slippery, but I’ve lived my life hearing or ignoring a community’s affirmation of my purpose. When I started working in churches, I asked people whether they thought I was suited for it. Even though I didn’t follow my mother’s first advice to not work in the church, I have listened to many others along my way so far.
- Invoking God never gets old. I am not the type to say what God told me. Least not often. It sounds suspicious and presumptuous. It’s easily misunderstood, that language. Then, again, I do feel an inner sense and conviction that God has summoned me for ministry. Made me for it. And how do you argue with a person who believes they hear from the mostly unseen Creator of eveything that is seen?
I love “A Long Obedience.” My copy is underlined and highlighted and very well-worn. Even absorbing Peterson’s words was a long, slow process. It seems to me that faith wouldn’t be as meaningful if it wasn’t a slow process. This isn’t universally true, but seems to be so in most cases.
Good thoughts, Pastor Michael. And thanks for your words today.They were meaningful. Another picture, I’d say, of why you do what you do.
My pleasure, Laura. And my copy has many streaks of pink and various shades of yellow. Peterson gives me a workout. Always.