192. Hopes, Dreams, and Prayers for Pastors

At this year’s Ordination Service, we invited a youth, a young adult, a laywoman with years of leadership experience, and a pastor to address the question, “What are your hopes, dreams, and prayers for those we will ordain?”   I was deeply moved by the depth and spirit of the insights.  At the end, I offered my own thoughts on the question, and I’m including notes below from my part of the presentation.

Why would people offer themselves to be ordained as United Methodist pastors today?  With the downward trends, the aging membership, the crisis of relevancy, the organizational challenges, why would people give their lives to ministry in the United Methodist Church?   Adam Hamilton thinks people enter United Methodist ministry for one of three reasons.   First, they become United Methodist ministers because they want to offer hospice care for congregations.  They’re willing to love congregations to the end, commend them to God with a good send off, and help them to a peaceful death.  Or second, they become United Methodist pastors because they have no other choices; they’ve been fired from everything else, and they can’t get into any other denomination.  Or third, they offer themselves to this ministry because they want to reform and renew the United Methodist Church.  They believe that our way of understanding God and revealing Christ’s grace is profoundly important, that the Wesleyan branch of the Christian family has truths and practices that truly change lives, and they are willing to pour themselves into the task of leading and renewing the church.  I hope and pray that each of these people we are about to ordain are doing this because they love Christ and want to renew the United Methodist Church and bring us to a new expression of the faith.

I hope you are utterly offended by the decline of the church.  And yet I hope your spirit is not broken by the difficulty of the challenge, and that you are able to mobilize people to take the mission of the church seriously, passionately, and fruitfully.

What do I pray for?

I pray for pastors with an expansive view of ministry, engaging the world with a missional energy.  I pray for people who see ministry not just as a job but as an adventure, a journey to which they are willing to offer a hearty Yes, and Yes again and again.  I pray for pastors who are thrilled at the prospect, anxious to get started, ready in a moment’s time to offer hope, teach peace, and reveal love. I prayer for pastors with an outward focus, alive with Wesley’s “the world is my parish” spirit, unlimited in vision, undimmed by failure, exuberant in spirit.

I pray for pastors with a well-developed interior life, deep-spirited, and attentive to the wild, raw beauty of the spiritual life, fully in love with God and desiring God with eagerness, humility, and passion.

I pray for pastors with courage, who will sit with people no one else cares about, listen to those others don’t have time for, speak for those who have no voice, willing to go to the rough places that are difficult to enter—the hospital emergency room, the graveside with those who weep, to the places of loneliness and violence and abuse that we’d prefer to avoid if left to our own inclinations.  I pray for pastors who will walk with the poor without giving up on the rich.  I pray for courage.

I pray for pastors who love the ministry of Jesus Christ, who desire nothing more, who are alive with the contagious love of God and a robust curiosity for the spiritual life, who are winsome, full of delight in their calling, who inspire those younger than them and also those older than them to say, “that’s what I want to be like when I grow up; that’s who I want my children to know and my teenagers to hang around with; that’s who I want teaching and caring for my parents.”

I pray for pastors who offer no excuses and no baloney, and who are not full of themselves, and who do not blame anyone and everyone for everything.  I pray for pastors who are never false, always honest, fair to a fault, who consistently err on the side of grace, and who are big enough to let trivial things roll on by, and wise enough to truly give a darn about the things that matter most.

I pray for pastors who use authority wisely and not for self, who remember that the fullest cup always requires the steadiest hand.

I pray for the pastors about to be ordained that you have in you a little of Cody and of Sally and of Brian and of Margie and of David and of Yolanda and of Karen and of Kendall and of Dwight, and even a little of Kurt, (but not too much—just enough to make you unpredictably passionate about the gospel and surprisingly sensible at times!).  In other words, I hope you inherit the best from your mentors and teachers, and that you go places we could never reach, and that you learn things and teach us things that we could never come to on our own.  I hope you carry on the faith.

Finally, I hope people see Christ in you.  Now.  Tonight.  In the morning having breakfast. In the pulpit on Sunday. Among the youth in the evening and with the elderly at the retirement home and with the poor in the bread line.  And next year, too, and ten years from now, and ten years after retirement, I hope people see in you the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are being ordained, for God’s sake!  Literally, for God’s sake, you are being ordained.  The word “ordained” means to be set in a direction.  I hope your whole life is aimed in a direction—by Christ, toward Christ, with Christ, in Christ, for Christ.  I hope people see Christ in you.

That’s my prayer—for all of those being ordained this evening, for all of those who have knelt where you will kneel tonight, and for all those who will kneel in your presence in this place in years to come, I hope people see Christ in you.

Yours in Christ,