Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Open-Ended Questions

Beth has been reflecting on her first year at a new appointment, and how her sense of call has changed over the past few years:
I find myself, in many ways, back at square one when it comes to discerning God's call on my life. Obviously, I still feel called to the ministry of ordained elder! But for so many years, including most of my time in Oneida, going through the candidacy process and seeking ordination was the way I was answering God's call. Now, I'm ordained, and that part of answering my call is thankfully completed. But now what? I believe God is always calling us - and I'm struggling to discern God's purpose now, and how I respond to that. I'm struggling to balance what I want to do with what I think God might want me to do. What does ministry look like for me in the next 5 years, 10 years, 1 or 2 years? I feel like these are open-ended questions right now. I'm used to having a plan and answers, and I don't have many right now, and it is a position I'm not comfortable in. So, I'm discerning.
After nearly four years of ministry in one place, I can relate to this.

When one first feels a call to ministry, a lot of the pursuit of that call is initially about fulfilled requirements: what do I need to do? What initial steps do I need to take? Who do I need to talk to? From there, it's off to seminary or to talk to one's equivalent of a Church and Ministry Committee, or one may speak to the agency or institution most closely related to what one feels called to do. One is chiefly occupied with these preliminaries just to "get in the door," so to speak.

Once one is in the door, the call begins to change. One begins the transition to more of a hands-on discovery phase.

For instance, if one feels a call to local church ministry, becoming a pastor is far different from being a pastor. While seminaries offer varied amounts of field education (which, depending on the supervisor and context, may or may not be a helpful tool), one learns far more about who they are as a pastor once they begin serving a church. One learns about gifts and growing edges; develops one's passions and discovers the foci in which one is most interested.

That's what I find so different about my own sense of call as a pastor over the past four years. I entered local church ministry simply wanting to be a part of a local community of faith; to preach, to teach, to minister to those in need. I did have certain areas of church life for which I had a more driving passion: besides preaching and teaching, I've felt a natural pull toward helping develop a congregation's sense of mission and service.

Four years out, the above passions have not abated. In addition, however, I've discovered just how much it bugs me that younger people seem so disinterested in faith issues, and I tend to blame the medium - I wonder what can be done differently in order to better engage youth and young adults and to keep that need at the forefront of the church's collective mind.

I've discovered my own appreciation for diversity in worship style. I always had this in some sense, but in recent years have discerned that for me, it's no longer about "traditional" and "contemporary," but about pulling from the best that the entire spectrum has to offer.

As a pastor, I've become much more aware of the limitations that the institutional church places on itself, and how it can contribute to a dispassionate atmosphere. If a church bogs itself down in, or sees itself primarily in terms of, administrivia, then members aren't going to feel too excited about those truly more foundational things that the church is meant to be about: faith, discipleship, service, etc.

I've also become much more aware of just how full people's schedules are. Surprisingly, congregants have things like "jobs" and "families" that limit the amount of time that they may devote to church activities. That leads to another issue, over whether anyone should see what Jesus wants of us in terms of "church activities." And all of this has affected the hows, whens, and whys of what I encourage the church to focus its energies on.

My sense of call is certainly not what it was four years ago, and I'm fully aware that it will continue to evolve. The above issues, as Beth notes, affects what I believe I'll be called to do and be in the next 1-2 years, the next 5, the next 10. Interestingly enough, I imagine that even as I answer that call, I'll be discovering gifts, growing edges, passions that will keep me discerning far into the future.

The open-ended questions will always be there. It's probably more of a matter of answering them as best one can from one moment to the next.