18
Apr
09

Still Called to Ministry?

They all had to be a little out of their minds. Asking a church business manager to deliver a message from the pulpit – not even a life-long Christian, but a converted one at that – seemed ludicrous in the least. It had been bad enough giving my testimony in the Lenten service. Not that I was embarrassed to reveal my colorful past. After all, my life was now an open book – all of the torn, ruffled, deeply stained pages as well as the very few that were tidy, clean and still legible. It was one thing to find that my experiences spoke to others’ hearts, and quite another to think I could somehow manage to prepare and deliver a sermon that had any value to a congregation.

Now they really had to be crazy. How can they possibly see a pastoral presence when they look at me? Twenty-five years in business, with nary a thought to scruples or ethics, and they want me to go into ministry. What would God want with one more recovering control freak in the pulpit? I’m positive there are plenty in churches already. Surely, when God touched my heart, changing my life that much could not have been in the picture. I have nothing to offer but my own brokenness and imperfection. I’m just meant to stay in the pews.

Oh really! They can’t be serious! Who in their right mind would expect me to go on an immersion mission experience to Cuernavaca with a bunch of seminarians and teachers? I’ve got nothing to offer. So what if they have an opening and I’ve been invited? It doesn’t mean that God intends that I go. Just because more voices are clamoring doesn’t mean that God’s will is steering me in this direction. Still, a mission trip to Mexico…

Oh, now – come on! Just because they’re seminary students and professors doesn’t give them some particular insights into the will of God. There are too many obstacles to overcome. If it were really meant to be, it would make more sense – logically and economically. There is just no way I can attend seminary – it is absolutely impossible. I couldn’t even begin do the work and, besides, I can’t afford it.

Yes, that’s right – I’m a seminary student. No, never too old. Thank you – very much – I’m also glad that I was able to do this at my age. What? Study in England. Get a grip; like that would ever happen.

A year at Cambridge in an amazing educational environment with some incredible scholars. Yet, unfortunately, one marred by witnessing the efforts to hold onto past traditions as if they were, somehow, the very meaning of “church” handed down from God. Write using inclusive language but, please, not in truly inclusive concepts. Perish the thought of preaching about God, the Mother of us all. A system stuck in the Victorian age, complete with an unending litany of “Father God”, “He”, “His”, “Him”, etc., with high pulpits, black robes and barrister collars, triumphant language in which you can almost hear “Rule Britannia”, and the signs of trying to maintain a dying system on artificial life support. Yes, actually, it’s not too much different than the church in the U.S., just a little further advanced in its decline.

So, why do I feel called to ministry? Well, first, I love the church – not so much what it is as what it could be. It dawned on me that “once reformed and always reforming” required people within who cared enough to object to that which fell short, and who were committed enough to pray and brainstorm with all manner of people about what could be.

Next, I love the people. God worked through the people of the church to save my very being. These same people, years later, recognized in me some characteristics that they felt could help others in similar ways. Rather than spoon-feeding my own or someone else’s canned theology, I feel compelled to walk with people as they discover and wrestle their own questions about God and faith. I seek to be some small aid for people finding their way back to God.

Working within the “business” side of church for several years, I have witnessed firsthand, in many situations and locations, the adoption of secular ethics and worldly business practices in the conduct of the church. I believe, and feel compelled to promote, that the church is not to aspire to imitate secular or business ethics and practices, but rather to be an example to the world in the transparency, honesty and decency of its conduct.

The churches with which I have been associated have all had something in common – they seem to think that they, as American churches, are in the position to teach the world about Christ and Christian values. It strikes me that many churches are far removed from the conditions that affect so much of the world and, as a result, they have a distorted view of the role of missions and ministry. I am very interested in the role of mission within the church – not as charity but as a mutually beneficial practical ministry. My experience with missions has shown that many times, as we come to terms with the first-hand knowledge of much of the world’s material poverty, we also receive the gift of facing our own poverty of spirit.

Lastly, I seek the answer to the question that continues to burn in my head. Just what will God do with one more recovering control freak in the pulpit? Physically and mentally flawed, I am now on medical leave. Is this the end? Have I already outlived my usefulness to God? This is a piece of the puzzle that may mean the death knell of ministry for me. And yet, I know this is where I belong. May God help me.

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2 Responses to “Still Called to Ministry?”


  1. 1 DennisS
    April 19, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    There is still hope for Western Christianity, and hope for leaders who are physically and mentally flawed.

    This weekend a group got together and agreed to help fund a ministry to those who are often left out – who wouldn’t feel welcome in a church for whatever reason.

    One of the most exciting ministries in my neck of the woods is a former meth addict and meth cook, who is in very poor health, few remaining teeth, but has an incredible testimony and has become quite active in AA and NA groups. He’s now begun telling his story in churches and in small group Bible studies. He could receive funding, but chooses not to.

    One of the biggest shifts taking place right now, is the shift from programs to actually dealing with where people are, and what their true needs are.

    We need people who can be trusted, who will listen, who will remind us of the Gospel story, and who will encourage and gently help us work upon our flaws. Who better to help with these than someone who has been there.

  2. April 20, 2009 at 4:51 AM

    I applaud your efforts to welcome the unwelcome. This has been my focus in ministry – perhaps the one that has created the most complaints from those inside the church.

    Under the guise of giving me a little time to heal, prebytery officials met with my session (board) at the church. The outcome, instead of “a little time” is a salary continuation package predicated on me accepting that I should be on permanent disability.

    The message is clear – get out of ministry or be without salary and benefits. If I accept permanent diability, I have my salary equivalent for six months, and 2/3 salary for the rest of my working life along with my benefits being paid and retirement continuing ot accrue. But, of course, I will have no career as a Presbyterian minister.

    If I do not accept this, I have three months full salary plus another three at 1/3 salary and, of course, no church to serve and probably little future in Presbyterian ministry.

    I think the mental and physical “flaws” simply present an opportunity to get rid of a pastor who doesn’t line up with the conventional concepts of ministry. I have no doubt that of I had been more compliant, I would be facing a totally different outcome.


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... or, preaching from both ends

WELL, HELLO! YOU’RE HERE.

That's too bad - I'm so sorry. Oh, well, just try to make the best of it. What you'll find here is a variety of essays and ramblings to do with things theological, social, whimsical and, sometimes, all three. I don't write to get famous - trust me, I've been told how futile that would be - but to express myself. I love to communicate and browbeat - ummm, I mean dialogue - about the things I find intriguing. Since you're here, and the door's locked, why don't you stay a while. There's a page bar under the header with links to information about us - I mean me. Don't forget to tell me what you think - in a nice way, I mean.

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