Yesterday’s Ordination – “Charge to the Minister”

As some of you know, yesterday was the official Installation/Ordination hoorah here at First Christian Church. It was great. Some additional friends and family were there. And the Milligan College Concert Choir was there… that was a nice touch!

Anyhoo, especially for some who couldn’t make it due to sickness, work, and weather, here is the text of the “Charge to the Minister”, which was led by Charles Reese, former FCC Senior Minister, 2000-2007. By the way, I did in fact, say, “I will” at the end.

The Christian ministry is both a great joy and a solemn responsibility. Jesus called the twelve to be with Him, first of all, even before sending them out to preach and to serve (Mark 3:14-15). So, we charge you, first of all, to love God supremely. The intensity of this relationship will determine the spirit and motivation and performance of your entire ministry. Cultivate that love for God that you are now experiencing through secret devotion, constant prayer, and the careful study of God’s Word. God does not share His Lordship with another. Let every demand upon your time and strength be subjugated to the growth and development of your life in its intimate relationship to Jesus Christ.

We charge you, secondly, to be a servant of God to people. The calling of the Christian minister is primarily that of a servant. Guard against the multiplicity of ministerial duties which will tempt you to choose the non-essential functions and so fragment your ministry that it dissipates its very strength. It will behoove you to remember that people are more important than things, institutions, rules or schedules. Yours must be the work of the preacher, an evangelistic voice interpreting God’s Word in apocalyptic days; yours must be the work of a pastor, whose heart never becomes hardened through intimacy or familiarity with the congregation; yours must be the work of an administrator who maintains a constant vigil over the organization, carefully delegating authority to others so as not to become encumbered with the endless detail of the administrative office, and yet not shunning the menial task, as if it were below your calling.

Finally, we charge you to keep the spirit of the ministry as Paul presents it in his second letter to Timothy: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

So, will you pledge, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness? Will you love God supremely? Will you serve these people? Will you preach the Word? And will you work hard to extend the Kingdom of God by promising to support the church and its worship and work to the best of your ability?

If so, will you please echo your agreement by saying, “I will.”

Eugene Peterson Likens Today’s Ministers to “Religious Shopkeepers”

This is good. Really good. It’s an excerpt from the introduction to Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. My comments are [in brackets] along the way.

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries. [Y’know, this Peterson guy’s a pretty good writer.]

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted…. [“Us”? “We”? Who’s he talking about? Ministers who have not abandoned the call? This is a little weird.] It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills. [And they are largely the product of churches and families where care of the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.]

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. [That’s a good line… “there are no successful churches.”] There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. [Yeouch!]

The larger point being, I think, that keeping the community attentive to God is the result of first keeping oneself attentive to God.Also, it’s a scary point to make, but I think many churches are just fine being religious shops, thank you very much. And these same churches don’t really want to structure church life and ministry so that their ministers are anything more than shopkeepers who maintain programs about which a prevailing value must always be “not being boring.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “not being boring,” but part of why it’s a prevailing value is because no one will come otherwise. Hmm… wonder why that is? (For a partial answer, see previous Dallas Willard article called, “Why Bother With Discipleship?”)

Actually, on the other hand, as Peterson would certainly want to say, churches are pining for something more than shopkeepers.

Just wondering… How it is that the church has thrived for centuries before now while being boring!?

Good/Funny Post of “Why I Entered Ministry”

Mike Cope, a minister at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX, has a good post likening the difficult position of refereeing to ministry. I’ve reffed a few games here and there and participated in sports all my growing up years (are those over yet?) and am not the least bit surprised we’ve got a referee shortage. People work is hard.

I just read about the referee shortage across the country. Guess what? It’s hard to recruit new refs and to convince experienced ones to remain with low pay and poor sportsmanship. Of those who quit, 76% cite poor sportsmanship of the fans, while 68% point to the poor sportsmanship of coaches and players.

While I was in graduate school in Memphis, I refed a few girls’ basketball games for a Christian academy there. We’re not talking high school ball; the girls were maybe nine or ten years old.

And it was eye-opening. The things “Christian” parents would scream at you! Several times people accused me of wanting the other team to win.

As if I cared. I was a poor, married grad student trying to pick up a few bucks. Was I a great ref? Undoubtedly, no. But you get what you pay for.

I decided right then and there I couldn’t spend my life in a profession where people got upset and questioned your motives. So I entered ministry.

Here’s the original link: “Why I Entered Ministry.”

Misc: Finally Back, Will Be Next Sr. Minister, Google Search, and Mission Trip

Well, after a way-too-long hiatus, I’m back to blogging. Have had a crazy busy couple months leading up to our church’s congregational vote regarding whether I become the next Senior Minister… And I will, come February 2008. That’s nice to get past that, I must say. It’s been, uh, trying, in many ways.

Not that very many in our congregation read this blog, but, just in case, thanks so much for your many prayers and support during these recent months. A lot of folks have demonstrated a strong show of support and have been so encouraging. There have even been a good number of non-FCC Greeneville folks praying about this situation! Like, we’re talking… a few dozen or so. So, thanks so much for your encouragement. I’m looking forward to it. I’m following a great man of integrity who has been a real important steadying and health-building leader of influence over the last 7 years at church. He’s been in ministry some 46 years and I’ve (obviously) got a lot to learn from him. Thanks, Charles!

