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Tips for Working in Mutual Ministry

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Suzanne Davis is curating a series highlighting the working relationship between ruling elders and ministers of the Word and Sacrament (or teaching elders). We’ll hear from both individuals and ruling elder/pastor partners reflect on the journey in ministry they’ve had together. How do these two roles – both essential to our polity – share in the work and wonder of the church? What is the “special sauce” that makes this special partnership flourish? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Grace Lindvall, Kim Nims, and Sherese Smith

This is our common calling, to be disciples and servants of our servant Lord. Within the community of the church, some are called to particular service as deacons, as elders, and as ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
– Ordination and installation services for elders and deacons, Book of Occasional Services

Working together as ruling elders and ministers is essential to our identity as Presbyterians; it is also the heart of much joy, collegiality, and growth. The church works its best when we work together as different officers in the church, when we recognize our particular services to the church while keeping our eyes always fixed on our common calling.

Photo of Trinity Presbyterian session from their Facebook page

While the church works its best when we work together in mutual ministry, there are, and have been, and will be bumps along the road. After all, we’re humans working together in relationships that are unlike any other: we’re pastor and parishioner – which can mean muddied waters sometimes. Who is responsible for what? Who has the greater stake in the church? Where are the boundaries supposed to lie? Who holds who accountable? How can we push each other without hurting each other? How do we mix business and pleasure and worship?

Sure, any one of these could prove to be hard – even impossible – hurdles to jump to find healthy working relationships but over the two years we’ve found that it is possible to move through them. And, amazingly, not only is it possible to get past them but the relationship that comes from it can be more than special, and downright sacred.

As we reflected on what works for us, themes kept bubbling to the surface, things we’ve done and learned:

Respecting our individual calls to ordained ministry – ordained lay leaders and ordained ministers

First things first: the most important part of our unique relationship becoming a sacred relationship is our respect of one another’s callings. Blessedly, each of us has had the opportunity to see and be a part of the other’s ordinations or installations. We’ve laid hands on one another in prayer and seen that it is God who has called us all to these unique roles in the church. We respect that one calling is not higher than the other, but that we have been mutually called to serve God and Christ’s church.

Sharing together

Before we are minister or elders or leaders, we are humans. When we meet together we bring our days, weeks, joys, and sadnesses with us. Part of the beauty of this special relationship is that it is special and unique. In what other working relationship do you get to sit down and tell your partners that you are frustrated because of your kids behavior and need advice, gush about a recent engagement, or share that you are stepping down from a working role and seeing where God leads you? Sharing together has become a part of our time together. Before we cut to business, we check in with who we are as humans and who we are as disciples. We share joys with one another, we share grief, we share scripture, we share our faith, we share our doubts, and we share our prayers.

On the topic of sharing, share a meal together – share a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a lunch. Break bread together. We’ve become convinced that our sacred relationship is sacred because of this sharing.

Being willing to be surprised and even wrong

Some of our greatest joys in ministry have come when we found out we were wrong. Some of our biggest successes in ministry have come from what we did not plan. When we come together without agenda of what we want the other to say or the direction we hope the meeting will take, the Holy Spirit shows up and surprises us. It’s amazing what happens when we sit back and watch without agenda, and cling instead only to the hope of the Spirit’s movement in our conversations.

What ways is your sacred relationship between elder and minister shaping your ministry?


Kim Nims is a 59 year old wife, mother of 3, and grandmother of 2. She is a graduate of Columbia College in South Carolina. Formerly, she has served as a piano teacher and as director of music and activities for children and youth in PCUSA churches in Georgia and North Carolina. Kim has recently retired from serving for 14 years as a Teaching Leader and Area Advisor with Bible Study Fellowship International. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. For fun, Kim enjoys walking 1000 miles a year, traveling, and spending time with her family and her dog.

Grace Lindvall serves as Associate Pastor for Mission and Church Growth at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Before arriving in Charlotte Grace graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary where she had the opportunity to learn from wonderful teachers and classmates. She enjoyed the opportunity to serve in different ministry settings ranging from suburban church youth work to immersive Mission experiences in Baltimore and Rwanda. While Grace loves a good “covered dish” at church she also loves to cook, laugh with friends, share stories, and spend time with her fiance, Matt.

