Ministry Inquiry Reflection – 2013
Jacob Landis, 3rd year in Congregational and Youth Ministries
About 2 years ago I first heard my call to ministry. It would take one year for me to begin to listen to that call and another year for me to accept the call. This summer’s MIP comes right in the middle of the listening and accepting. The Ministry Inquiry Program has positively shaped my view of ministry and helped me to begin to see myself as someone who will probably one day lead a ministry of some kind.
It all began earlier this spring as I was praying; trying to decide which camp I should work at. There, in prayer, I heard a voice that wasn’t a voice. It was from the deepest part of my thoughts, but was not from me. God told me to do MIP and to go to Scottdale. From the beginning I have viewed this summer as something more than just an internship. I was in Scottdale for a purpose, on assignment from God. For that reason I did not come to Scottdale with any goals, vision, or plans for what I would be doing. I was there to do whatever God needed me to do, to learn whatever God needed me to learn, and to meet whomever God needed me to meet.
For much of the summer I was free to do whatever I felt like doing. I had my books to read and worship services and sermons to prepare, but beyond that I was largely able to construct my day however I wanted. Rather early on I began to see the summer as an extended Spiritual retreat. I had a lot of time to devote to reading of scripture, journaling, devotions, and prayer. That may be one of the things I appreciated the most was just being able read and spend time with God. That is one of the jobs of a pastor that might be most easily forgotten. People are always worried about what a pastor is doing and can forget that spending time with God is an important part to being a Church leader. I think pastors can fall into the trap just as easily, making excuses or letting the clutter of life take chunks out of “wasting time with God.”
The pastor or leader’s Spiritual life is very important to the health of the congregation. In one book I read, I think it was Leading the Congregation by Roger Heuser and Norman Shawchuck, the comment was made that a church can only be as Spiritual as the most spiritual leader (preferably the pastor). To me this makes a lot of sense. In our lives we learn the most by example. We see someone else doing something and want to do what they are doing. We hear about their experience and want to have that for ourselves. You could also say that God uses people as conduits of the Spirit. The more spiritually in tune a person is the better the Spirit can use them and work through them. This in turn touches everyone around those people. In this way the spirituality of the leaders becomes important because they can touch the congregation in every way by their actions, words, and sometimes very presence. When those people in positions of power are living actively by the Spirit, I believe amazing things can happen.
I have always been a good listener. People have often said to me, either in conversation or after, “I don’t know why I shared with you so deeply, it was just so comfortable talking with you,” or some variation thereof. But even with this skill of listening I realized that there is a difference in having a pastoral conversation and having a friendly conversation. In a friendly conversation there is often a give and take. Both parties ask about each other and there is a relatively equal sharing of information. In a pastoral conversation the focus is on the other person. You are asking about how they are doing and leave your own agenda aside to listen to them and hear their needs. Obviously there is some of both the pastoral and friend in every conversation, but a pastor must be more intentional about listening to the other. The pastor is there to help the other; the other is not there to listen to the pastor’s problems. Advice and stories are given sparingly when appropriate. I would even say there should be an emphasis on helping the other person find the answer to their problem and not on giving them an answer. This also ties in with being a Spiritual leader. Sometimes when we are meeting with someone in crisis or even casual conversation we have the ability to minister to them through the Spirit, giving them guidance and counsel from God.
One of the biggest affirmations I got from people was on my preaching. I got a number of complements on my ability to discern the text and provide inspiration. I was privileged to see some of the ideas I gave in sermons interpreted and applied in the context of the people’s lives. For example, I told a story about a church that had free yard sales each year to encourage the congregants to live simply and help the poor in the neighborhood. About 2 weeks later one woman held a yard sale and said everything was free, but would take donations to the fire department.
One of my habits when it comes to sermons is that I like to make people uncomfortable. I like to challenge their comfort in the way they have been living their lives and invite them to a greater commitment to discipleship. This often takes the shape of critiquing both the progressive and traditional minded to get them to see the other side. I was greatly able to improve my confidence in preaching this summer. But what is the role of a sermon? If a church could be shaped into the perfect gathering of Christ’s body just by worship and preaching then we would have reached perfection long ago. I am still trying to figure out how sermons fit into the spiritual journey of a congregation. How much sticks? Are there more effective ways of teaching? How do you take 6+ hours of personal study, reflection, and growth and make it apply to a church in one 20 minute speech? I am still learning.
Pastoral leadership also involves leading and planning a worship service. This is still a very big gray area for me. Not because I don’t know how to do it; I have led worship, and helped plan and direct many types of services. But it is a gray area because there is no one answer. Worship can be singing, it can be quiet meditation, it can be loud, out of tune, in harmony, off the wall, in a book, with elements, with art, without walls, or in a home. I think the pastor’s role in worship should largely rely on the needs of the congregation, but I also think the pastor has a duty to make sure worship does not get stuck in a set pattern, that God is not put in a box.
I think the goal for any pastor is to build and surround themselves with other pastors. Not just in an ecumenical sense, although I do think cross denominational partnerships can be very healthy for communities, but in a broader sense where the congregation is not a group with a pastor as head, but becomes a congregation of pastors. Growth of a congregation is measured by many things, the least of which is numerical growth. I think a better picture of a congregation’s growth and a pastor’s effectiveness is the amount of leaders that are produced, and the congregational involvement in the church and community. The goal is not to nurse a congregation through life, but to equip them for ministry, to give them weapons to discern the powers in their midst, to fight injustice and oppression in the community, and to be pastors to those outside the wall of the church in their everyday lives. If that results in a growth in Sunday worship then praise God! A pastor should not be bogged down by administrative procedures, but should be the leader and teacher of the flock.
In the midst of this summer I accepted my call to ministry. I don’t know how much of it had to do with the MIP experience or if it was just part of where I was at with God at the time, but I can say that MIP helped to give me an idea of what a pastor does: planning, listening, visiting, studying, guiding, teaching and leading. I am in a stage of life where I am very open to God’s leading. I will go where I am told to go and do as I am directed. For now that is EMU, but tomorrow it could be South America or Africa. I will only know when the time is right to know. Until then I wait, pray, and live for God wherever I am, encouraged by my summer in Scottdale.