I grew up in churches that didn’t practice anything “like” ordination, and where they didn’t have women serving in any official leadership capacity. (There were plenty of women leaders, nevertheless). In the 90s, we attended a church where women had a more visible presence in worship and in leadership. Later, through more than a decade of struggling through the biblical text and participating in discernment conversations in seminary, my view on ordination (as a practice) and women in ministry (as theology) continued to be shaped and formed.
Part of that time I was serving in ministry as a volunteer. Part of that time I was serving full-time on a ministry staff. But it wasn’t until being part of the family of God at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) that I was invited to consider the possibility of an official “setting apart.” I can still remember the elders’ hands pressing onto my shoulders, the salty taste of tears that flowed freely, and the words of affirmation shared by so many church friends and seminary professors.
Often scripture reminds us to “remember what God as done.” The Israelites remembered with feast days and weekly Sabbath celebrations. The early church remembered as they celebrated the Eucharist. In these last two “anniversary” dates of my ordination, I’ve made it my practice to go back and remind myself of the words spoken over me (and my friend Brandon Waite, ordained the same day). Below are some of the words of blessing that are helping me “remember what God has done.”
from Michael L. Sweeney’s charge…
Ordination doesn’t change your personality. It doesn’t make you more pious than you were before. The fact that you are ordained won’t make people more anxious to open up to you or lean on your every word. Heads of state won’t call you in for spiritual guidance.
Add to that, our culture can’t possibly understand what ordination means. We’re all about the individual. We decide for ourselves what we’re going to be when we grow up. We choose what we’re going to study in college and where we’re going to work. We make our vocational choices on the basis of personal interest, period. None of this family-or-group-decision stuff about OUR future that we find in Asian and African cultures. The American way would have us lay hands on ourselves – or, at least, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
So ordination just doesn’t fit the mold of our culture or our church movement. But, in spite of all that, it really does have a special place in the life of the church. Outsiders looking in may not get it. It defies analysis and precise definition.
…the decision to ordain someone does not belong to the person being ordained. We often think it does. After all, most of us who have been ordained asked to be considered for it. But this isn’t the same thing as applying for a job.
When you’re called to ministry, you are called to the impossible. No one is really qualified for vocational ministry. No amount of preparation will ever be sufficient to make you successful. The amount of skill you have will fall short. The results of our labors are always out of our control. In fact, part of the message that Paul wanted to get across to the church in Corinth was that he was way out of his depth, but that God seemed to be OK with that. In fact, it was a good thing, since Paul’s weakness was an opportunity to show the strength of God. And so it is with us.
In Acts 13, setting Saul and Barnabas apart was God’s idea, and it was communicated to the leaders of the church in Antioch because they were deeply involved in worship, prayer and fasting. They were connected to God and attuned to his will. And so today, by their willingness to ordain you, the leaders at Grandview are saying that they believe it is God’s will that you be set apart for ministry. It’s not just their idea of a nice thing to do. But it’s because, through their prayer and worship, they have been led by the Spirit of God to call you in this way.
From my daughter Elizabeth’s prayer…
…Like Paul, knowing he was likely to face many trials and hardships, may Brandon and Dawn face the unknown and say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Holy Spirit, may Dawn and Brandon hear your voice over and above the voices of this world. Grant them with your wisdom, courage, and discernment as they continue to follow your lead in vocational ministry.
From my friend Theresa’s prayer…
May this body, Grandview Christian Church, sustain and support Brandon and Dawn in their work, whether they minister among us or be sent out from us. Let us offer encouragement and instruction when needed and love and grace always.Guide their steps. Invigorate their spirits. Fill them with wisdom. Remind them of the responsibility and privilege they have accepted in being set apart as your servants
Many church leaders (and denominations) have widely varying practices regarding ordination in general, or the ordination of women in particular. This is not an invitation to debate its theology or practice. Rather, today’s post is a celebration of an anniversary, one that causes me to both look back at what God has done, and look forward to what God can and will do through obedient servants. I thank God for the privilege, and pray that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
Solo Deo Gloria!