Sherese Smith is a 49-year-old wife and mother of 2. She is a graduate of Wake Forest University and received a Masters in the Art of Teaching from Queens University. Formerly she taught school for 5 years in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system, and then worked for 8 years in Human Resources for Bank of America. She currently serves as an elder and co-chair of the Christian Formation Ministry Team. In her spare time, she volunteers at her kids’ schools, plays tennis, walks her dog, Sadie, and shuttles her kids to their after-school sports.

Refusing to Hear

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter

by Angela Williams

“…whose expressions of faith we have refused to hear.”
– The Sarasota Statement

For most of my life, I have refused to hear even my own expression of faith and expression of self. When I was first engaging with the Presbyterian Church at the denominational level, it was as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the 221st General Assembly. In that role, I voted to create marriage equality in the PC(USA), not knowing that my push of the button would affect my own potential future marriage.

Seven months later, I cried out for answers and heard only silence. In that void, I heard God’s response, and it terrified me. My gut already knew who I was, and the Spirit offered no other commentary. I did not seek the silence, but the silence greeted me and reflected my identity as a bisexual cisgender woman. In that long, dark night, I wrestled with God. Of course I supported other people’s expressions of their gender and sexual identities, wherever they may lie on the spectrum, but that did not apply to me.

Art by Jeff Gill via Flickr

It took many months of struggling and bargaining to accept and love this newly unfolding part of me. It was even longer before I decided to share that side of me with the world. While I tiptoed in and out of the closet, only revealing my bisexuality to certain confidants, fear made a home in my gut. This fear was the strongest motivator in hiding my full identity. Fear of the injustice I could face. Fear of rejection. Fear of the church. Fear that I would lose relationships. Fear that this part of me would jeopardize my ordination process. Fear of not finding a job in ministry. Fear that I would not be fully embraced as part of God’s beloved family.

Perhaps fear is why we, the church, have refused to hear some expressions of faith. If we truly listened to the stories of those crying out for justice, then we would be convicted to act. If we looked to the silence, perhaps God would not respond, leaving us to wrestle with our gut instinct that something is not right.

Oh, how we are called to change if we truly seek justice, if we actually offer hospitality, and if we fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family those whom the church has harmed individually and systemically. I imagine that in living out that gut feeling, that Spirit nudging, the church would find it difficult to maintain the status quo. How beautiful would the church be if all were loved, welcomed, and protected, no matter the trauma they have experienced.

Still, that process of transformation must begin with those of us in the dominant culture observing silence. In our silence, may we create space for the marginalized and historically silenced to share their stories of injustice. Then, we in the dominant culture must believe them. The Spirit is in solidarity with those stories and moves within hearts and souls to enact justice in this world. Welcome Her movement into your relationship and gut. Wrestle with Her for a while. Then use your voice and privilege to follow Jesus and stand with and for those who are unjustly marginalized and oppressed.

The Sarasota Statement offers wisdom and rich guidance for the church in 2018. While it is both confessional and aspirational, I find space in it where I can wrestle with my own privilege, as well as feel comforted that I am embraced as part of God’s beloved family. Upon reflection, this document encourages me to seek out silence and listen for other expressions of faith in my self and in others that I have refused to hear. Whose expressions of faith have you refused to hear? How can you start listening for their stories?


Angela Williams is training to be a community organizer and a pastor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and at the University of Texas School of Social Work in Austin, TX. She finds life in experiencing music, listening to podcasts, and exploring creation.

Created in the Image of God

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by Jan Edmiston

My General Assembly travels took me to a consultation in Magnano, Italy in early October to meet with leaders from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant denominations. The discussion focused on the ordination of women – specifically as deacons – which is under consideration now in both Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions. To be clear, the conversation is about studying the ordination of women deacons and not necessarily about ordaining women deacons.

We were diverse in everything from gender to skin color to nationality – as well as theology. I looked around the room and saw some of my clergywomen sheroes and people who would become sheroes.

Photo from Jan’s blog, “A Church for Starving Artists”

I presented a brief talk on the challenges of Reformed denominations in the United States (PCUSA, UCC, RCA) and shared the issue of diversity. As a member of the predominantly white PCUSA and a Mid-Council leader, our challenges – I said –  include the need for more opportunities for women of color.

After I spoke, one of the Orthodox leaders quietly informed me that women are not created in the image of God. (I asked him to repeat himself because I was pretty sure he said that women were not created in the image of God.) He clarified that “men are created in the image of God and women are created in the image of men.”

It was going to be an interesting week.

