Struggling with my call

Last April Fool’s Day, as you may remember, I posted that I had accepted the call to go into ministry. Well, that was clearly a joke. Granted, the reasons I listed for not doing so were real enough, but lately, I’ve come under the conviction that sitting in worship is simply not enough. As many of you know, I’ve struggled in my moving from F/fundamentalism (yes, actually, they are nearly the same thing) to (Mainline) Christianity, specifically to being a Barthian/Niebuhrite/Wesleyan United Methodist Christian. For months after attending, joining, and even seeing two of children baptized, I would sit in service with a dark and depressing cloud over me. Let no one dismiss the mental anguish that people go through when they so dramatically switch an entire set of beliefs. I went through rounds of depression. It didn’t help that I had no support network for what is still the most traumatic experience for me in my career, and compounding that, along with the justice issues which still surround it, and then to suddenly decide to abandon hope to a return to my former church as well as to dare go to a church which I had long considered to be nothing but a work of the devil (and indeed, all other churches were)… Well, it was detrimental to my mental health, my marriage, and indeed, sometimes, my life. Take that as it was intended.

But I’ve started to come around. I’ve moved from denying any and all involvement in the local church beyond Sunday morning to teaching a Sunday School class and I am heading into teaching my second MERGE class. I am a lay delegate to the Annual Conference and server on two boards because of that. But, that doesn’t seem to be enough for me, so still not wanting to be clergy, not wanting that responsibility for the same reasons and guilt as mentioned before, I’ve looked at the Certified Lay Minister role offered by paragraph 271 of the Book of Discipline. I met with the pastor of our Church yesterday to discuss it.

There are a few things to consider. First, a title or position is not necessary to be in the ministry – indeed, don’t we all have a ministry? However, I believe that for certain things, for certain people, a title is necessary and unlike some, I will not simply attach to my name a title. That’s not my beliefs, but a recognition of it in others. Second, the CLM may be asked to help in other churches. That part is sort of unclear, but I suspect given that, as the pastor said, there are other positions which would be asked first to pastor churches, I have no reason to suspect that I would be somewhere else any time soon. I don’t want to move; my wife and I want to grow at Christ Church and see our grandchildren grow there. We rather enjoy the people in our fellowship circles and desire to add more to them. If you follow my tweets or facebook updates, you’ll see that we spend a lot of time there, engaging in various activities. I no longer feel anxiety (well, that’s about 98.3% of the time) when walking through the Church doors, but just the opposite. I feel at home… Like I belong there. I didn’t even really ever feel like that at the old place… I need to stop comparing, I really do. I know that…

To be honest, frank, or even Joel, this feels like a good foot in the door compromise with God. As my “atheist” friend said, “Why am I fighting this?” My long history of F/fundamentalism has given me enough guilt and shame over the abuse I leveled at people in the name of God, that to go and take up the ministry again wouldn’t be good for any congregation which would get me. So, this is a way to test the waters, so to speak, to see where I will fit in.

I want to be about to sermonate, teach, other things knowing and having it known that I am official part of the ministry of the United Methodist Church. This will come in handy in several arenas, and not the self-serving ones. I tell people that what finally drove me to going to seminary was John Loftus’ insistence that without a Master’s degree, I couldn’t engage with him on issues. Fine. I’m going to get it and then a phd… Some feel justified in calling themselves a ‘reverend’ only by self-appending and feel that because of this, they can dismiss those who do not have a title. Fine. Let’s rock. The only title I’m worried about is Christ, but if you think otherwise, I’ll become all things to all people to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, there is Rodney and his comment a few weeks ago in affirmation of this. I won’t share it, but it bothered me. It was positive, but it bothered me. Then, there are Susannah’s comments and that look from Rob at the Administrative Board meeting. And even my wife, when talking about it and whether or not she wanted to explore it, said “well, it’s not a no…” So, pushes, both positive and negative.

I’m not going to design my ministry. I know what I want to do, but I’m not going to design my ministry to fit those things.

And now… for the cheesy song…

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7 Replies to “Struggling with my call”

  1. I too am proud of you Joel and look forward to what God has for you in the future!

    As an aside, you’d make a great pastor. You have the right heart! 🙂

  2. You will be great as a pastor. As a Sunday School and MERGE class teacher, you are superb. I stand/sit in awe of your learning and sense of mission. If you want to talk about call, give yell. Be more than happy to tell you mine.

      1. I just reread the post and just saw the comment on the song. I love that song. Of course, I love good cheesy songs. 😀

  3. As someone who the Spirit dragged kicking and screaming into ministry, I can say that the reluctant minister is usually the more honest one.

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