Friday, June 08, 2012

Reflections on the Eve of Ordination

On Monday night I will be ordained as an Elder in Full Connection in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church.

And now I'm seriously considering the idea that I might be the pastor of a church for my whole career.

I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, especially since the ordination process in the United Methodist Church is one of the longest and most convoluted things ever created by humankind. I began the candidacy process in 2000, while I was in college, and I've been "in ministry" (that is, drawing a paycheck from a church) since I was eighteen years old.

It's not that I never wanted to be the pastor of a church. It's just that for a number of years I thought that my own path in ministry would take a somewhat different form. Since sometime around my senior year in college, when I was writing my honors thesis and getting a taste of in depth academic research and informally TA-ing a 100 level religion class with my advisor, I thought that I wanted to get a PhD and teach in a college or seminary.

That is how I thought for a number of years that I would be of greatest service to the church, particularly since I became a preaching and liturgy nerd in seminary.

But then two things happened. One was more gradual, and the other was fairly sudden.

The gradual realization was that doing a PhD is a long, expensive, frustrating process with a very high drop-out rate and very few tenure-track positions available. And from observing the chatter around theological education, there may be some huge shifts on the horizon that might make traditional seminary professor positions even more rare.

Pursuing a PhD would also require some big sacrifices that I'm not prepared to ask my wife and daughters to make, since they already sacrifice so much to support my vocation as a pastor.

The more sudden thing was that I found myself serving a church where I could actually see myself serving for a long time.

In saying that I mean no disrespect to the congregations I have previously served. In each of these places I had meaningful experiences and learned valuable lessons, to say nothing of a whole lot about who I am. It's just that I've never been in a place where I could see myself serving in that capacity for a long time.

But now I'm at Arlington- the place where my journey of faith began with my parents making promises on my behalf at my baptism- promises which they kept in every way. I've only been there a year, and there are lots of challenges, but there is a great chemistry with this congregation that makes me believe that this could be a place where my own gifts and graces can effectively serve the church, and, more importantly, the Kingdom of God.

For most of my life I've always been oriented towards the next thing. Graduating from high school, then college, getting married, graduating from seminary, having my own church, starting a family, and now getting ordained . That mindset made me think that I'd continue on for another degree, position, or whatever, but what if I have to shift my thinking and actually invest myself in where I am right now?

So, for probably the first time in my life, I'm OK with not knowing what the "next step" is. And it feels strangely good.

If you're in the Nashville area, I'd love for you to attend the ordination service at Annual Conference.

No comments: