I Don’t Have to Survive!

Yesterday, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to end so-called “guaranteed appointments” for ordained pastors. Read more in this article at ministrymatters.com.

Guaranteed appointments for ordained pastors began more than fifty years ago to protect the appointments of women and minority pastors. Today, the concern about guaranteed appointments is that it limits denominational leaders’ ability to deal with ineffective clergy.

The loss of guaranteed appointment doesn’t seem like much of a loss for us, personally. Joleen and I have been United Methodist pastors for 14 years. But since we were only ordained last year, the first 13 of those years were without a guarantee.

As guaranteed appointments for ordained pastors comes to an end, I am reminded of a chapter I read in the early 1990s in a motivational book by John Maxwell, Be All You Can Be (reprinted in 2007). The title of the chapter is, “I don’t have to survive!”

Of course, as Maxwell notes, survival is a strong, natural desire for all of us. If we’re not careful, the drive to survive can keep us from taking risks. Removing the safety net adds a certain amount of risk. But with the risk, why not have the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!”?

A guaranteed appointment provided ordained pastors with a sense of security. Maxwell discusses the “security problem” (page numbers are from the 1987 printing) …

Insecure people are survivors; they are not willing to take risks. … The person who doesn’t have to survive says, ‘Here I stand; I can do nothing else. It’s God and nothing else.’ (158)

“I don’t have to survive!” is an attitude. Maxwell describes people with this attitude in four ways …

  1. They have faith in God, not in themselves.
  2. They change people, nations, and generations.
  3. They are willing to stand alone.
  4. They possess unusual powers (i.e., spiritual power).

A few days ago on Twitter, Interpreter magazine asked, “Will threat of guaranteed appointment loss for elders dampen prophetic preaching?” I don’t think it’ll be much of an issue for people whose attitude is, “I don’t have to survive!”

People who don’t have to survive don’t “play the game.” One of the most impacting phrases from my D.Min. program at Asbury came during a class on the Transformation of the Church, taught by Drs. Jim and Molly Scott: “Don’t play the game!” There’s always a temptation to play the game—to live safely, stay out of trouble, and climb the ladder. Without a safety net, the temptation to play the game could be even stronger. But “playing the game” is what people who are interested in security do. People with the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!” don’t play the game!

Now, job security is nice, of course. But I hope my commitment to God is stronger than my need for security.

Maxwell concludes his chapter on willingness to die for what you believe in. He tells the story of Joan of Arc. Just before she was burned at the stake at the age of 19, she was given the chance to recant. Instead, she said …

Every man gives his life for what he believes, and every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing. One life is all we have; we live it and it’s gone. But … to live without belief is more terrible than dying, even more terrible than dying young.

Ending guaranteed appointment for ordained pastors removes the safety net and forces pastors to choose between security and risk. Let’s choose to be risk-takers. Let’s not play the game. Now, more than ever, the church needs courageous leaders. Let’s live with the attitude, “I don’t have to survive!”

Life Beyond the Process

A few weeks ago, we completed a long journey when we were ordained in the UMC. Now that we’ve had some time for it to sink in, we can start thinking about life beyond “the process” (i.e., the ordination process).

For many years, the process has been such a central part of our lives. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like without it.

The one thing both Joleen and I have noticed about the last few weeks is that it feels like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders. It feels lighter. Certainly, there will be other things that will fill the vacuum (both of our churches are beginning Matthew 28 Initiatives this year, which will, no doubt, be difficult, at times), but there is something special about being ordained.

Through ordination, the church recognizes gifts in our lives for leadership and ministry. The bishop and others laid hands on us and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out on us for the office and work of an elder in the UMC. We were given new authority to preach the Word of God and to administer the sacraments.

Yesterday, West Side and Centre Grove UMC hosted an ordination celebration dinner in our honor. It was a wonderful time of pausing and celebrating what God has done for us and through this process.

As we move forward in life beyond the (ordination) process, may God continue to guide us and use us to lead churches toward greater vitality and fruitfulness for God’s kingdom!

Doing Life Together

Joleen and I met in 1992. We were both students at the Church of God Theological Seminary, following God and preparing for God’s call on our lives. We began dating at the end of 1992 and were married in January 1994.

Before we committed to marriage, though, we talked about what it would look like for us to both be in full-time ministry (we grew up with few, if any, clergy couple models). We graduated in 1995 (see photo below), a year and a half into our marriage, but not before co-writing our Master’s thesis on husband and wife co-pastoring, “Covenanted Together in Marriage and Ministry” (by the way, this project focused on Priscilla and Aquila; see our post on Priscilla and Aquila, which tells a little more about our story and includes the chapter on this biblical clergy couple).

We transitioned to the UMC in 1998, seeking a better denominational fit, including one that ordains women. We began co-pastoring (part-time) one, then two, small rural churches while beginning work on the long ordination process.

