This week marks the 10-year anniversary of my ordination as a pastor. On a warm, late-summer Saturday afternoon, my friends and family gathered at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Independence, Iowa.
Across Christian faith traditions, the rite of ordination usually happens within the context of a worship service. It’s a special time in which people gather to participate in the process of intentionally entrusting a newly trained minister with the role of church leader.
I feel deep appreciation for all that God has taught me throughout the last decade of ordained ministry. Here are four insights the Spirit of God has revealed.
1. God always helps; I’m still learning how to ask.
During the rite of ordination, the new minister responds to a series of questions with the words, “I will and I ask God to help me.” The bishop who oversees the ordination asks the new leader whether they’ll pray for God’s people, read Scripture, administer the sacraments and express the love of the Creator in all words and deeds. The response to each of the bishop’s questions is the same: “I will and I ask God to help me.”
In reflecting upon the past decade, I’m struck by God’s faithfulness of presence. The compassionate assistance of the Creator has been a constant in my life as a pastor. God always helps (though the assistance doesn't always come in anticipated ways).
I vowed 10 years ago to ask God to help me; I’m still learning to release the temptation to go it alone and instead open my heart and mind to holy encouragement. I suspect this may be a lifelong learning and re-learning for me.
2. God’s strength and compassion make ministry possible. Pastoral ministry isn’t about personal achievement.
The bishop proclaims toward the end of an ordination: “Almighty God, who has given you the will to do these things, graciously give you the strength and compassion to perform them.” Serving as a pastor has taught me repeatedly that it is God’s grace that makes ministry possible — not personal achievement. I’d love to be able to say I’m no longer tempted to prove my worth or seek validation for my ministry efforts, but that wouldn’t be true. I have, however, learned that ministry isn’t about performance or good behavior. It’s about mission; it’s about living as the compassionate hands and heart of Jesus and empowering others to do the same.
3. Joy and bold trust are crucial.
The worship leader, during the rite of ordination, prays that the individual being ordained will carry out ministry with joy and a spirit of bold trust. The realities of pastoral ministry can be exhausting and overwhelming at times. A deep, permeating sense of joy is crucial to healthy ministry. The kind of joy referenced in the ordination rite isn’t about being perky or upbeat; it’s about being completely rooted in the ultimate goodness of God. It isn’t always easy to boldly trust God, and yet it is what we are invited to do. Ten years post-ordination, I am praying as much as ever for an audacious, complete trust in the Great Divine.
4. God calls you. God calls me. Our work is never in vain.
Ministry is something we all share! In the ordination service are the words: “Because all of its baptized members share in Christ's ministry of love and service, the church equips and supports them for their ministries in the world.” Another way of saying this: we’re all called. We all have a vocation of loving both God and neighbor.
I’ve come to realize that sometimes following Jesus is easy and gratifying and other times it’s exhausting and hard. I’m encouraged by the truth that our efforts are never in vain. God’s ways are beyond our ways. We can’t see the full picture. So we press on, and we do so knowing that compassion is never wasted.
It is with abundant thanks that I reflect back on a decade of ordained ministry. It is an honor and privilege to journey with people and congregations through the highs and lows of life. I look forward to all the Spirit of God is sure to reveal in this second decade of ministry!