The running joke my former pastor, Erick Sorensen used to say to me is, “God loves you, and I have a wonderful plan for your life!”
The plan, as he saw it, was to inch me towards some form of pastoral ministry.
Before I even get into that discussion here, I’m going to tell you straight up that I don’t ascribe to a lot of the hoops people are made to jump through to be pastors, and that will probably disqualify me in many people’s eyes. I see the “Above Reproach” spoken about in scripture rooted in forgiveness and grace, not perfect, or close to perfect moral behavior. I wrote about that here if you are interested in reading about it.
Now, while the idea of pastoral ministry fluttered around in my head for a while, it never really took root. It never landed squarely and surely in my mind, or in my heart. Most recently though, something about the idea has become a little more concrete. If I told you what the entire reasons were for my change of heart, you think me a daft and ridiculous person. Suffice to say, a sense of self-brokenness has a way of preparing you for new challenges you never considered before.
What Could I Really Offer A Congregation?
This really is the question for me. The same brokenness that is now driving me, is the same brokenness that has held me back. It reminds me, that my failures can be lesson for one person, even as the memory claws at my conscience on occasion, re-accusing me, causing me to fall back on the continued hope found at the cross. It’s thoughts like these that remind me why my favorite scripture verses, are found in Romans 7. Paul’s wrestling, as well as his deliverance later, will always speak the truest to me.
So here I am, a redeemed sinner, a defeated victor, wrestling a little deeper with the idea of pastoral ministry. I think about all that it implies:
Well, I’ve done it over a dozen times now, in a handful of local congregations. I don’t find myself to be a gifted orator in any way. But I try to make my points well enough, and I usually make those points about Jesus and the Gospel. I suppose that can always get better, or so I’m told, but if you’re coming to be encouraged by a pastor who paints beautiful kaleidoscope pictures with their words, I could probably recommend a few people after service. I’m probably always going to be somewhat closer to a paint by numbers kind of guy. Fill in the blanks with good solid splotches of truth, and hope God turns it into a glorious medley of color by the working of His Spirit for the hearer.
In this area, I’d probably be a guy that relies on what came before. I would take advantage of the countless numbers of good teachers out there, which would probably include some friends as well. This you may see as an advantage, and you probably should. I suppose if I do develop enough style and substance to develop my own ideas on how and what to teach, it will still be heavily influenced by what came before. I will also encourage to take advantage of those resources for yourself. I’m probably never going to lead you in a study on Christian apologetics, either. Too much of it relies on trying to convince you God is real and not, Christ is for you. If I can get you to “Christ for you”, you’ll be a lot closer than where most apologetics material brings you.
Those are the two areas I might consider weaknesses. It’s doesn’t mean I’d fail at it. It means that it’s not my most comfortable place, and I think that’s because as much as you want to point people toward Christ and not you, whether preaching or teaching, you’re still front and center, and all eyes are on you for that time. These next areas are what I would reluctantly call strengths. I say that knowing that it doesn’t mean I’ll be good at it. What I mean is, that these are things I would love to be able to offer people every week, because they do direct people eyes elsewhere, where they need to be.
Since joining a Lutheran denomination, this has been the driving force behind anything that resembles growth and encouragement in my life. Knowing I can confess to God, like a prodigal returning every week, and still be forgiven, has given me more peace than I have known in a long time, even in the midst of the daily struggles that remain. I would give out absolution like water to a desert wanderer. I would do it enthusiastically and emphatically. I would implore you to think deeply about the words spoken corporately as we confess, and the response of forgiveness you hear back. I would gladly meet privately in the most immediate circumstances to hear your deepest struggles, and declare you forgiven and loved. I’m sure in my enthusiasm I would trip over my words at times, but I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about it one bit, because I am offering you God’s heart of grace in this absolution.
In opening a Sunday service on the few occasions that I do get to preach; I make a point to tell the congregation to pay attention to the whole service, not just me preaching. Whether it’s the call to worship, where we typically read a psalm, the hymns and songs, the gospel readings, the creeds and other responsive elements, it all points to Jesus, so if you get a bad sermon out of me, you got Jesus in all these other ways, in all these other words.
Communion is getting Jesus again.
I DO take communion seriously and want to see people take and eat. For a person on their deathbed, sometimes the only thing they can receive is but a crumb and a drop of His Body and Blood, and it is enough. When I sit in those aged, wood pews; I know what hides in the seats. I’ve sat there like a person on his deathbed. Then I hear my pastor remind us who this meal is for, “Those that know they are sinners.” There’s not a truer deathbed confession if I ever heard one. I make my way to the front, and a soft voice whispers an even greater confession to me as he hands me the body and blood, “Dominick, here is Christ for you…”
I would love to offer people the tangible forgiveness of God. I might get in trouble for trying to do it every week. I wrote more about my love affair with communion here and here, if you’d like to hear more of my perspective on it.
Apparently, one of the jobs of a pastor nowadays is that of a counselor, or a kind of life coach. I’m not necessarily sure it’s always been that way, and I’m not sure I could guide anyone successfully or not, even with the bible open as my “cheat sheet”. What I can tell you, is that if there is something heavy weighing you down, I will come to you. I will sit with you quietly if need be, commiserating over your dilemma. I will pray with you, and I will over you I will remind you of the love of God in Christ for you. I will fall back onto to the promise found in the absolution, which is the forgiveness that is found for you at the cross. I will try to help you move forward, which includes doing what may be hard, real-life stuff, without heavy judgment. I will do this because the only two people having this conversation are both sinners, who have been rescued by a Savior.
So, Am I?
There it is people, that’s my dissertation for you to review. I’m not going reinvent the wheel, but I will help fix the flats and make sure the air pressure is good. Do these things bring me closer to that possibility? I know first and foremost, is whether I feel a call on my life for ministry. Let’s assume the answer is maybe. I’ve never really been good at discerning with perfect certainty God’s direction for my life. I tend to think people that are certain about God’s direction for them are hearing what they want, rather than what they are sure of what God wants for them.
In closing, if I had to sum up everything I would do as a pastor in a Lutheran tradition, I’ll leave you this quote from my friend and former pastor, Erick Sorensen, the guy who “has a wonderful plan for my life”:
I do believe after twenty-plus years rooting around various Christian circles, this is the main thing I have to offer anyone.
(Would love to hear your feed-back on this! Including if you don’t agree with something or all of it.)