Reflections from a Gathering of Pastors

I just got home from worship with a few hundred ministers. Our denominational conference (churches in Western Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas) is gathering for its annual meeting. Today the ministerium met for their time together. I'm technically still a part of this group, though I haven't been able to attend much in the past five years.

I'm at this place of wandering in the wilderness of career and calling. With my wife in grad school, it's not very practical to look for a job in ministry right now. Nor do I want to. Well, part of me wants to, but I know I'm not ready for it yet. I've still got some growth in my life before I'm there yet. And I'm not really sure what I'm called to do anymore. Even outside of ministry, I'm not sure where I'm called to be.

But I still find myself identifying with this group of people in ministry--even if I'm not right now. I went not knowing if I'd know anyone. I left, one of the last cars in the parking lot as I kept running into people to chat with (yes, even a deep introvert like me).

I'm always encouraged by time at gatherings with my denomination. They are a good people.

The theme of the annual meeting this year is "Make & Deepen Disciples." Even as the pastors gathered they focused on this theme with the reminder that "It starts with me." If I'm going to make and deepen disciples, I must be a deep disciple myself. 

Between those who shared who are going through the ordination process, and the main speaker, Gary Walter who is the President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, we heard some good things. Here are some of the notes I took down so I can continue ruminating:

* "Jesus has a life for you that you'd be willing to live forever." This is our invitation to others--not our doctrines, not our creeds, not our ministries. Jesus offers an abundant life.

* "Discipleship is about trajectory." Either you're moving toward God or away from Him. We are invited to ask others to join us in going deeper.

* "The church is succeeding at loving the less fortunate, but failing at loving the less godly." We've got work to do in reaching those who have never set foot inside a church. Too often we have an arrogant faith that compares our righteousness to sinners' lives; we need a humble faith. We need to remember that Christ has a love "that turns our enemies into equals."

* "No amount of work for the Kingdom can make up for neglecting the King." I have been guilty of this. I can pour myself into ministry and godly things, but too often I have neglected growing deeper with God.

* "The more you know, the more you see" and "Roots go deep when the water is allowed to seep." Four values our denomination holds are being: biblical, devotional, missional, and connectional. These two phrases were said tonight in regards to be biblical and devotional. The more you know about God, the more you see Him at work. But all that knowledge doesn't do any good if you don't have deep roots in Him. Meditating on (and applying) His Word creates those deep roots.

* "Follow me." Jesus never said, "Do you agree with me?" Instead He invited everyone to follow Him and obey Him. Too often our churches and our discipleship tends be a place where we want everyone to agree. Someone tonight shared the Anne Lamott quote, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when He it turns out God hates all the same people you do." We too often want people to have their theology in order before we get them into church. Instead, we need to be getting people into church because it's a place they can experience God's love for them.

These may mean little to you. But there are little nuggets in there that I need to keep in my mind. The last thing I jotted down tonight was from a hymn we sang at the end. It was a prayer that God would "Turn our worship into witness in the sacrament of life." Sacrament of life. We don't often think of it that way. A sacrament is often defined as "an outward, visible sign of an inward, invisible grace." It's a calling to live life that that way. No matter if I'm in ministry or not.

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