This is an overdue post, but you’ll get two today instead…
Last night, I went home to take one of my final ordination exams on the sacraments. In the Reformed Tradition, we believe in two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But that’s not what this post is about. (If you’re interested in the theology of the sacraments, I’ll do something on that later on in Lent…) The ordination process has been long and arduous – I’ve been in it since May 2011 when I approached my home congregation officially to ask for their support in going to seminary (at that point, I had already been accepted and accepted a place at Princeton for the Fall). While the ordination process (for those traditions that even do such a process) can be very different for each denomination, in the RCA, it has been extremely interesting, and certainly what I would call a blessed (but extensive at times…) journey.
Since I felt called to a non-RCA seminary, I had to take a slightly different route than my colleagues who went to Western or New Brunswick Seminaries (the two RCA seminaries in the US), and thus, my relationship with MFCA began in the Fall of 2011. It entails more exams, paperwork, extra trips to NBTS at night on top of my PTS classes during the day, and at times, an extra ring of chaos and “excitement” in the ordination circus. Initially, it made me question my decision to remain in the RCA, to take on the burden of enrolling in not one seminary, but two, like my life was made a bit more challenging since I felt called to a seminary with excellent academic prowess, a tremendous and welcoming community, (not to mention the blessing of more financial aid than this girl could ever have prayed for…), and was being given an additional burden to shoulder.
My process has been more challenging – traveling quarterly back to my classis to take ordination exams orally in front of my governing body has been an interesting and at times treacherous experience. But in the process, I have learned the meaning of patience, courage, grace, love, and most importantly, that the ordination process is all about God, not about Liz, and it will happen at the pace God desires it, not at the pace I desire it. It may happen in 2 years, or it will happen in four, but ultimately, God-willing, not Liz-willing, I will be serving God in ministry, with the support of my church and the RCA.
The ordination process is not a human-driven process, guided by human agendas and timetables. It isn’t about “I want to be a ______” and then going out and doing it. It isn’t about forcing a round peg into a square hole. It isn’t about having all the right answers to the questions a nominating committee may ask, or knowing the right theology or being able to quote scripture passages, or knowing liturgy perfectly, or even being able to provide pastoral care in all scenarios.
Rather, the ordination process is about being able to yield the self to the process, and to the guidance of Holy Spirit; God will lead the candidate through the movement of the spirit to the right call – whether it is in ordained ministry (or not, which does happen in a great number of cases) or lay ministry – and the amazing thing is, it may be surprising where one ends up. Ministry is not ultimately about the human voice in the wilderness, but about the mighty, powerful, all-knowing and all-loving voice of the divine Father in Heaven.
When things are not going as planned in the ordination process, it is perhaps a clear sign that human efforts are getting in the way of God’s divine plans. Step back, silence the mind, and allow God to take control again. Yielding control to the divine is far more frightening than allowing the type A personality to reign, but in the end, the plan that comes back will be far better. It may not look, sound, feel or work the way anyone imagined, but it will be exactly as it always was, and all will be well.
Trying to control the ordination process, with OCD tendencies and wishes and hopes is futile. It is like trying to put a rope around the ocean tides. There simply is no point, and it can prove to be an exasperating and emotionally tasking process – one that could potentially burn a person out entirely before the blessing of serving God even begins. Instead, if you “let go and let God,”the true and grace-filled meaning of the whole process seems to shine through. I noticed that when I let go of the desires to meet certain milestones and exam goals, and began to see the Holy Spirit working in and through my committee and exams, not only was my call divinely affirmed, but my classis began to affirm it in me as well. Letting go and letting God makes the process about God and not about you or me. It brings the kingdom and the church back into focus, and thus, the mission of the cross. It makes it less about the actual “me, me, me” of this world and more about the life everlasting that came about as a result of Christ. In attempting to control every aspect of ministry, ordination, exams and what have you, we rob the church of its divinity, of its uniqueness and make it like everything else – like work, like the grocery store, like the train – places we just go, pass through, without much notice. Christ didn’t muddle through ministry without notice. He didn’t come into flesh just to say, but to act on behalf of and to teach humanity. The ordination process is just like this – muddling through isn’t good enough, nor is attempting to control it either.
Yielding it to God is the most freeing moment, as it gives God the glory and the opportunity to show us our true potential in life. When we control the process, we stifle ourselves, and do ourselves a serious disservice. We rob ourselves of the potential to hear the still small voice. Our loud voice, while good and definitely important, mutes the possibility for God’s call on our lives, and robs the possibility for the multitude of God’s hand in our lives.
Ministry is not and should not be about a series of perfect answers, perfect search committee interviews and excellent resumes. It should be about a life lived in worship. Lived in imperfect perfection, in gratitude for each day, each moment, and each breath. Each interaction with a stranger, with a loved one. For each heartbeat, and for each hardship, as in that hardship, God still stands strong like an eye in the middle of a hurricane. If there is too much “us” in ministry, there is no God, and if there is no God, it is no longer ministry.
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