An idea struck me earlier this week- perhaps it would be fun to share a post for graduates, or soon to be graduates. Since I have a special connection with many in the graduating class from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota this year, my thoughts are going to be directed to them. But perhaps these would be appropriate to other graduates? If there is interest, or this proves to be a fun exercise, I may do some more of these in the future. But for now, enjoy this message.
To the Luther Seminary, Class of 2014: Grace and peace be with you!
This chapter of seminary training, imagining, dreaming, learning, and being challenged is coming to a close. But in reality its just the beginning of a new chapter in your lives and in the life of the church. It’s been clear to me, in growing in relationship with you, learning with you, and thinking with you, that the Holy Spirit is up to something. God is up to something. I am not exactly sure what that is, but I do have hope, in part because of what I sense is going on with all of you and the way you have been led to this point and called into various different kinds of ministry in the world.
To this end, I have six thoughts that I want you to contemplate.
1) You aren’t called to save the world
You might feel a nudge to make the world a better place. It might have had something to do with why you came to Luther Seminary. I know the feeling, I share it. But it is important to remember that you aren’t called to save the world. That happened about 2,000 years ago anyway through the work of God and God’s son, Jesus. Remember that as you preside over communion in worship.
Too often I have seen ministry leaders who put the weight of the world on their shoulders. I understand the impulse, but its not healthy. It’s not good for you, your families, your future congregations or whatever ministry organizations or communities you may serve.
2) You aren’t called to save your congregations
Along the same lines as the previous thought, you are also not called to save a congregation. This is not your work and calling. This sort of mindset is couched in Christendom. Today, in reality as Rev. Dr. Mary Sue Dreier may have taught many of you, “Every call and congregation is a redevelopment one.” This can lead some people to put the weight of their community and congregation on their shoulders. By doing this though, we can forget to ask the question, “What is God up to here?” It’s not always going to be the same answer.
Some times, a church building may need to close because a community no longer exists. Some times, a congregation may need to move to a new facility, because it has outgrown its past facility. Demographics change, and you can’t control this. What you can do, is speak and share the gospel in Word and Deed, showing love and grace, and pointing to what God might be up to in the midst of the community and larger world.
3) You aren’t called to be everything
Most congregations expect you to be: CEO, CFO, COO, Pastor, Confidant, Community Advocate, and…etc. This is a common expectation. You can give into it, but consider saying, “No.” Consider saying that you have particular gifts and that you will live into those gifts and strengths and help discern and find others in your communities and faith communities who have gifts who can help in these different areas that you may not have gifts in.
This really depends upon you though being courageous enough to say what your gifts are, and what they are not, and to be honest about what you can and cannot do. Leaders who are honest about this, are authentic and respected. Leaders who do more than they can realistically do, get burned out. But not just this, these faith communities who have leaders who do everything miss great opportunities to grow into their fullest sense of calling and service themselves.
4) You are called to work and serve alongside
Building off of the last thought, you are called to accompany your communities of faith. This means that you will serve and lead alongside those in your communities. You will teach, but you will also learn from them and learn with them. You will help people see their gifts, and encourage them to grow into their gifts and sense of ministry and vocations. Together, you will do the work and ministry of the church in a multitude of communities and a plethora of new ways.
5) You are called to be honest about yourself and to help others see what God might be up to
This builds off of the previous thoughts. By being honest, you are called to be authentic. Don’t change your voice when you preach, don’t alter the way you talk when you step into a pulpit (if you do so). Be who God created you to be. But also, in being honest about who you are, your congregations and people you serve and ministry with will not only appreciate that, they will be more apt to be honest about who they are. This community honesty will help in the constant discernment process of thinking, dreaming, reading and teaching the Word of God, wondering, questioning and sensing what God might be up to and where God might be leading you and your larger communities.
6) You are called to join with others in doing God’s work and helping others do it
Remember this, you are part of a beautifully large and diverse Body of Christ. Each part of the body has important callings, roles, gifts, strengths, passions, and talents. When you are living into yours, and helping others lean into theirs, the Body I believe can be a truly collaborative community of disciples, leaders and servants.
May God bless you this day, and every day. And may you have the encouragement and peace that passes all understanding, and serve and share in the knowledge of the joy and love of the resurrection. Amen.
These were just a few thoughts on my mind as I think about what it looks like to be a ministry leader today. What thoughts might you add?