Google Search Page (Look here)This falls into the category of useless information… I am now on Page 1 of a Google search for my name: Scott Wakefield. I am the 4th one listed. This is supposed to be some sort of “You’ve arrived” moment, but I think, frankly, it’s almost exclusively due to the fact that I use Word Press for blogging, which apparently has a lot of Google search “pull” or something. I don’t wanna even pretend to understand how all this works, especially when I’ve only got some 1,500 hits or something like that. BTW, I’ve just begun to play around with Photoshop, the premier software for image production… as you can tell from the Google Search picture, I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’m working on some sort of angle for regular blogging, like, I’m gonna blog my thoughts on whatever book of the Bible I happen to be studying or something like that. I think that’s the most likely tack. Either that or some book I’m reading. I think this blogging thing is an important exercise for me. Keeps me regular (so to speak.)

Just returned last evening from a GREAT 10 day mission trip to Martin, SD. Kids were fantastic. It was a good first trip for many of them. We did children’s ministry (Kidz Club for local Native Indian population), visited a nursing home, and did some house painting. We went with YouthWorks!, who always does an awesome job. Saw tons of awesome landscape on the drive, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Wall Drug, and went to Southeast Christian Church on the way home. Great trip. Pics coming in the next couple days.

64 Things I Wish Someone Had Shared With Me 10 Years Ago

Brian Jones’ blog, Speaking Out of Turn, recently had a good post. They are all things about church ministry. Not all of them are practical for those of us from churches of normal size, frankly. In fact, here’s one that would be, um, less than well received:

7. Completely redesign the interior “look” of your church building every 3 years.

Something tells me that wouldn’t get anything but blank stares at your average church. I can just see the quizzical looks among Board members, “What the {BLEEP} are you talking about?!” But many of his ideas have good principles behind them. Here are a few of my favorites:

9. Never allow anyone to mention staff kids’ names from the stage or in letters.

I’m not sure what “in letters” means, but it’s a good idea to keep them out of the regular vocabulary of the worship service. It’s not like we’d regularly talk about anyone else’s kids in that way. This fits with another one:

17. Never use negative illustrations about your family—you create the church’s impression of them.

Here are a few good ones about salaries and benefits, etc., for staff:

18. Insist on a competitive pay scale from your Senior Pastor or governing board (in writing).

20. Never publish salary amounts in your church’s budget (unless your board publishes theirs as well).

21. If you don’t have $ to give raises, give raises in time off.

Amen, bro. The idea of a pay scale in any real sense of the word is anathema to many churches. And I totally agree with having salary amounts kept private. It’s not like we expect church members to make us aware of their salaries.

Anyway, just some interesting things to think about.

Ministry Expectations and the Life of the Mind

Jesus With the Elders in the TempleJust read a nice entry in Brian Jones’ blog about having a Sermon Induced Meltdown. He’s a regular contributor to the Christian Standard. Anyway, I can identify with, as he says, being sick of “writing sermons half asleep” and “not deeply reading the classics.” While I am not (yet) writing adult worship sermons weekly, I have been writing sermons for youth ministry for almost 9 full years, often delivering them twice a week, once each to middle schoolers and high schoolers (for 4 years.) I often am up late at night (or early morning) feeling like I don’t have much to say or I have too much to say (read, paralyzed by the options) and I’m too busy and, therefore, too dry to have much to give anyway.

So, here’s what I think, and it’s only indirectly related I suppose… The church today allows its members to have expectations for its pastors that don’t bear much resemblance to the biblical call to be approved unto God, “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2Tim. 2.15, NIV). That is sometimes toward the end of some churches’ lists of pastoral expectations. It’s just a rule of pastoral ministry. It’s like learning that boys don’t go to the urinal next to someone else unless they have to. Or that girls make bathroom breaks a community experience. It’s an unwritten rule of pastoral ministry that we learn by experience. While they may say one thing and write meaningfully in job descriptions, functionally they do another. I have the distinct impression that churches, in the words of Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, create a culture that produces The Unnecessary Pastor. We function as rubber stamps on a congregation’s spiritually inoculated expectations, like we’re there mostly as figureheads to ratify a neutered Christian existence. Many churches would rather have nice pastors than theologically correct ones. In the process of candidacy at two churches, I have hardly been asked what I think about doctrine. Or, more importantly, almost no one, with the notable exception of one mentor, has asked me what I do to keep myself spiritually fit, which exposes that congregations often have an almost lascivious desire for a placatory provider of programs to attract people more than anything.

There are many directions to go here, but here’s one… I think pastors must increasingly demand that quiet, uninterrupted time with the Word happens… daily. They must insist that thinking deeply and intently is often the best use of one’s time. At present I am writing from a coffee shop because it allows me uninterrupted time with God and my thoughts. Some wisdom from Thoreau’s Walden:

“…millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden (Harper Classics: New York, 1965, 66.)

Indeed. Jesus was awake as none other and His time as a teenager was spent talking with the experts of the law. I’m sure his parents’ response was similar to many churchgoers today. “What the heck are you doing here? You should be with us.” Perhaps they thought he was wasting his time talking about matters that just end up in arguments. Maybe his pattern of showing up at the temple as a child was in conflict with his family’s expectation for him to be a carpenter or do the laundry, or clean his room. Now, of course, I’m sure Jesus cleaned his room. But he also withdrew to pray. Like every good Jewish boy showing promise as a Rabbi, he read the classics. He was well versed in the Scriptures.

Something tells me a case for hanging out at coffee shops, studying Scripture, and writing blogs is in the making.