Tuesday, February 11, 2014

United Methodist Ministry: What are we doing and Who are We?

This past week I posted a question in a Facebook Group page on the role of Local Pastors and their use of traditionally Ordained person styles, garments and vestments. I got a lot of different response, but most of them were either of the visceral type or showed complete indifference. I suppose on the grand scheme of things whether Local Pastors can wear collars, stoles and robes and whether they can use the style Rev. in front of their names really is inconsequential. What matters is whether or not good ministry is taking place and whether or not the gospel is being taught and shared and changed lives are the result of that, I understand, believe me I do.

I've been a Licensed Local Pastor (LLP) now for over five years. This May, assuming everything goes well, I'll be an Elder, a commissioned Elder, and will begin my two year probationary journey to Full and Ordained Elder. I understand the difficulties, the challenges and to and extent, perhaps the discrimination some LLP's feel, so again, I get it. I also understand that there is a difference between an Elder and an LLP, one that should be distinctive, but in away is vague when we sit down and try to discuss it. After all an LLP is a pastor, he can celebrate sacraments, perform wedding, funerals and all other Pastoral ministry and is intinerate. What does and Elder do? Please refer to the prior sentence. The  practical difference that I can see is guaranteed appointments, larger churches and better salaries. Elders are, for the most part, guaranteed those things. On tope of those things Elders can expect to have close to $70,000 in debt, endure a rigorous and sometimes random and always frustrating Ordination process, and an expectation of constant professionalism.

Please don't misunderstand me, I love LLP's and value their ministry, I feel certainty that I am called to Ordained ministry, but why would one go through all this when they can virtually do the same thing with 1/4 of the complications? I know plenty of people, even those who commented to my post over the weekend, who said they were happy being and LLP an that they felt no pressure or urgency to become Ordained. Even young people in their mid thirties are opting to remain as local pastors because it's to much money and work to become and Elder and DCOM's and BoOM's are fine with that.

I believe in the call to Eldership in the church. The church needs Elders, it needs the Ordained Elder, the Ordained Elder is a gift from God, they are called of God to order the life of the church, preserve the apostolic presents and administer the sacraments. Without the Ordained Elder the church would fail. I think it's time we discuss what Ordination is instead of just taking about what they do. They do everything an LLP (essentially a temporary clergy person or lay pastor) can do, but at a much higher cost, personally and finically. But what does it do to them, what changes about them, ontologically how are they different from the LLP? The cost to them is greater, the devotion, the sacrifice and the life time spent sold out out to the body, like St. Paul, becoming a servant, giving up their rights and identity. But how do we recognize this other than with higher salaries and bigger churches? All those things are great feats of faith that the Elder provides to the church. Her witness and devotion to God by willing to give everything up is a great feat of faith, enabled only by a perfecting God. The Elder devotes her life, her finances, her family to service the church. What does that mean for her, how does that change her?

I think LLP's are great pastors, who also sacrifice, but they're pastors. Is an Elder just a pastor? I don't think so. I think they truly are the gift of the apostolic presents in our churches. I've heard it said once that though your young pastor might be 30 years younger than you, when he wears that stole, he is 2,000 years old. My hope is that we continue to discuss the role of the ordained, and what ordination does and not just what they do. I hope that LLP's recognize the sacrifice and devotion of Elders. So many LLP's seem to have a chip on their shoulder regarding Elders. They feel that they are just as good, just as qualified, just as significant to the church...and they are, to an extent, but if all the church needed was the LLP, we wouldn't have Elders, if all we needed was the Pastor, we wouldn't need Elders. This is a conversation, like most in our church that will be polarizing and controversial and to some inflammatory, but we need to have it. I hope my thoughts don't offend any of you, but instead calls us all to reflection.

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