Towards Approval (and answering a kind man’s question)

Can you believe it’s already July? The summer has been flying by, and this week has been a full one. I’m excited because I was able to finish and submit my approval essay, rostered leader profile, and a few other required forms. The sense of joy and thankfulness for being done, is high. I appreciated the questions and wrestling involved in the essay and forms, but it was a lot to do while my wife is during her chaplaincy (CPE) and I’m working in multiple roles.

Essay and forms for approval and assignment
Essay and forms for approval and assignment

In the midst of all of this I have been preparing for Allison’s and my upcoming move and working as part of intentional transitions with my current congregational role that I will be leaving in about a month. I have also been doing some serious thinking about a kind man who asked me an innocent but important question that I have been asked many times before. He asked, “Why aren’t you going to be a pastor?

I gave him an answer, though I can’t quite remember what I said. As the past few weeks have gone on though, I have become more uncomfortable with my answer to him. I don’t feel like it was very good and I feel like I was perhaps avoiding the question some because I have heard it so many times before.

Well, today, I want to answer this gentlemen’s question by sharing a portion of my approval essay with you. The approval essay within the candidacy process of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is a document that has the candidate respond to a number of questions about their preparation for being a leader. This document is then shared with their committee and discussed in one of the last formal parts of the process before being assigned and potentially called into formal ministry. (Note- This year’s questions all dealt in some way with the idea of being a “missional leader.”)

Sir, if you are out there, here’s why I am not currently going to be a pastor, but more pointedly, why I feel called into ministry, albeit not the more conventional pastoral one.

It is important to be able to ask questions, not always provide easy answers, and equip people to ponder, imagine and listen with new ears and new eyes. I view my role as a missional leader, as more of a facilitator. Yes, when I preach I am sharing reflections grounded in God’s Word. I also view my role and gifts as a means to help and equip others to begin to connect God’s Word with daily living, and their vocations, strengths, gifts and passions. If I can help people give words to “why they do what they do,” and “for whom does their heart break for,” then I have helped equip leaders and the faithful.

This is what I have seen in my various congregational roles- both as a staff person, interim person, lay volunteer, and even as a congregational coach and consultant. It is also with this in mind that I blog, and focus more on trying to raise questions and create conversation rather than to “give all the answers,” which I know I don’t have to begin with anyway. When I preach, just as when I serve, teach and lead in any ministry (or unofficial ministry) capacity, I look for opportunities to promote collaboration and to highlight the importance and significance of the whole people of God, the community of God’s children. It is this community that together makes it possible to do the work of the kingdom and to live into the mission of God.

If I have learned any one thing since entering candidacy and getting married at about the same time, it is this: God is present and God is for you. It may not always be clear where my wife and I are being called, but that motivates me all the more to ask, “What is God up to?” The potential pondering and wondering about that question I find life giving. I also trust that as long as I keep asking that question as it pertains to me in my ministry callings, I will continue to be doing ministry in new ways which may or may not be yet formalized in the church. It is in following that question to this point in time which has led me to this day seeking approval to be an Associate in Ministry. It is also this question which intrigues me especially as Allison and I imagine about our different ministry callings and how we might be being called to serve together in some ways.

New headshotTo follow this calling, I do not believe I need to be a pastor. However, I do believe I am being called and led into a more formalized sense of ministry.

If that raises more questions than answers, then welcome to the club and life of perpetual discernment. I am not claiming that this is the permanent answer, only the one that makes sense for today, and that is enough for me knowing that God is present and working.

Sir, your kind words and conversation were a blessing last month when you talked with me after the worship service I played for. Thank you for asking me this question, and for allowing me to share a bit more about who I am today, who I may be becoming, and how I feel called as part of God’s work in the world.

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