William B. Kincaid: Three words for your ministry
Clarity, agility, proximity -- the director of field education at Christian Theological Seminary offers these words to a pastor beginning her ministry.
September 25, 2012 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. This sermon was preached at the ordination of Jane A. Stanley on Aug. 12, 2012, at Greenfield Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greenfield, Ind.
Well, Jane, you made it. You kept before you a calling, you persevered through challenges, you engaged both your seminary studies and the ordination process, and you made it. And when I say you made it, what I mean, of course, is that you made it to another beginning.
To this point, everyone from family members to professors to pastors to members of congregations to strangers on the street have offered you words for your ministry -- exegesis, administration, salvation, ecclesiology, wisdom, self-care, context, authenticity, spirituality, and a whole host of others. I bet that if you stopped to think about all the words you have been given over the last few years, you would wonder how you have found room for them all.
I don’t have to tell you that in your next ministry setting, people there will be eager to give you more words. They will be stopping by all the time, calling you, emailing you, texting and tweeting you, with more words for your ministry -- budget, visitation, hymns, staff, plumbing, intensive care, baptism, divorce, just to name a few.
That’s why I really wanted to give you something different on this great day, something other than what you already have too many of, but the more time I spent with this story from Luke 9, the more certain words emerged. So, as unoriginal as the gift is, count these words as a present given in prayer and appreciation for the journey thus far and for the ministry that lies ahead.
But first, because we just might hear this reading differently on a day like today and in a time such as this, let’s note a couple of things about the story itself. Doing so may help us see why I am giving you these words instead of others.
The first is the reminder that we are followers of Jesus before we are leaders in Christ’s church. We are Christian before we are clergy, and then, hopefully, while we are clergy.
You are being ordained today in the congregation where you were baptized. That is special indeed. It may also prove helpful. There may be moments in your ministry when your ordination will get out ahead of your baptism, when the call to pastoral leadership will skew and even subvert your first commitment of following Jesus. You will know if that happens. Your priorities won’t be as clear, your ministry will feel more like middle management, and you will not have a sufficient interior, spiritual life to support the exterior pastoral life.
If that time comes, then circle back around. Get back in touch with what it means to be a follower of Jesus first, a learner of the Way, so that you can remember and reclaim what drew you to ministry in the first place. You might even want to come back to this sanctuary if such a dry and confusing stretch presents itself, but if you do, don’t pick the place where you will kneel today -- at least not at first. Go instead to a favorite pew and allow the songs of faith to reverberate within you. Or make your way to a Sunday school room where the old, old story always catches you off guard with its newness. Or go stand with the faithful in the fellowship hall and feel the love of God in every handshake and every hug. Or go lean against the side of the baptistery and run your fingers through the life-giving water.
We are followers in the Way so that others can see the Way in us, and if they see the Way in us, they may well be receptive to what we have discovered and experienced. They may even be open to allowing us to show them the Way on occasion.
The second thing that stands out in this passage is that, for all the mind-boggling differences between the world of first-century Palestine and our world, you are being ordained at a time when the church in this country has a better appreciation of the margins on which those early disciples lived.
The early disciples did not occupy places of prestige, power or privilege. They were on the margins of the religious and political landscape of the day. As incredibly difficult as that life was in many respects, it also meant that they were freer. They were not being propped up by the Roman Empire, at least not yet. They weren’t the mouthpieces of the local policymakers.
Even though many churches today are still located at the center of cities and towns, most of the church in this country does not enjoy the social prominence that it once did. It may be that we are paying the price for having become too comfortable at the center, too indistinguishable from the other players at the center of a community.