Lessons from Five Years of Ordained Ministry

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Photo Credit: Shachmut Photography, my ordination at Old South Church in Boston, MA

Today marks my fifth anniversary of ordination to ministry. I have been called to ministry for over half of my life. I can hardly remember a life in which this thing that has pulled me, and shaped my heart for so long did not have a grip on me. While I have served the church for much longer than five years, I have been reflecting on what these five years of ordination in particular have meant to me. They have been harder, more humbling, more beautiful, more tender, more holy, and more painful than I ever could have imagined. They have been everything and nothing like I thought they would be all at once. In it all though, I can’t imagine doing anything else.

In that spirit, here’s a little bit of what five years of Rev. in front of my name has taught me. Some of these will feel specific to ministry, but some of them are not. May they speak to you if you need them, wherever you are.

  1. My spouse taught me a while ago that the words “integration” and “integrity” come from the same latin root meaning whole. It is perhaps the deepest work of our life to know who we are, and whose we are (and not to forget it). Unabashedly seek your own wholeness, and help others find theirs.
  2. Years ago, my friend Janessa, said to me: your call to ministry belongs to you, and to God. No one, anywhere, no matter how powerful, can take that away, tell you what it is, or tell you what it is not. May you know it deeply.
  3. You cannot be all things to all people. It is a mirage. Don’t chase it.
  4. It is your job to help people grow closer to God and to bring about the kingdom. It is not your job to make people happy. Write that one on a post-it note for easy reference.
  5. People will love you and people will hate you, and it will have nothing (literally nothing) to do with you.
  6. Serving God and God’s people is not always the same thing as serving the Church. In fact, more often than not, this is true. When in doubt? Come back to the texts written on your heart, the wisdom of your mentors, and those who anchor you. You’ll know what to do.
  7. Not every colleague in ministry* is helpful or healthy relationship for you. Read that again. There is sometimes an unfair expectation that all of us are to be in equal relationship with each other. We have a responsibility to be kind, collegial, and to practice compassion. But not every colleague will be “your people,” and it’s okay (healthy even) to set those boundaries. Other folks will also set those boundaries with you. Embrace it, and practice gratitude. *This also applies to non-ministry work.
  8. You are worthy of this call (don’t @ me). Yes, I mean you.
  9. When in doubt? Show up. You don’t need the perfect thing to say, the perfect prayer memorized, or a handbook. Just show up, and be willing to walk with someone. That will carry you far in life, ministry, and relationship.
  10. I hope that you will remember that all of us, every one, are wholeness and brokenness side by side in the same body. That person you love deeply who has done so much good, cared for so many people, and loved you through the hardest hour of your life? Real. That same person who also caused very real harm, fell short of your hopes, and has never fully done the work of repair? Also real. That is an extraordinarily complicated, human reality and a nuance we are often not good at holding. Your truth and someone else’s truth about the same person can both be real. And, the responsibility is first to the person who has been harmed.
  11. Who other people say you are isn’t actually who you are. Ministry (like many things) is a deeply public job. People will have a lot to say about who they think you are. Your job? Get quiet, get with the people in your inner circles, get with God, and listen well for your deepest truths. Know who you are, and whose you are, and don’t let others define that for you (see how we came full circle there?)

Here’s to five years of ordained ministry. If I’ve served alongside you, or you’ve invited me to walk with you, thank you. I am especially grateful for the times others have challenged or provoked me in the name of the Gospel. For the times I have misstepped, or not lived fully into my ordination promises, forgive me. For the work that is yet to come, please pray for me as I pray for you. Whatever the call is on your life, I am sure that the world is best served by following the thing that lights your heart on fire.

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