I Had a Good Experience with the Board of Ministry

Lately, there have been several posts on the Methoblogosphere about horrible experiences with the Board of Ministry.  Here is the most recent one I’ve read.  Even though I don’t know Will personally, the post seems pretty level headed and a genuine mistake on part of that board.  It seems that many folks have chimed in with horror stories about the Board of Ministry.

In fact, I have been hesitant to post my experience becuase for the most part it was positive.   The PPRC of my local Church asked all the right questions about my call, and would have been willing to share the hard truth if they believed I didn’t have a call to ministry.  My District Committee was encouraging and asked appropriately probing questions.  The BOM was rigorous and thorough, but I never got the sense that they were out to get me.

I’m not without complaints.  Yes, the process was really, really long.  Yes, I did have to know the process better than anyone else (including the board) and work hard to stay in contact with my conference while I was in seminary.  It wasn’t an accidental process by any means.

Our BOM retreats provided opportunities for me not only to get to know my fellow commissioned elders, they gave me time to get to know my interview team – several of whom I now consider to be friends.  My interview process allowed me to tell my story enough times that I am very comfortable talking about my call to ministry at the drop of a hat.  In fact, it’s my opening story as I teach in various Sunday School classes now.  The process allowed me to see how ministry shaped my theology following seminary, and I believe I was challenged in some places where I needed challenging and affirmed in some places where I needed affirmation.  In fact, I believe an authentic call to ministry is essential in sustaining a ministry during difficult times, and I thank the board for helping me discern God’s call in my life.

This isn’t a commentary on those who have had horrible experiences.  I don’t doubt their disappointment or experience.  I just want to lift up the fact that this experience isn’t ubiquitous.  No one lost any of my information, no one questioned my sincerity, and no one treated me as though I was anything less than a future colleague in ministry.

I want the BOM to continue to ask tough questions.  If I’m ever on the board one of the very subjective questions I’ll ask myself is this, “Would I want my son or daughter attending a congregation where this person is an Elder?”  If I can’t say yes, then I’ll think long and hard about whether or not to support them.  Granted, this should take place at the local church, and early on in consultation with their pastor.  But if that step is left out, I won’t be afraid to step in and ask it.

I would start to wonder if my experience might be the exception if I didn’t know that several of my friends (friends with a variety of experiences in early ministry, good and bad) have had similar experiences.  Hopefully this gives at least one positive experience to read among all the others.

Post-Ordination Post

Last Wednesday night’s ordination service was an event I’ll always remember, even though I think I’ll spend a lot more time processing exactly what happened there. Fortunately, I can go online and watch the service if I forget anything!

On Sunday, I wore my stole for the first time. It felt good after having held off for three years during my probationary (yes, yes provisional) period to wear it. I know that everyone feels differently about this, but for me it was a tangible sign of my new identity as an Elder in Full Connection. Strangely enough, I do feel a little different after the whole experience of ordination, even though I can’t quite explain it.

Other than my ordination, Annual Conference was pretty typical this year: hours of reports and lots of coffee with friends. The only other new experience was seeing the beginning of a new quadrennium. There was a little bit of political intrigue as the Board of Ordained Ministry is electing a new Chair person. As for me, I serve on two different committees. I’ve been on the Mission and Service Ministry Team since 2006, and now I’ll be serving as Vice-Chair of that committee. I’m also on the Young Adult Council, most likely because I’m 31.

It feels strange not to think about anything related to preparing for ordination. After all, this has been an important focus for nearly eight years of my life. However, now I’ll be shifting to focus more on my D.Min. I’ll be flying out to Madison, NJ in a couple of weeks to begin the on-campus portion of the degree. I’ll be taking a methods course, an exegesis course on Job, and a course on prophetic leadership. I’m looking forward to the extended time for study, but I’m not looking forward to being away from my wife and kids.

Well, I think that’s it for now. I’ve been reading a terrific book I read at AC called Evangelism after Christendom by Bryan Stone, and his discussion of evangelism as a MacIntyrian “practice,” has me really giving some thought to our conference’s new “strategic plan.” It seems to me that the distinction between goods internal and external to a practice could really help us think more clearly about what we’re doing and why. Maybe I’ll throw a post up on that in a couple of days. Until then, grace & peace!

Many Hands Make an Elder

This morning it hit me. Next Thursday, I’ll wake up as a full Elder in the United Methodist Church. This journey has taken about eight years, and it has defined so much of my life during this time.

Next Wednesday night I’ll walk up the steps to the chancel area of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Two other elders that I’ve invited will join the Bishop in placing their hands on me, carrying on the tradition that stretches across the centuries. The Revised Ordinal on Services for the Ordering of Ministry reminds us of the ancient connections of this practice with 2 Timothy 2:6, as Paul encourages Timothy to, “…rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”

I always wonder how people make this decision and why each ordinand chooses the people they choose. I’ve asked the pastor who really helped me discern my call to ordained ministry. Dr. Guy Ames was my first pastor in the United Methodist Church at Chapel Hill UMC in Oklahoma City. He helped me see the ministry as something I might actually be called to pursue. I often say that he was the first pastors I met who I saw as a real person. He could have been successful in any number of other fields, but chose to follow God’s call to ordained ministry. Until I met him, I had never even considered those thoughts about being called as anything significant.

The other elder who will stand with me is my District Superintendent, Dr. Sandy Wylie. Sandy has been a friend, mentor, and supporter throughout my first years of ministry. He’s been there for me during a few difficult times in my first years in ministry, and he’s helped affirm my gifts in many different ways.

However, it takes many more hands to make an Elder. In the ordinal I described earlier reminds us,

The rite of ordination is the climax of a process in which the faith community
discerns and validates the call, the gifts, and effectiveness for apostolic ministry
by agency of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday evening will be the climax of a lengthy process that begins and ends with God through the support of community of faith. Because of the community of faith, there will be a thousand hands on my shoulders that evening.

I started to make a list beginning with my wife, describing my mother (who’ll be there that night) and my father (who died the October after I was commissioned), listing the mentors who took me through those early days of exploring the call, the churches I’ve served and attended, inlcuding the thirty-something little kids at VBS last night who signed a card for my ordination, and working through the extended list of colleagues and friends who’ve helped me in so many ways.

But as I was making this list, I realized how those people who accept awards on TV must feel! There’s no way I could mention every name. There’s no way I could count the number of hands that will be on my shoulders that night.

When I stand up after kneeling that night and receive my stole for the first time, I’ll be thinking about that multitude of hands. It takes at least a thousand hands to make an elder, and I thank God for every one.