Dear Disciple of Christ,
Last week’s posting focused on the temptations we may have for us to use our “timeline” for life rather than God’s. Even now, looking back over those 9 years of study and preparations for pastoral ministry, it seemed like a long process. Those first four years of preparation (in Concordia Junior College in Bronxville, New York, and Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana) were not actually required in order to become a pastor. Those “pre-theological” courses were certainly valuable and a benefit to all those who were able to receive their Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees focusing on theology and pastoral service. If you did not take those additional classes, including Greek and Hebrew and church history, it was pretty hard to go Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (doing in depth studies). Instead, students (in some ways) “changing majors” or plans for an occupation (or vocation), went to Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Illinois.
All that was to say that it wasn’t required to study for 8 years before becoming a pastor. Can you imagine what it was like for my wife? I can and I know first-hand what an absolute gift she was (and is) to my ministry, my service and the people I served. She was so amazingly patient and gracious. She put her life “on hold” in some ways, with both of us doing jobs that had little to do with my hoped for calling to be a pastor. And until I had the opportunity to serve as a pastor, the other parts of our lives were on hold as well. That would include where in the world we would live and when we would have children. These were not small or insignificant matters, especially for Chris as we were really in pause mode for those eight months.
I suppose that was part of God’s training for Chris, even as He was training me for ministry. My understanding of my call was that it was a call from God. And if I were to serve Him and His will, it would require my all and my willingness to give all. Chris (and our children) were members of my churches, but were in a special position when it came to serving their needs. That position was, in some ways, the last. If there was a need in our family, Chris was gracious enough to allow me to serve the congregation first and our family later. I see my ministry as holistic when it comes to serving the Lord and His people. Whatever their needs in whatever part of their lives, that is what I would do. I was to be a shepherd (pastor), serving the Good Shepherd and His sheep. So I not only prayed for (and with) those going in for surgery, but I was often providing rides to and from the hospital and chemo and whatever I could. It would not reflect the care of Christ for me to pray for them and then send them on their way without providing what was needed and what I could.
That perspective of pastoral ministry certainly fills up a life and each day (and night) of life. Each pastor has to wrestle with those choices of how they serve the Lord. Each will have to decide if they have an inviolate day off when they are not to be disturbed or called or even contacted (I’ve seen that “announcement” in church bulletins and very honestly, it was not something I could ever feel comfortable doing). So with all the strength I could muster, I served God’s family and my family. I have often said. and completely believe, that Chris made much of my ministry possible. She never tried to limit my service but provided all she could so I could serve the Lord with all He had provided me (including her).
So for those months after graduation, Chris and I would talk about how and when and where God would lead us into the future. I remember Chris sharing her feelings about where in the world we might serve. The comment went something like this. “You know I love you, and I’ll go with you anywhere, but I sure hope your call isn’t to Brooklyn.” For a New Yorker that Chris was, it is not really the same to serve in New York (in Brooklyn), as it was to serve in New York (on Long Island). City living can be quite a challenge (sharing the streets and stores and parking spaces with about 7 million neighbors). I had, of course, served for years in Brooklyn, doing inner city work during the school year on Saturdays and all summer. Having that experience opened up options for us to serve and finally that came to pass.
In September of that year, Chris and I drove back to Albany to see my parents and celebrate my mother’s birthday. After driving through the night, we arrived at their house. My mother was standing at the top of the front steps and excitedly talking before I could fully hear her. “There’s someone on the phone from the seminary! He says ne needs to talk to you about a call.” I moved quickly into the house, picked up the phone and….” With Chris standing next to me, whispering, “Where is it? Where is the congregation?” My other ear was listening to the placement director sharing that there was a group of disciples looking for a pastor. The church, of course, was in …. Brooklyn. Ahhh. God’s sense of humor? Or was it God’s plan, years in the making, that would bring us and send us exactly where we were “supposed to be”?
The rest of our lives was about to begin. And yours? Have you been able to see how God has been at work in your life, bringing you to where you are and blessing you each day? He may not have brought you as a pastor where you serve in a church. But our primary call didn’t begin with an ordination but with a call to discipleship. Each of us has been blessed by God to be a blessing to others. With eyes and ears open, you may be seeing and hearing a call. Are you retired after a lifetime of skills? Have you considered how those talents can bring blessings to others at your church? Wouldn’t it be odd for God to bring you where you are, gift you with gifts and then have nothing in mind for your service? I don’t think He does that, do you? Blessings to you as you prayerfully look and listen for His call and how you can serve with joy.
Peace in His service,
Scripture Readings for Friday, January 27, 2023
Psalm 15; Deuteronomy 24:17-25:4; 1 Timothy 5:17-24