Lately, I have been thinking more and more about the process of becoming a pastor. This process is called “candidacy” in the ELCA- as in, one is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. There are three main stages of candidacy and I am in the final stage now. That stage, “approval”, involves an extensive essay, several interviews and a review of my seminary education and internship accomplishments. All this information contributes to the decision of whether or not I should be ordained as a pastor in the ELCA.
However, there are other contributing factors as well, perhaps even more important and influential than those I mentioned above: the Holy Spirit and the whole church. A healthy part of Lutheran tradition is that many, many people are involved in the selection and shaping of the people who become our pastors. We ordain people to give “order” to the church, but those people do not come to that position randomly.
Most people eventually find themselves in seminary through a combination of personal insight and public prodding by pastors, family and friends. I first considered going to seminary when people, some of whom I barely knew, began to ask when I was planning to go. One day, I was just doing my thing- listening to people, leading Bible studies, being active in church- and the next thing I knew, I was being encouraged to consider seminary.
Yet many people are active in church and have good gifts for leadership, but do not become pastors. That’s because pastors are not the only people with gifts for spiritual leadership. Many people are good at math, but do not become engineers. Some people are very crafty, but do not become public artisans. Most people who become pastors have a desire and a sense of call that church leadership is what they would like do with most of their time, what they feel is their vocation. The theologian Frederick Buechner says our vocation is where our God-given gifts meet the needs of the world. So people have gifts to fulfill vocations as teachers, builders, accountants, parents and pastors.
When someone, like me, finally gets (God willing) to the ordination stage, it represents the spiritual discernment and support of many people. My sense of call to ministry stretches back to the Southern Baptist churches of my childhood that first gave me a love of God’s Word. The Episcopal church of my early teens gave me my first encounter with a woman pastor. The Lutheran church of my late teens told me where I was spiritually home. The Lutheran church of my college years nurtured me as a spiritual leader and lead me to considering seminary. There are many other people and churches in that great cloud of witnesses that eventually lead me to Gloria Dei. This church has significantly shaped me as a pastor and my understanding of what a church needs and expects from a minister of word and sacrament. So in addition to your own personal gifts that you bring to this church and to the world, you have also joined together as part of the body of Christ to form a minister able to serve in God’s whole church. That is a kind of stewardship not every church can do, but flourishes here in the good soil of Gloria Dei.
Pastors come from among the baptized. That is true both in the sense that we are not set apart at birth for this task, but also in that you, the baptized, shape the people who become pastors. Thank you for your willingness to set up to this challenge and for the gifts you bring to this special ministry.