Theological diversity is tricky. I find myself giving up almost immediately when a Christian sibling informs me that women cannot speak in church or – God forbid – LGBTQ people cannot even be in church. I am tired of having this talk with my more conservative friends. There is too much work to do for us to keep having that conversation. And yet, we need to keep having that conversation in some circles.

In Magnano, we were the most diverse community I’ve worked with in a long time. But in spite of the array of languages, skin colors, and dress, some of us were miles apart theologically. We all love Jesus, but our understanding about whom God calls varies widely.

As a person who had never seen a clergywoman until my first day of seminary, I understand the process of expanding our realization about who could possibly be called to serve in offices of ordained ministry. And it is a process. I’ve come to see that some of us are called to keep moving forward and let those who are still grappling with issues about “ordination standards” continue to grapple in their own timeline. And then there are others of us who are called to sit with those who are not yet with us and patiently, prayerfully continue to have that conversation, modeling the love of Jesus. The hard part is authentically seeing each other with the eyes of Christ.

As for me, I am still able to have those conversations with those who do not yet embrace what I know to be true: that God calls women and our LGBTQ siblings into ordained leadership. But it’s not easy.


Jan Edmiston is Co-Moderator of the 222and General Assembly of the PCUSA. She is a Teaching Elder member of Chicago Presbytery.

Peace, Unity, and Purity Redux: What Theological Diversity Might Look Like Now

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate is curating a series that will reflect experiences of living in diverse community. Over the course of the month, we’ll notice practices that enable diverse communities to thrive and we’ll reflect on the promise of Christ in whom there is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free and what that promise means for our lives today. We invite you to share your own thoughts on Facebook and Twitter

by John Wilkinson

Do you promise to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church?

— W-4.4003 g. Book of Order, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

The year 2001 seems like a very long time ago in so many ways. George W. Bush was president. The top five TV shows were Friends, CSI, ER, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Law and Order. The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl and the Arizona Diamondbacks won the World Series. And there were, of course, the horrific events of September 11, with continuing implications and trajectories.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was a different enterprise then as well. Larger, for one thing. More members and more congregations. (That’s an observation, not a commentary!) It’s much too soon for a historical analysis of that moment, but we can certainly remember it as a time of conflict and contention. We sparred in church courts and on the floors of presbyteries and General Assemblies about theological matters and their polity implications. The issues were twofold: 1. our Christology – our thinking about Jesus Christ; and 2. our understanding of human sexuality as it related to our ordination practices. In each issue were embedded biblical arguments, theological arguments, polity arguments, and views of culture and power.

In the midst of a particularly fractious moment, the 213th General Assembly called for the establishment of a theological task force. Its charge:

“The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church is directed to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and for the 21st century, using a process which includes conferring with synods, presbyteries, and congregations seeking the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This discernment shall include but not be limited to issues of Christology, biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power.

“The task force is to develop a process and an instrument by which congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on and discern the matters that unite and divide us, praying that the Holy Spirit will promote the purity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”

I was privileged to serve on that task force, serving then as one of its younger members, a local church pastor with an interest in church history, and one who had been active in the ordination debate while seeking to build bridges with those who disagreed. Serving on the task force remains a highlight of my ministry, both for the relationships forged and the work we did.

Both our process and our product offered, I hope, something for the church at that point and as it moved forward. People still comment to me very positively about our work. I am grateful for that. We took relationship building seriously. We prayed and worshiped together continually. We engaged in extensive Bible study. We discerned – holy cow did we discern! All of that mattered greatly. (In fact, when people point to our experience, I remind them that any group can do that – pray, worship, study, and, in fact, it’s easier to do in geographic proximity over a period of time than flying to Dallas every so often!)

We produced a report – adopted unanimously – that recommended several ways for congregations and presbyteries to renew their covenantal partnerships. All of those were widely embraced. We also recommended a new authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order. In shorthand that was called “local option,” but it really sought to reaffirm the duties of sessions and presbyteries to apply ordination stands in particular settings. I like to remember that there were members of the theological task force supportive of and opposed to new ordination practices, yet all of us supported that recommendation. It passed as well at the 2006 G.A., but with a divided house following rigorous debate. (Here’s our report.)

It is now sixteen years after our work began and eleven years since we issued our final report. Much has changed. Ordination and now marriage seem to be settled matters. The most recent General Assembly offered very little debate on the issues around which the task force gathered. Many congregations have departed our denominational family with perhaps more in the pipeline. The culture is at a different place as well, though what had felt like a consensus also feels like it is perched on an uneven surface.

