Ordination: I was ordained to the Gospel ministry by a Southern Baptist congregation in 1980, but you won’t hear me have a lot to say about ordination. I believe in it, but in a minimalist kind of way. I don’t believe in titles. (Not calling someone Father or Reverend seems like a can’t-miss teaching of Jesus.) I don’t want a ministerial discount on my shoes or to be authorized to perform weddings. The clergy-laity distinction doesn’t seem very helpful to me, except when absolutely necessary.
I do believe that congregations are commanded in scripture to set aside their leaders and I see the wisdom in commending that ordination to other congregations as a reason to consider a man worthy of recommendation. Of course, I wish my tradition took some aspects of ordination more seriously, as we are famous for laying hands on teenagers and people who don’t understand the Gospel at all.
But there’s one aspect of ordination I really do appreciate on a very personal level. When a congregation ordains you, they are setting you aside to serve them, yes. But they are also saying, “He belongs to us. We bought him, and until he proves himself unworthy of our confidence, he’s ours. Even when he leaves, he can still come back and know we signed his papers.”
My uncle was a pastor for almost fifty years, and he built one of the largest churches in our community in his day. But I remember that he always talked about his first church- the church that ordained him- as special. He didn’t brag about the big church when he needed to remember who he was; he recalled the country people who “bought” him as a young pastor, and took on the task of being his first church.
Years later, I was speaking in the area and some of the people from that church were present at the meeting. When I mentioned my uncle- whom I look like- many of them came up to me and excitedly told me about the love for my uncle.
Because of recent events, I need to know that someone out there still believes in me and my ministry. There are people I love who’ve always supported me who have moved on to other churches and beliefs. There are people who have trusted my preaching for years who want me to sound more like an Oprah rally or more like an angry fundamentalist. There are folks who have just noted that I’m pretty old and don’t show movie clips like I’m supposed to.
Because of where I live and the kind of preaching that’s wanted in mountain churches, requests for pulpit supply are almost non-existent. The preaching that I am paid to do is preaching for young people who, for the most part, are required to be present and would be happy to be elsewhere doing anything rather than listen to me. I love them, they respect me and it’s a good ministry, but you always know they would prefer puppets.
So today, my ordination saved me from some of the rising discouragement. I’ve been going to the little Baptist church next door for the last few weeks. Going by myself and sitting alone, which is very hard. I go and pray for whatever is going on and whatever is talked about, prayed for or preached on. It’s one of those times that I’m mostly there to remember that I am part of the people of God, and we’re on pilgrimage- going forward, foibles and all- together.
I arrived today and said hello to the pastor on the way in. He stopped and called me back to where he was standing. He wanted to know if I would preach for him next week.
It’s not the biggest deal in the world, but for me, today, it works to lift me up a little higher.
Our pastor has many preachers in his congregation to ask to preach when he is gone. He knows what’s going on in my life, and he’s aware that my stock is down a bit around here. He was choosing to encourage me.
When I preach next week, most of those who will be present will be praying for me for various reasons. While I will bring the Word, I’m expecting that I will be the one who is encouraged and helped the most.
Today, my ordination reminded me that I belong to God’s particular people, and they aren’t giving up on me. They are keeping their promise when they bought me, and they are picking me up when the road has gotten almost too steep to walk with any joy.
Most of life’s discouragements are small, and some of the largest ones are disguised as the small ones. But most of God’s encouragements look very small, too. But they aren’t. Those encouragements can be as big as the love of God itself, and when they fit exactly what you are facing, they are sweet indeed.