On Thursday evening, in a ceremony just outside Springfield, Illinois, the United Methodist Church let loose 19 "new pastors" into the wild. If you have a conventional idea of what a pastor should look like and do, these folks will worry you. And you will be a bit upset that we have let them all loose like we did.
To make matters worse, most of them are armed, or will be in a couple months. They will possess what we call a "License to Preach" which will allow them to do such things as baptize people, perform weddings, and be the CEO of a little church.
Getting a "License to Preach" is the first big step in a long journey for people who want to serve as a pastor in a United Methodist congregation. After this first step, all of them will be required to take many other classes in such topics as preaching, Bible scholarship, church history, worship, administration, counseling, and theology in order to continue serving churches. But with a "License to Preach," we expect them to get the rest of their education on the run, as we will immediately throw them into the deep water of serving a church, right now, and prayerfully watch to see if they will sink or swim.
I'm not sure how to define what a "pastor"
should look and act like. But I do know that these people we just set loose aren't an exact fit. And I can't put my finger on any one thing that makes them so odd. They range in age from 21-64. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the petite to the plump to the lanky to the gigantic. They are all Caucasian except for the guy from India; but several haves spouses (or spouses to be) of other races and countries. They range in educational accomplishment from those with solid high school diplomas to those with a master's degree. Some have been married to their high school sweethearts for decades. Others have been through death and divorce. Some are single.
Some grew up in the church, some grew up in broken families and never discovered the church until later in life. A high number of them are into music of some sort, ranging from piano players to guitarists to those with experience in a rock band. In their spare time, their interests range from motorcycles to woodworking to camping to reading to quilting to antique restoration. Their personalities range from the quiet and bashful to the brash and jolly.
All of them have done some other sort of work prior to entering the ministry. They have worked at Hardees, McDonalds, Target, Dominos, and Ace Hardware. There are farmers among them, special ed teachers, and phlebotomists. Collectively, they have worked for funeral homes, banks, lawyers, department stores, restaurants, hospitals, libraries, and factories. They have been in charge of IT work, coached golf, and served crisis centers for abused women. One was an online radio personality, another a drill sergeant, and one started his own business while still in college.
If it sounds like all these people are actually "retreads" rather than actually "new," then you are right. Even the youngest of them has been through life experiences that are unknown to me. In fact, there is no such thing as a "new" pastor. The only people we can find these days to serve the church are those who have already been in a wreck...in some cases, multiples wrecks during this journey we call life.
So, no, none of these pastors are really "new."
Each one has been "fixed-up" by some mysterious act of God. And each one will tell you some unique and true and personal story if you ask.
Every church wishes it had a perfect pastor, a commodity that would bring bucks to the offering place and butts to the pews. But sadly, the United Methodist Church doesn't have any of those pastors left anymore. When it comes to finding shepherds for his people, God only takes broken down sinners, forgives and fixes them, and then pushes them out into the real world to sow seeds of hope. It is only broken pastors who serve the broken bread to a broken world. Only the ones who commit themselves to living their lives on center stage, with honesty and transparency, are allowed the front row seat reserved to pastors to witness the lives of their parishioners. Only those who already know what it means to be left out are called to assemble mostly marginalized people to be the body of Christ.
Some people think pastors come from the freshest, purist, most pristine specimens to be found in the human race. Not so. Pastors come from the broken parts department of our species. We pastors have all damaged others because we have followed the devices and desires of our own hearts, AND we have all taken a turn getting our own hearts broken.
The group this week makes me nervous, but that's because I see a little of myself in each of them. Like me, they too are on the road to perfection. And NOBODY who has ever travels the road to perfection actually looks like they will ever arrive.
So my friends, I've given you warning. These new colleagues of mine are headed your way. Do not be afraid of them. Do not idolize them. Do not let anyone make a commodity out of them. Love them and forgive them, as you have me. And wait wide-eyed and in wonder as we see what God has wrought.