Part of our work as task force members was to itinerate across the denomination, visiting presbyteries, synods and congregations, and sharing our report. It was a great privilege and a wonderful learning opportunity. People of all stripes showed up, and regardless of what they felt about the report, and in particular recommendation #5. I could tell how much passion and energy and love they had for their church. That hasn’t changed, even though the forms and faces have.

I remember one visit in a particular, which pivots to the point of this blog entry. It was in a neighboring presbytery from where I live, so I could make the drive and back in one day. After my presentation and an extensive Q and A period, a minister approached me, in his 40’s or so. He expressed appreciation for my presence and for the work of the task force. Then he said this to me: “You know, I am a conservative pastor serving in a conservative congregation in a largely progressive presbytery. I know I will be on the losing side of most votes we take. I can live with that. What I really want to know is whether there is a place for me in this presbytery, and is there a place for my congregation?”

Is there a place for me? Is there a place for us?

I told him that I certainly hope so, that our report sought to make space for those who disagree. But I also acknowledged that no report, no Book of Order provision, could guarantee that deeper response. Only the quality of relationships and the spirit with which our polity is engaged in any one context can establish that place, can make that space.

Is there a place for me? Is there a place for us? Those questions abide.

We are in a very different place as a church and as a culture, very different in so many ways. I pray, in our congregations and in our presbyteries, that we can find a place for those who disagree with us on important theological matters. “Agreeing to disagree” is the shorthand way of affirming a core Presbyterian principle, engrossed even in our ordination vows. How we do that in congregations and how we do that in presbyteries, in all of our relationships as Presbyterian followers of Jesus – in 2017 and beyond – will go a very long way to ensuring our health and vitality and position us for renewal and service.

Eleven years ago, the Theological Task Force concluded its report with these words: “To be one is not to say that we will be the same, that we will all agree, that there will be no conflict, but as the church listens to Jesus pray, all its members are reminded that the quality of our life together – our ability to make visible the unique relationship that is ours in Jesus Christ – is compelling testimony to the truth and power of the gospel we proclaim.”

That affirmation makes theological diversity as a manifestation of unity not just a good idea, but a confessional mandate. How we make it visible and real in 2017 is a challenge whose daunting nature is only surpassed by the graceful possibility of the opportunity.


John Wilkinson is pastor of Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY. He has been active on the presbytery and national levels, including on the Strategy Team for NEXT Church, and loves our connectional culture and confessional legacy.

2017 National Gathering Ignite: Lee Hinson-Hasty

Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of Theological Education Funds Development at the Presbyterian Foundation, gives an Ignite presentation on the future of theological education and clergy at the 2017 NEXT Church National Gathering.

Make Ready for Use

By Jessica Tate

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I was installed into my first pastoral position seven years ago this month. During the sermon at the installation service, Frances Taylor Gench humorously suggested we install pastors the same way we install appliances. We “fix them into position” or “make them ready for use.”  That is exactly what we were doing at the installation of a pastor, she said.

 

As I think about the path of ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), there’s much demanded of candidates to make them ready for use. Our church requires:

  • seminary education
  • psychological exams
  • continual discernment on the part of the candidate
  • validation by a candidate’s “home” church and presbytery
  • internships
  • written and oral statements and conversation with a Committee on Preparation for Ministry
  • ordination exams
  • a lengthy process of discerning a sense of call to a particular place—and hoping the nominating committee shares that sense of call
  • examination by the ordaining/installing presbytery

After that, a pastor is installed—we are made ready for use.

And then, at least in my experience, comes the hard part. We actually have to pastor a congregation.

It is a wonderful calling. It is grace-filled, transformative, and an immense privilege.

It is also hard.
To faithfully proclaim good news every week.
To navigate church conflicts and budgets and committees.
To learn a 24/7 rhythm and care for oneself in the midst of it.
To carry the emotional weight of the deepest parts of peoples’ lives—both the joyous and the jagged.

Many of us don’t survive the transition well.

According to Into Action: From Seminary to Ministry (which is a great online resource for new pastors), a recent study of PC(USA) pastors suggested that within five years of ordination, 22.5% of newly ordained pastors “had no valid call” or “were no longer ordained ministers in the PC(USA).” These categories include people who have retired, been defrocked, switched denominations, were unemployed, taking a break for personal reasons, as well as those who had chosen to permanently leave congregational ministry.

