This is a series that started with this post.
Becoming ordained is not an election process or a series of hoops to jump through. It is not a professional school or career choice. It also isn't the grandest, hardest, most amazing "sacrifice for your country and worship me for it" decision in the world. Why would anyone want to be ordained into the United Methodist Church?
The only way this really works is if you are called to it. God likes to call people - in fact we all are called - but some are called to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. For me, at the heart of my call are two voices. One says that being a pastor in the United Methodist Church is the best way for me to be myself. In other words, it is a natural response to who I am within the grace of God. The other voice says that God has things for me to do. Specifically I feel called to share/do and that means fulfilling this role. Being ordained into the UMC is more a way to fulfill my call than being the call. In response to the saving work of Jesus Christ I feel called to serve the Church.
That's it. Sounds simple, right? It isn't.
In fact, all those things that "aren't" ordination are (for me) like little half-callings that sometimes can lead me astray. Maybe they are just little parts of what it means to be called. We are all called to something in Christ and that certainly doesn't mean everyone should be a United Methodist Pastor.
Calling is, to me, best recognized as a response to the outpouring of grace and love through Christ Jesus. Only once a person recognizes how amazing our God is should they attempt to even devote their lives to such a cause. That devotion will probably lead to a career. It will probably lead to a process (maybe even an election process?), and it will probably also require training, discernment, and insight. This is why a calling isn't as simple as simply saying, "yeah, I think Jesus wants me to do this." There may be a few hoops - but that is part of the response.
So what am I called to? A Church that I feel has the best possibility for embodying the Kingdom of God most fully this side of eternity. Yeah, I said it. I'm not saying God won't show up other places, but I'm called to the UMC because I think it is fertile ground for the seeds of the Kingdom of God. I heard a sermon Father's Day weekend by Dr. Wesley Wachob and he reminded the congregation that the Church is not the Kingdom of God. We are just a bunch of redeemed sinners. The Kingdom of God is the complete realization of the Will of God.
My call is to make those two as synonymous as possible. By God's grace I hope you can find your call as well - maybe even as an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church.
I wanted to respond to some of the comments that this post has generated. Easy ones first :)
- The sermon I heard by Dr. Wesley Wachob was at Pensacola FUMC. I'd bet you could find it here: www.fumcpensacola.com/
- "Licensed Local Pastor" versus "Ordained Elder in Full Connection" is comparing apples to oranges in some ways and accurate in others. Either way, it is the Holy Spirit moving (I'd like to think). Thankfully the UMC provides opportunities for people to be recognized (and called!) in so many wonderful ministries - it would be dangerous to assume the only ones that matter are ordained clergy. I see Licensed Local Pastors and Ordained clergy fulfilling different roles, thus, it doesn't make sense to even talk about which is better. A similar argument arises unfortunately when looking at Deacons and Elders. Once upon a time, Deacon was a role that was "on the way to" Elder, like LLP. We haven't completely matured to a new system where we recognize these roles as a calling and not just being "on the way" to being an Elder. So yes, I hear your statement that LLP's allow us all to seek out our vocation - but I'd want to focus that statement just a tad. It would be more accurate to say that the LLP allows everyone to, in another capacity than ordination, provide pastoral leadership. Those that decide to be Licensed Local Pastors do so for some of the same reasons others choose Ordination. Praise God we can have pastors who can serve churches and work other jobs too (Ordained persons can't)! Thank goodness we have LLP's or else plenty of churches would go without proper pastoral leadership (because LLP's are proper pastoral leadership!). There are situations where the connexion would rather have an LLP than Ordained clergy serving a church. But after saying all this one might ask, are LLP's and Ordained clergy the same thing? No, actually they aren't. They are very very similar and in a lot of ways, functionally analogous. Being licensed and being ordained are both callings. They are both pastoral. They are both valid and wonderful ministries to the Church. But they aren't the same thing. A license is technically given for a year. Ordination is "permanent" for better or worse.
There are pros and cons to this situation. Ordination (as an Elder) means that I've devoted myself to go wherever the Church needs me, as determined by the Holy Spirit, the Bishop, and the local congregation. LLP's have no such requirement. Ordination means I am fully committed to only working for the Church and thus can't hold any other jobs (I'm at the Church's mercy!). I know some LLP's who's calling still has them in the business world. And thank God, right? If we were all ordained (or licensed even) then the Kingdom wouldn't be happening in many work places.
- Why did I go Ordained Elder instead of LLP? Personally, I went the ordained route because working for the Church was the only future I saw for myself. The Church did so much for me, I felt the only way I could give back was to devote myself fully. It just so happened that this was affirmed by the Board of Ordained Ministry in the North Alabama Conference. Everyone who enters the candidacy process (the formal discernment process for ministry in the UMC) has no clue where they are going - just inklings of a call and desire to follow Christ.
I tell people all the time (and I'll say it again here when discussing call) - you don't fail the candidacy process. At the end of it you are closer to knowing God's call on your life. Lets say you are in it for a while and find out ordination isn't for you. Congrats! Now you can figure out what path God REALLY wanted you on.
I went into the candidacy process completely open to the end result and ended up ordained. This is one way I'm going to respond to God's amazing love through Jesus Christ. I'm sure there are LLP's out there who can say the same thing.
There are still several other blog posts I want to make about why I'm ordained, I probably haven't touched it all and I encourage you to keep reading! Thanks!