Whenever anyone asks for feedback as they ponder entering the ordained ministry, I ask three questions. First, do you have the heart for it? Through your varied experiences has God touched you in a way leading you to believe he is enlisting you in his service? Do you have a passion for the many odd things God has a passion for? Do you love those Christ loves—which happens to be all of us, including the unlovable? No one should not begin a journey toward ordained ministry with anything less than that. People can tell if you lack the heart, and it just won’t fly.
Second, I ask them, do you have the head for ministry? Maybe this is the easiest, because a good divinity school can help big-time here. But devoting ourselves to understanding scripture and grasping the theology issuing forth from it is a passion of which we must never tire, if we’re to expect people not to tire of our preaching and teaching. But not only this, beyond charting God’s ways as revealed in Jesus, we make the study of the human spirit our lifelong passion. Ministry is an ellipsis with two foci nestled within: God and humankind. Both are indispensable.
Third, I ask them, do you have the stomach for it? Ministry demands so many different things of us, it is difficult to do them all well: teacher, preacher, fund-raiser, staff supervisor, pastor, comforter, counselor, prophet, event planner, mission stager, liturgist, visionary, emergency relief, priest, budgeter, etc. God keeps us humble like this. It takes a decade of immersion to feel basic competence. We are under constant scrutiny, measured and evaluated. Never mind that some reject all your gifts in spite of your best efforts. So do you have the stomach for this?
I once heard someone say about being called to ministry, don’t do it unless you have to, unless you cannot not do it. If all of this sounds unduly harsh, that’s better than half-baking a life plan. The basic fact is a majority of those entering local church ministry leave within the first 5 years.
If I am waxing reflective on all of this, it’s because next week marks the 35th anniversary of my ordination at First Congregational in Branford, Connecticut. On Sunday I’ll talk about what I’ve learned along the way, how ministry has changed and still changes. This might offer some clues as we at FCC, Darien strategically reflect upon our future, and the course we’ll together chart.
Meanwhile, the beat of ministry goes on: if you are moved to do so, come this Saturday as we commend to God with gratitude the mother of former Moderator, Jon Bigelow. The memorial service of Anne Lehr Bigelow begins at 1 pm. Also, you won’t want to miss the baptism on Sunday of John Joseph “Jack” Saager, IV, best known as the second grandson of Anne MacInnes to be baptized this year. I adore hearing so many say, “I just love the baptisms at our church!”