As best I can tell, these statistics are in line with other denominations and professional vocations, such as doctors and lawyers. Making the move from preparation to living out vocation is a hard transition.

Personally, I don’t know what I would have done in my first years of ministry if I didn’t have wonderful resources to call upon:

  • My father, who is a pastor, and who I could call at any hour, day or night, to say, “what do you do when a church preschool teacher commits suicide?” or the more mundane, “what resources do you have for stewardship?”
  • Mentors and seminary professors who were willing to puzzle through things with me. “Help me think about this conflict we’re dealing with in this committee.”
  • A wonderful colleague, Henry Brinton, the Head of Staff who patiently and gently guided me, supported me, and gave me plenty of space to stretch my wings.
  • Two peer groups I quickly joined—one locally that meets twice a month for spiritual practice, support, and accountability and one that meets annually to work on lectionary texts for preaching (and shares ideas the rest of the year via email.)
  • Community organizers who pushed me to grow as a leader and gave me the skills to become a better leader.
  • A cadre of spiritual directors, therapists and coaches to whom I turn periodically when I’m stuck or running on empty.

It was (and continues to be) this whole constellation that has enabled me to grow into my pastoral identity and practice. Most healthy pastors I know (regardless of how long they’ve been in ministry) have such a constellation. They’ve sought out these supports on their own and they’ve been given opportunities to be formed in pastoral identity and practice. This October, NEXT Church is highlighting passionate leaders within our denomination who are committed to equipping and supporting new pastors, alongside those up-and-coming leaders with whom they have connected or mentored. We’re trying to show some of the shape of the constellation in hopes that more and more of us will find and put together the networks we need to live into our calling in life-giving, gospel-proclaiming ways.

During the sermon on the occasion of my installation, Frances Taylor Gench referred back to the risen Lord’s command to his followers in the last scene of Matthew’s gospel: to make disciples of all nations. Our operating instructions, once we’ve been made ready for use, she said, is to make disciples, to disciple-ize. It is arduous work, she said, requiring stick-to-itiveness and endless repetition. “It means taking your time with people — bringing them along — working carefully with each other over a long period of time in the educative process of teaching and learning the pattern of life embodied and empowered by Jesus.”

This month, I honor the anniversary of my ordination. I am grateful for all those who taught me and continue to teach me how to disciple-ize, how to stick with it when it is hard, and find joy in the midst of this calling.  And I am hopeful for all those who are “made ready for use” and the ways in which we support them, form them, and are led by them.

Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church.

Wander with Human Heart

By Ken Kovacs

Author’s Note: At a recent Service of Ordination for my friend Erin Counihan, I was asked to give the charge to the pastor. Erin graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in May and has a received a call from the Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO. While the charge was written with her in mind, spoken to her, I was struck by the way it resonated with many others at the service, particularly the other pastor-types.  And so, with Erin’s permission, this is for anyone trying to discern God’s call for his or her life. To be baptized is to be called.

From a Service of Ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament
Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church, Dickeyville, Baltimore, MD

 6th July 2014

Erin, as you know, everything that we’re about here this afternoon is not about you. Your ordination, this worship service…it’s not really about you. We are here celebrating God’s call in your life, the acknowledgement of that call, the journey that led to this place and time: called, led, and guided by the Holy Spirit. We are here to witness, to say that God is still calling God’s people to preach, to teach, to love, and to serve. All that we’re doing here today is not really about you. It’s what God has done and is doing and will continue to do in you and through you.

And yet, if it weren’t for you—your connection to Dickey Memorial, to Baltimore Presbytery, to Princeton Seminary, your connection to your particular family and to this gathering of friends—if we didn’t know you, we wouldn’t be here today, but somewhere else on this holiday weekend. While it’s not ultimately about you, at some deep level it’s all about you—all of you.

Who you are matters, matters ultimately to God. God’s call is never made in general; it’s always particular. I remember professor J. Christiaan Beker, at Princeton Seminary, saying, “God’s Word is always a Word on target.” It’s pointed. Directed. While there’s a general or common calling for humanity to serve God, our particular sense of vocation, what we individually feel summoned by God to do, is never directed to something or someone “in general.”

God has called you. And it’s to you—all of you, who you really, authentically are. All of you—not just the Master of Divinity part of you, not just the PresbyGeek part of you, not just the “religious” or “Christian” or spiritual part of you. God summons all of you, the totality of your being, both spirit and body, both who you think you are, consciously, as well as the part of you that is unconscious, unknown to you but known to God, and still part of you. God’s call is to all of you.

