Author mug On Faith

Vaughn F. Beckman

Ministers should study
the past as they are
pondering the future

People in all walks of life need moments to step back and evaluate the past as they ponder the future. Ministers are no exception. For them, there is an attempt to find equanimity between a commitment to be sent by God and the staggering realization of responsibility set before you. As you mature and grow and as your personal circumstances and the world changes, the need to find discernment is enhanced. It is a necessary juncture as you prepare to move forward.

It is hard to explain what it means to be "called" into Christian ministry. It is not like selecting a career or profession.

In some amazing way, God reaches deep within your heart and mind, and compels you to live out a life committed to the gospel. I believe that all followers of Christ are ministers. However, there is a particular gift, given through the Holy Spirit, whereby you are given a specific mission in fulfilling God's plan.

For many this gift is not so easily accepted. Time and time again, in scripture, we read of those who were not always so eager to give up everything to follow the cross, to minister to those in need. We think of Moses and Jonah and Paul.

As I have ended one ministry experience and prepare to answer "the call" to another, a time of reflection and review seems essential and right. Several thoughts seem to clearly stand out.

>> First, we can get caught up in the work of the ministry, and it is important to work successfully with church boards, lay leadership and denominational leaders. However, our commitment must never waver from the One who "called" us.

>> And we can get encumbered with the many tasks set before us as ministers, but our primary commitment must be to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Proclaiming and doing the good news must be our ultimate purpose.

>> We must be committed to change if our congregations are to successfully move into the 21st century. Too many congregations are on survival mode and have no clear idea of who they are or what they want to become.

A major problem today is that too many churches end up selecting the wrong minister for their congregation, mainly because they have not defined who they are and what they want to become. Meaningful change can only take place when a healthier vision of pastoral leadership is allowed.

Because ministers do not have the same gifts and talents, a congregation needs to be mature in whom they select and for what purposes. Churches should select someone compatible to their congregational vision. Neglecting to honor and celebrate the diversity in ministers fails the congregation, the minister and the future of the church.

Both the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have started promoting Ethical Guidelines for Congregational Conduct. This opens the door to sound principles of church functioning which require church leadership to take the calling of a new minister within a spirit of understanding, seriousness and long-term possibilities.

>> Ministers must keep our inward spirituality strong and vibrant. There must be a constant balance between our influence and our humility, our ability to apologize and our need to motivate. Taking time to study, pray, and practice spiritual disciplines is necessary. All clergy make mistakes and there are moments when those errors must be owned.

Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote: "Are we like Judas who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God's mercy any longer and hanged himself? Or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?" Deal with your faults, own up to them and move forward. Use those moments of failure as opportunities to grow and become spiritually stronger.

To dare to speak about and for God can and should be done only in humility and with great care.

This is God's plan, however. Some are "called" by God's spirit to have the courage, the boldness, the insight and the integrity to speak the truth in hope and in love.

The Rev. Vaughn F. Beckman, former minister at First Christian Church in Makiki, was recently selected to be pastor at First Christian Church in Stockton, Calif. He was ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 10 years ago and recently received joint ministerial partner standing with the United Church of Christ.

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