As part of my ordination examination, I was asked to provide a further response about ordination. Indeed, while I was affirmed in almost every way, the lingering question at the table was whether my calling included the particular element of ordination. This arose because I was not as forthright about ordination in how I talked about my self and my calling. (Now I’m over-using the word “ordination” a lot in this first paragraph — it’s hard to find balance in life)
In this short supplemental response [originally sent to the examination board and which I am now posting here], my goal is to discuss ordination in more depth, both how I understand it and how I see it as fitting into my calling.
Ordination is a expression of commitment. It is a commitment of a person to a particular denomination and a commitment of the denomination to that person. It is thus not to be entered into lightly by either side. More than a simple job agreement, ordination is a shared commitment in light of Christ’s calling.
It is a testimony that this person speaks in a way that reflects the denomination and a testimony that the denomination trusts what this person will speak, ordaining him or her into a public pastoral ministry. As a public pastoral ministry, an ordained minister is giving the task of edification, formation, and outreach, a shepherd to those who have been saved and a messenger to those who need salvation, as well as responsible for the pragmatic functions of a church community.
My calling in life is to serve the body of Christ. This is a calling affirmed throughout my life and in how God has shaped opportunities and formed my development. It is a calling that involves a passion to help others experience fullness in Christ, wherever their starting point, and to help them express this fullness in the ways God leads them.
I am a teacher, and exhorter, able to write and speak in ways that reach a variety of audiences. In both training and gifting, I am led to express God’s life into and for this world.
In my 20s, I explored this calling in light of church ministry, utilizing my seminary training to help develop a members class, to develop and lead a young adults ministry, to organize and plan special events like a multisensory Stations of the Cross that transformed our sanctuary to a walk through the crucifixion narrative.
I was excited about this ministry and felt validated by those I was ministering with and those I was learning from. However, my calling was discouraged by some others in leadership, who were themselves dealing with significant dysfunction.
My attempts to respond in light of faithful Christian dialogue were rebuffed and having no recourse to denominational support (it was an independent church) I did not have other roads open. Ordination was an interest but not an opportunity at this time.
Over the next years, I realized I needed to deepen my understanding and experience of faith, and turned to a season of writing, reading, praying, seeking God with all my being.
This transformative season addressed my frustrations and reinvigorated my love for the church, resulting in two very pastoral oriented books which were published by Barclay Press: It’s a Dance: Moving with the Holy Spirit and How Long? A Trek Through the Wilderness.
I entered into PhD work with a dedicated interest in ecclesiology and church history, better grounding my understanding of why the church is the way it is and what it is called to be.
I am critical of many aspects about the church, but I love the church, and see it as an expression of God’s radical work in this world.
In short, the church is my passion. In a season where I was discouraged in participation, it was like my soul was torn from me. In finding my way back in the leading of the Spirit, I have specialized in church life, adding to a lifetime of church experiences and ministry experience.
My dissertation (now published book) is titled The Transformative Church and expresses a dynamic transformative ecclesiology that understands the expressions of the church in a holistic way, in which people become in the church who they are called to be throughout the whole of their lives.
This has a theoretical basis, since I focus on the work of Moltmann, but also extremely practical expression, as my use of missional writings throughout emphasizes.
This interest in the theoretical intersecting the practical continues in my work at Fuller, where in addition to teaching classes on theology and church history, I also teach a class on Practices of Christian Worship (indeed this very quarter) and a class on Practices of Christian Community (next quarter).
These all feed into each other, informing and shaping how I teach, how I pray, how I lead.
This has not entirely addressed the “why” of ordination for me, of course. In the process of the last few years, it has become clear that I am led to teach in a variety of settings. I am not content with simply teaching in a seminary environment, though I am happy to have this as a vocation.
I also am passionate about revitalizing catechesis, teaching Christians about the faith in a planned developmental approach.
I have been affirmed in my preaching, leading, and teaching. I have been affirmed in and value the opportunities of pastoral counseling. While I get these in academic teaching, teaching at a seminary does not provide a constant community in which to develop deeper relationships and conversations.
While I have the chance to write and research in academic ways, academia does not give the chance to explore how all this translates into transformative living in accordance with the calling of Christ in a particular time and place.
In content, in passion, in interest, in hope, then, my calling resonates with ordained ministry. Whether I work full time as a minister and part time teaching in a classroom, or whether I work full time as a professor and part time as a minister, both sides benefit from each other.
My academic work utterly needs continued orientation within church ministry life, and my church ministry calling needs the continued reflection and deepening that is part of my academic life. I do not see these as separate callings but as an integrated calling with different expressions.
The question for me is not whether I am called to contributing to the church and God’s missio in this world. These are part of my core self. The question, as I see it, is if the Wesleyan Church, can use one such as me at some place in its many ministries. If so, then I am excited to be a part and to be a minister in a way that participates to, from, and within the church.