We hit a wall in 2003, which would add five years to the ordination process. During this delay, we began D.Min. programs at Asbury Theological Seminary in late 2003. In January 2004, we spent our first week on campus. Ironically, we celebrated our tenth anniversary that week (fellow students helped us celebrate with a cake in class that morning). At the time, it somehow seemed appropriate that we return to a seminary campus to celebrate our tenth anniversary!

After four and a half years of hard work, we graduated in 2008 (see photo below).

After we graduated from Asbury, we picked up where we left off six years before with the ordination process. We were commissioned together in 2009, and just over a week ago, we were both ordained (a year earlier than originally expected thanks to a change in the process at the 2008 General Conference).

We don’t know what the future holds, of course, but up to this point, we have lived out (with God’s help!) our covenant to be together in marriage and ministry!

Double Portion

In the days and weeks leading up to last Saturday’s Ordination Service, I prayed for a “double portion” of God’s Spirit (a reference to Elisha’s request at the anticipated exit of Elijah). It’s also a play on words, a celebration of the fact that both of us were ordained!

Last Saturday, we were ordained elders in The United Methodist Church. It’s something that we looked forward to for a very long time, but once it finally came, it flew by. Both Joleen and I described the week of annual conference as a blur. (For more on our journey, see Becoming Provisional Elders and Our Journey Toward Ordination.)

The Ordination Service itself was kind of surreal—we were aware of what was happening, and yet it was hard to take it all in, particularly, kneeling before the bishop, the laying on of hands by the bishop and other elders, and the placing of a stole around our necks.

Thanks to Stacy Eckert, from Connectional Ministries, for the photos below. Thanks to all who have had a hand in helping us reach this point. And thanks be to God!

On the Eve of Ordination

We are at annual conference this week. It’s an annual conference that will forever be engraved on our hearts and minds. It began Wednesday morning and will conclude tomorrow afternoon with the Ordination Service where we both will be ordained along with several others.

I had hoped to blog during annual conference, but this has been a very busy experience. Annual conference is normally busy (especially with the kids, transporting them back and forth from meals to childcare), but it’s extra busy this year due of ordination.

We began Wednesday morning in the Clergy Session where we were formally elected to full membership as elders (the last official step prior to ordination). Thursday evening, we celebrated this point in our lives with a special dinner with Bishop Middleton and the Board of Ordained Ministry (for those being ordained and for those who are retiring). After dinner, we continued our journey toward ordination in the Celebration of Ministry service, in which we answered the historic questions.

Tonight, after the evening session, we had a brief rehearsal for the Ordination Service. Tomorrow, the Ordination Service will begin at 2:30 p.m. (with the clergy procession beginning at 2:15 p.m.). You may be able to watch the ordination service live from the conference website (see previous post for details), barring technical difficulties.

Finally, one of the highlights of the last few days has been the affirmation, encouragement, and congratulations of friends and colleagues here at annual conference. As we prepare for tomorrow’s Ordination Service, my prayer is for a fresh anointing by the Holy Spirit on my life as a transformational leader in the church!

Well, we will process and report more later—sometime after the Ordination Service and sometime after we’ve had a chance to catch our breath. For now, we are looking forward to what God will do in us tomorrow afternoon!

Thanks be to God!

Journeys & Destinations

Over the weekend, I remembered that after this Saturday’s ordination service, we will receive a certificate stating that we are ordained elders in the UMC. It made me wonder where our other official certificates/diplomas (mainly, academics degrees) are. What I found struck me as kind of funny.

Our M.Div. diplomas remain in envelopes hidden in the back of a spare bedroom/library closet (mainly because they’re huge). In the same closet, I found my Bachelor’s diploma, as well as both of our D.Min. diplomas, in the envelopes in which they were mailed to us in 2008. My envelope had been opened, but Joleen’s envelope still hasn’t been opened.

Well, maybe we’ll hang them on a wall someday. But I’ve always said, when it comes to education, the journey is at least as important as the destination.

That was true in academic programs. That’s also true in this ordination journey that will be completed this week. On Saturday, we complete a major chapter in our lives. We’ll enjoy the destination. The destination will make the journey worth it. But in the end, it was the journey that shaped us!

Live Streaming Annual Conference

We learned today that some of next week’s sessions of annual conference will stream live from the conference website, a first for our conference!

Annual conference begins Wednesday, June 8 and goes through Saturday, June 11. Of special note for us is that the Ordination service will stream live! Ordinands will also be involved in the Thursday evening Celebration of Ministry service where we will be asked the historic questions (see also The Historic Questions 2.0).

We encourage you (especially leaders) to watch Adam Hamilton’s sessions Friday afternoon, Friday evening, and Saturday morning. We attended the Leadership Institute that Adam Hamilton leads at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, in 2008 (see Leadership Institute, Here We Come, Leadership Institute Has Begun, and Takeaways from Leadership Institute). Adam is hoping for a “leadership revival.”

