To have the word Reverend in front of your name is a lovely thing. It is something that you have worked for, as have I, long and hard. And no matter what called you to ministry, each of us certainly has a very deep feeling about what it means to be a minister.
It may also be true for you, as it has been for me, that the field of ministry is much larger than I once thought. In my schooling, as well as in my life experience, the model was always that of a minister in a church somewhere, speaking on Sundays, teaching classes, and supporting the congregation in their spiritual growth.
My early experience within that paradigm, as a senior minister in a small church, was much less satisfying than it should have been for me. I was surprised about that.
I was called to ministry rather late in life. I was happy working as a Practitioner and administrator in a midsize church, so the call to ministry was a surprise. I did follow the call, though, and I was in my late 60s before I graduated. I had always thought that I would go back to my home church as a staff minister, or possibly an assistant minister. Further, I really thought that I knew what I was supposed to do with this new calling, With the support of my home church.
It turns out that I was wrong. I wasn’t as welcome into that church as a minister as I had been as the administrator. It seem that there wasn’t really a place for what I wanted to do. Further, there wasn’t really a place for me in the organization beyond the rule that I had always filled. I must say that I was very disappointed.
Jesus once said “A prophet is not without honor save in his own country.” He spoke these words to the people of Nazareth, the town where he grew up. They refused to believe in his teaching because they considered him one of themselves and therefore without authority to preach to them. That, as it turns out, was my experience as well.
So I took what I knew about ministry, what I had learned in school, and what I believed society expected of me. I open my own church in a small town, settled in, and had a couple of really great years. But this wasn’t really my calling. I had accepted someone else’s version of “church” and assumed that that was what I was supposed to do. Needless to say, since it wasn’t my passion, I failed.
Now that I’m no longer senior minister, I realize there is much a broader definition of the word minister. I have realized that “minister” is not so much what I do as who I am – more of a verb than a title. Ministry appears in every aspect of my life. Ministry describes my relationship with the clerk in the grocery store, with my neighbors and friends, with my family, and in the world.
Please know I don’t intend to belittle the work that is done by pulpit ministers. This is the furthest thing from my mind. Pulpit ministry is difficult, necessary, and very rewarding. It is however not my path. It took me a long time, and a great deal of pain, to figure that out.
Currently I serve as a staff minister in the small church, and I love doing that work. But my ministry is so much larger than that. My ministry pretty much takes place in every moment of every day in my life. My ministry is in the larger world of every day.
I believe that’s true for all of us.