Why is all of this important? Because in ministry it’s so easy to lose your soul. It’s so easy to lose yourself—and not in a good way. Far too many ministers meld their identities with their public roles or personas, and then they begin to believe they are their personas (the masks they present to the world), which is deadly for ministry—both for the minister and for the church. That’s how you lose your soul.

Far too many ministers conflate their identities with the congregations they serve; some begin to think they are their congregations, which is also deadly for ministry—both for the minister and for the church. That’s how you lose your soul.

installationI charge you, Erin, to remember your baptismal identity, remember who you are, who you really are, in the eyes of your Lord. Don’t let the church tell you—the church doesn’t know who you are and it has no authority to do so. Don’t let the pastor persona tell you who you are. We all have personas, but wear yours lightly. Hold on to and preserve those parts that are uniquely you. The Spirit hasn’t called you to live out a persona, but to live from the deepest core of who you are, to bring your experience to your call—everything. Your history, your experiences of ecstatic joy and love and the deepest, rawest pain in your heart and soul and body—all that you are, use your unique and particular perception of reality and then bring it all to bear upon the way you tell the story of God’s love.

That’s what God wants from you. That’s what God calls forth from within you. Not just for you—but for the world. Your life then becomes part of the ongoing incarnation of the Divine Logos—not only your life, but also the life of every soul in the cosmos. English mystic Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) asked, “But for I am a woman, should I therefore live that I should not tell you the goodness of God?”[1]  The answer? Of course not. You must tell. You—Erin.

Julian also said, “The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”[2] You, Erin, are one who lives gladly—for this, too, is part of who you are. Don’t allow the church to make you too serious. (This from someone who is probably too serious.) The great theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) once said, “It is not wise to be too serious.”[3] (Sounds odd coming from someone like Barth, but he knew how to be playful.)

Be sure to save your silly side, the part that doesn’t take yourself or others too seriously, the part that can laugh and smile and take delight in silly things. You need a sense of humor in ministry. I have a friend who often says, “God is hilarious.” God is. You have to have a sense of humor in ministry, because, in case you haven’t heard, there are a lot of silly things that go on in the life of the church. Some days all you’ll want to do is cry. But sometimes all you can do is laugh. The ability to laugh, the presence of laughter are signs of health, for individuals, for pastors, for churches. The evangelical writer Steve Brown is on to something when he says, “If there is no laughter, Jesus has gone somewhere else. If there is no joy and freedom, it is not a church: it is simply a crowd of melancholy people basking in a religious neurosis.”[4]

When you remember that God’s call is not to only a part of you, but to all of you, you will trust and cherish your experience and from your own experience reach out to the world in love. Honoring your experience—what God has done and is doing through your life—will help you honor what God is doing in the lives of the people you serve. They, too, will come to honor their lives—and that is an extraordinary gift to offer someone! To help someone recognize, honor, cherish, celebrate what God is doing in and through one’s life—that’s is an amazing gift to give someone.

The brilliant psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), whom I read a lot these days, child of a Reformed minister, a child of the manse, once gave this advice to anyone thinking about being a psychiatrist. There are striking parallels here to what it means to be a minister, a minister who’s not afraid to search for God in the depths of human experience. Writing in 1916, Jung said:

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology.  [One] would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away [the] scholar’s gown, bid farewell to [one’s] study, and wander with human heart through the world.  There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-halls, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in [one’s] own body, s/he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give…, and [she] will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.[5]

Sounds a lot like Jesus, doesn’t it? You will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul. There was a time when ministers were known first as physicians of the soul. In order to do that, you have to know yourself, you have to know who you are and whose you are.

I charge you, Erin, to “wander with human heart through [God’s] world,” to draw from the depths of your experience as you help, by God’s grace, heal the wounds of God’s people and offer hope.

 

Ken KovacsKen Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, MD. He has served churches in New Jersey and Scotland and is the author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (2011).  He blogs at On the Way.

 

 

 


 

[1] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter vi.

[2] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love.

[3] Karl Barth, Table Talk, ed. John D. Godsey (Edinburgh, 1963), 16-17.

[4] Steve Brown, Approaching God: Accepting the Invitation to Stand in the Presence of God (New York: Howard Books, 2008), 198.

[5]Carl Jung, “New Paths in Psychology,” The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 7, para. 409 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953).