Here’s the complete streaming schedule

Opening Celebration, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – 2:00 p.m. (with keynote address by Bishop Middleton)
Memorial Service – Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – 7:00 p.m. (Sermon by Rev. Beth Jones)
Concert – WatersEdge – Wednesday, June 8, 2011 – 9:30 p.m. (time is approximate)

Morning Bible Study – Rev. Greg Johnson, Thursday, June 9, 2011 – 8:15 a.m.
Celebration of Ministry – Thursday, June 9, 2011 – 7:00 p.m.

Morning Bible Study – Rev. Dr. Pam Ford, Friday, June 10, 2011 – 8:15 a.m.
Adam Hamilton – Session One – Friday, June 10, 2011 – 2:45 p.m.
Adam Hamilton – Session Two – Friday, June 10, 2011 – 7:00 p.m.

Adam Hamilton – Session Three – Saturday, Friday, June 11, 2011 – 8:30 a.m.
Clergy Processional for Ordination – Saturday, June 11, 2011 – 2:15 p.m.
Ordination – Saturday June 11, 2011 – 2:30 p.m.

While we’d love for all of our family, friends, and parishioners to be able to attend the ordination service, we know that’s not possible. If you can’t attend, we encourage you to watch it online.

And check in here over the course of the next week for thoughts and reflections as we take our final steps toward ordination!

Take Authority

Over the last few months, I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the historical questions that those being ordained have been asked since 1784 in the American Methodist church (see Wesley’s Historic Questions and The Historic Questions 2.0). Today, I spent some time reading through the liturgy for the ordination of elders as printed in The United Methodist Book of Worship, which we will experience one week from Saturday.

Following the laying on of hands by the Bishop and other elders, and after the ordinand is handed a Bible, the Bishop places a stole around the neck of the newly ordained elder and says …

… take authority as an elder in the Church to preach the Word of God, and to administer the Holy Sacraments in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

“Take authority as an elder in the Church.”

Take authority.

Authority is something leaders today tend to shy away from. Perhaps it’s because some leaders in the past were more authoritarian than authoritative. Authoritarian leaders demand (or at least, expect) authority while authoritative leaders view authority as a gift to steward.

While authority may be downplayed in today’s culture, it is important in the church. Jesus was recognized as one having authority. The Gospel of Matthew notes …

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts. (Matthew 7.28-29, CEB).

There was something about Jesus’ teaching. There was something about Jesus. I think it was his intimacy with God the Father—his firsthand knowledge of God—that produced his sense of authority. It was also his attitude. Jesus was among us as one who came to serve, not to be served (see Mark 10.45). The call is a gift and a responsibility, not a perk.

No doubt, taking authority as an elder in the church requires courage and assertiveness. But more than that, it’s a call to intimacy with God, who grants the gift of authority for leadership in the Church.

That’s a Wrap!

As I mentioned in my recent post, 30 Days Till Ordination, we had two final requirements for ordination to complete: 1) a retreat with the Bishop for those being commissioned or ordained, and 2) one last session with our regional Learning Covenant Group. We completed both of these requirements within the past week!

Last week, we attended the overnight retreat with Bishop Middleton. The retreat took place at Mount Asbury Retreat Center. We were there with the group to be commissioned two years ago.

It was a nice, meaningful, celebratory 24-hour period. It was good to hang out with others who are on the journey—eleven for ordination, six for commissioning.

We were given some details about ordination-related activities at annual conference, what it means to be part of a covenant (particularly as part of the Order of Elders), and on Thursday evening, each of us told the story of our call to ministry in a 4-minute nutshell. We’ve had lots of practice telling our stories over the years (although it never seems to be told the same way twice)!

Yesterday, we attended our third/final meeting with our regional Learning Covenant Group. Future groups will meet eight times over two years, but since this was a new requirement this past year, we only got to participate in a group for one year. Even though our experience was limited, it was a good experience!

Well, we can finally say that our work for ordination is all done. Now we wait for annual conference to begin in less than two weeks!

Thanks be to God!

What Happens at Ordination?

We have been thinking about ordination for a long time, of course, but recently, I’ve been pondering what happens at ordination, spiritually (see Theology of Ordination for more reflection on the meaning of ordination).

Practically speaking, ordination will take place at the Service of Commissioning and Ordination, the final service of annual conference, which meets at Messiah College, June 8-11. The ordination service will begin at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2011.

This year, eleven men and women will be ordained—ten elders, one deacon. The service is lengthy, at least two hours. Toward the end of the service, those to be ordained will be invited to come forward and kneel, one at a time. The bishop and other leaders will gather around, pray, and lay hands on the ordinand. Then the bishop will place a stole on the ordinand.

Ordination is the church’s recognition of one’s gifts and calling to ordained ministry. But I am praying that it will be more than just a symbolic act. I’ve been saying to God that I want ordination to be more than just another level we reach, another “notch on our gun,” an item to add to our résumé (or About page), a title we receive (“elder”), something we check off our to-do list.

The question I’ve been pondering is, what will God do at our ordination?

A few days before ordination, we will post our prayer(s) for ordination, what we’re asking God to do in our lives, particularly at ordination, which is now less than three weeks away!