Ordination in the UMC, after (sorta).

I'll be ordained in June as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.

But the interviews were... humbling? tough? Godly? heavy?  affirming?

There are a lot of words I could use to describe the experience from my end.  I'll say this first: God has been gracious to me and the Board of Ordained Ministry (BoOM) was a part of that.  God deserves my best effort, and the BoOM has helped me see that a.) what I gave them was NOT my best effort. b.) I'm capable of more.

Which is the greater love?  To pat you on the back and turn a blind eye to mediocrity?  Or to affirm and challenge and kick you in the pants?  I felt love from the BoOM, and it was tough love.  They gave me more than a fair assessment.  They weren't just fair to me, they were godly.

I can't speak for other Conferences, or other Boards of Ordained Ministry , but I feel like ours took seriously their call to safeguard the church.  I have friends on the BoOM (more on that later) and my heart hurts for them and praises them for the self sacrifice it must take to humbly attempt to help candidates discern their call better.  No one on our BoOM took the situation lightly.  They all (best I could tell) understood the gravity of the situation.

Since Monday, I've thought about the whole thing.  Regrets?  Well, what was I hoping to accomplish?  Was I trying to avoid pain?  Or hurt?  Yes, I regret the hurt.  But I do not regret the growth I will take away from such an experience.  I truly believe the ministry God will achieve through me will be better because of what I went through in my ordination interviews.  If I didn't want to be vulnerable, I wouldn't go into the ministry.

The whole idea of "finishing the process" seems really funny to me now.  I think now that I'm behind my interviews, I realize just how much work I have to do.  Since this article is a follow up to this blog entry, I should revisit the same list.  The Bold is the same.  What follows is definitely not.

  • The candidacy process is about discernment (before).  Well, yes.  But its not just my discernment.  Its a practice of discernment for myself but also for the church.  Imagine what would happen if men (and women) simply entered the ministry because it was a guaranteed job.  Or if people joined the ministry because they were incompetent everywhere else in life.  Or if they joined the ministry because of the awesome coffee and casseroles (which is the third sacrament!?) - all of these, while wonderful fun, are NOT reasons to go into the ministry.  And I'm not sure our(read: MY) current attitudes about ordination are accurate.  It isn't a privilege, its a sacrifice.  Its a pain in the rear.  And quite frankly, its my calling.  Sure, I'll take your flack.  I'll take the blame if the church falters, and give God the glory if it succeeds.  I'll be acquainted with grief and talk to the socially awkward folks that no one wants in their Sunday School class.  Oh, and yes, I'll even speak to the outcasts who I don't like.  Not because I have to, but because I want to.  Its my call, after all.  The clarity with which I can say that comes from discernment - I just need to put myself out there and you, dear friend, need to keep me accountable.
  • The process does not hamper ministry (before).  It does.  The pain, the difficulty.  Where it enables some to be free, it appears to set others into bondage.  I say appears, because I know not the benefits or detriment of other choices the BoOM could have made.  The main purpose of the BoOM, actually, is to hamper ministry. That might not look sane, but hear me out.  First, you start with the Priesthood of all believers.  Then you add grace, sanctifying grace that works us towards perfection. Wouldn't it be great if Christians (Methodists) were so excited, busy, and enthusiastic sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we'd need a board of people serious about directing, discerning, and driving those Gospel driven crazies through the fires of the Holy Spirit to refine and encourage.  What you would get is a church so on fire, we'd direct the best and brightest to hold us accountable.  We would look to this group to grow leadership, but more importantly, ordain leaders who could direct the rest of these Christian crazies.  That my friend, is hampering ministry.  Or, to say it in a more positive light, diverting ministry towards where God wants it.
  • The people of the UMC are changing.  Yep.  Rather than being cups running over, we are parched.  Defeated but not crushed, persecuted, but not abandoned.  We are people who look towards the BoOM, not to direct the church, but empower the church?  Blah.  The best work of the Kingdom comes from the laity.  That's why God made so many of them.
  • The UMC's discipline tries to be Jesus for us, when it isn't Jesus.  The board can't save me.  The BoOM can't stop/start my ministry.  But it can direct it.  It can be a means of grace for me and the Church I love.  The BoOM can lift Jesus up - even remind me I need him, but it cannot in the strictest sense be Jesus.  But I don't think anyone in our BoOM was trying to be.  They were simply trying to serve the Church.
Not enough?  In humility, realizing I have not "arrived" but simply begun, here are some other things that I will work on:
  • Authority - I know most of the folks on the board.  I made the grave mistake of treating them as friends and not as servants of Jesus Christ.  Because friends will be buddy buddy with you.  They will be kind, remember what hurts you and what makes you laugh.  But servants of Jesus will tell you the God honest truth.  Even if it hurts them.  That's the kind of authority I need.  That's the kind of friends I have.  At first, I felt betrayed.  Now, I realize they are greater friends than I thought possible.
  • Accountability - I'm not ordained yet, so I won't speak as an Elder.  But I do look forward to having people who are serious about keeping me humble.  And I hope to return the favor.
  • Submission - If you have a problem with submission, ordained ministry is not for you.  Look, I don't like the term either.  It conjures in my mind terrifying thoughts of submitting to powers that will take advantage of me.  But will I be a slave to sin or righteousness?  Will I accept what is given to me?  Or rebel?  
My papers were not what they needed to be.  In my interviews, they did not disagree with my theology or challenge my effectiveness.  But they were gracious.  I did not show the competency that I am capable of.  

I can't wait for June to get here.  But until then (and after then) I hope I can live as a follower of Jesus Christ, ordained to the Order of Elders within the United Methodist Church.  I hope my ministry will reflect the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service that is expected of a servant, set aside for Christ.  I must decrease so he may increase.  Its the only way for our Church to succeed.

For a perspective from inside the BoOM, check out this blog from Sherill.