Friday, June 19, 2015
Meeting people where they are; leading people to where they are not yet.
It is ordination time. Seminarians who have spent years preparing for this day will in one moment be conferred with the authority of the keys, the authority to preach the Word, the authority to administer the Sacraments, and be given responsibility for the various tasks that belong to the ordained. It is a grand and wonderful time of year. To think that throughout our church body perhaps a hundred of these take place in June and July! It is an occasion for joy and hope for all pastors and people, not just those wherein the church has placed a candidate!
There is much advice given to those newly ordained men. Not a little of it will come in the form of ordination sermons that seek to speak freshly the sage advice of old. Never having been called to preach at an ordination, I cannot speak from experience here but if I had been so requested to preach, I would hope to avoid the typical fare so often heard.
No pastor is given the authority or the responsibility for redefining the ministry or growing the church. Yet that is our grave temptation which, if we fail into it, we do both God and His people a great disservice. The ministry is not ours to define but that which defines us. We take our place in the long train of those upon whose shoulders the stole (yoke) of ministry has been placed. They can teach us if we will let them -- both by their shining successes and their terrible failures. And if we are faithful, we will have something to pass on to those who come after us.
Pastors do not grow churches. Only God grows them. He gives us partnership in this task but never ownership of it. If we are faithful in preaching the Word of the Lord and administering the Sacraments as Christ instituted them, whatever fruit is born will be born by God and for His own purpose and glory. Perhaps the gravest of sins by preachers at ordinations is to give the ordinand either the false hope or the deceptive burden of thinking that they are the ones who grow the church. We are not entrepreneurs who have received a franchise to sell the Gospel product and increase market share for God. We are shepherds who are called to love and feed the sheep (not necessarily to like them) and to lead and guide them to the good, green pastures of God's Word, the still, quiet waters of His water, and to feed them in the table set in the presence of enemies.
We meet people where they are, this is true. But we lead then to where they are not yet. This is also true. And we do so not with our wit or wisdom, not with our poise or personality, and not with our strength or skills. Nope, we do it by faithfully speaking the Word of God and administering the Sacraments of Christ. The temptation is to meet people where they are and leave them there -- feeling better to be sure but still the prisoners of sin, marked for death, and disappointed that life is not more. We meet them where they are but we dare not leave them there. Yet we do not lead them where we want them to go. We leave them to the future Christ has appointed. We bring them to anticipate the marriage feast of the Lamb in the blessed meal of the Eucharist. We bring them to the well done of the Father by calling them to do the good works of Him who has called them from darkness into His marvelous light. We bring to eternal joy that does not disappoint them nor does it abandon them in the struggles and sorrows of this mortal life. We bring them to know and live out their vocation as the baptized people of God, living under Christ in His kingdom now and His who will live with Him in His kingdom forever. We bring them through the means of grace.
If I were to preach at an ordination, I would hope to remind the ordinand that this is an impossible task unless God is doing it and that at best we offer Him but a voice with which to speak and the hands with which to bestow His grace. And if we do that, then we will be faithful and we will be found faithful. . . and that is enough.