On June 9, 1985 I was ordained to the Christian ministry at Temple City Christian Church (California), which is where I had gone through my internship experience. My ordination came a day after my graduation from Fuller Theological Seminary. That was thirty years ago. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that it’s been thirty years, but then it’s hard to believe that I’ve been here seven years (July 1). When I was ordained thirty years ago, I believed that God was calling me to ministry, but I wasn’t sure it was to congregational ministry. Well, for the past seventeen years I’ve been engaged in ministry in local congregations, and God willing I will continue being engaged in congregational ministry for the foreseeable future.
I am looking forward to marking this anniversary on June 21st when my good friend Dr. Glen Miles will be coming to town to preach. I’ve known Glen since we were freshmen in college, during the mid-1970s. Glen is not only a college friend and ministry colleague (he serves as senior minister of Country Club Christian Church in Kansas City), but he’s also the current Moderator of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). So, if you’re going to the General Assembly you’ll see him presiding over the business sessions. But on June 21, he’ll be here with us a word from the pulpit.
With this being a momentous date in my own journey in ministry, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on this particular form of ministry. I may not have planned on ending up in congregational ministry when I began this journey thirty years ago, but I have come to value this ministry. It’s a rather unique vocation, because it involves such a diverse set of skills and experiences. Congregational ministry includes public speaking, teaching, administrative, and leadership skills (both congregationally and community-wide). But it also involves being present at the most personal moments of a person’s life, from birth to death. I’ve heard many a colleague say that they didn’t learn how to do many of things we’re asked to do in seminary. There’s a reason why this is true. While we can learn how to speak in public, interpret scripture, and understand theology, many of the tasks of ministry to which we’re introduced in practical ministry classes can only truly be learned through experience. You can read about what is expected of you when you’re with a person who is dying, but ultimately this is something you have to experience firsthand to truly understand what is required of you. That’s why we do this ministry in the context of prayer and in dependence on God’s grace.
I do love teaching and preaching. As a pastor I get to do lots of both, but perhaps the most profound moments in my own ministry have come when I’ve been called upon to be present in a moment of crisis. Being there when a person dies is powerful, perhaps providing a final prayer before life support is removed or being with the family as they grieve their loss. You don’t forget such moments. I’ve been asked on more than one occasion why I chose this path? Being a pastor doesn’t bring in a big salary and it’s not that prestigious a profession, so why choose it? It’s not because of all the meetings I get to go to. It’s not just because I get to talk in front of people. No, it’s because my life has been touched profoundly by having the opportunity to be present in life’s most critical moments.
Pastoral ministry is a calling. When hands were laid upon me that Sunday afternoon in 1985 a claim was placed on my life. I’m still learning what that means. At the same time, as much as I value this particular calling, to which I’ve been called, I also firmly believe that ministry is a shared vocation. Each of us is called to serve and please God in the places we find ourselves, both inside and outside the church. We are the body of Christ, each of us has been differently gifted by God (1 Corinthians 12). Together we pursue the upward call of God in service to God’s realm. Yes, I am thankful for the thirty years I’ve been on this journey in ordained ministry, including the past seven here at Central Woodward. Of course, the adventure continues!