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192. Hopes, Dreams, and Prayers for Pastors

At this year’s Ordination Service, we invited a youth, a young adult, a laywoman with years of leadership experience, and a pastor to address the question, “What are your hopes, dreams, and prayers for those we will ordain?”   I was deeply moved by the depth and spirit of the insights.  At the end, I offered my own thoughts on the question, and I’m including notes below from my part of the presentation.

Why would people offer themselves to be ordained as United Methodist pastors today?  With the downward trends, the aging membership, the crisis of relevancy, the organizational challenges, why would people give their lives to ministry in the United Methodist Church?   Adam Hamilton thinks people enter United Methodist ministry for one of three reasons.   First, they become United Methodist ministers because they want to offer hospice care for congregations.  They’re willing to love congregations to the end, commend them to God with a good send off, and help them to a peaceful death.  Or second, they become United Methodist pastors because they have no other choices; they’ve been fired from everything else, and they can’t get into any other denomination.  Or third, they offer themselves to this ministry because they want to reform and renew the United Methodist Church.  They believe that our way of understanding God and revealing Christ’s grace is profoundly important, that the Wesleyan branch of the Christian family has truths and practices that truly change lives, and they are willing to pour themselves into the task of leading and renewing the church.  I hope and pray that each of these people we are about to ordain are doing this because they love Christ and want to renew the United Methodist Church and bring us to a new expression of the faith.

I hope you are utterly offended by the decline of the church.  And yet I hope your spirit is not broken by the difficulty of the challenge, and that you are able to mobilize people to take the mission of the church seriously, passionately, and fruitfully.

What do I pray for?

I pray for pastors with an expansive view of ministry, engaging the world with a missional energy.  I pray for people who see ministry not just as a job but as an adventure, a journey to which they are willing to offer a hearty Yes, and Yes again and again.  I pray for pastors who are thrilled at the prospect, anxious to get started, ready in a moment’s time to offer hope, teach peace, and reveal love. I prayer for pastors with an outward focus, alive with Wesley’s “the world is my parish” spirit, unlimited in vision, undimmed by failure, exuberant in spirit.

I pray for pastors with a well-developed interior life, deep-spirited, and attentive to the wild, raw beauty of the spiritual life, fully in love with God and desiring God with eagerness, humility, and passion.

I pray for pastors with courage, who will sit with people no one else cares about, listen to those others don’t have time for, speak for those who have no voice, willing to go to the rough places that are difficult to enter—the hospital emergency room, the graveside with those who weep, to the places of loneliness and violence and abuse that we’d prefer to avoid if left to our own inclinations.  I pray for pastors who will walk with the poor without giving up on the rich.  I pray for courage.

I pray for pastors who love the ministry of Jesus Christ, who desire nothing more, who are alive with the contagious love of God and a robust curiosity for the spiritual life, who are winsome, full of delight in their calling, who inspire those younger than them and also those older than them to say, “that’s what I want to be like when I grow up; that’s who I want my children to know and my teenagers to hang around with; that’s who I want teaching and caring for my parents.”

I pray for pastors who offer no excuses and no baloney, and who are not full of themselves, and who do not blame anyone and everyone for everything.  I pray for pastors who are never false, always honest, fair to a fault, who consistently err on the side of grace, and who are big enough to let trivial things roll on by, and wise enough to truly give a darn about the things that matter most.

I pray for pastors who use authority wisely and not for self, who remember that the fullest cup always requires the steadiest hand.

I pray for the pastors about to be ordained that you have in you a little of Cody and of Sally and of Brian and of Margie and of David and of Yolanda and of Karen and of Kendall and of Dwight, and even a little of Kurt, (but not too much—just enough to make you unpredictably passionate about the gospel and surprisingly sensible at times!).  In other words, I hope you inherit the best from your mentors and teachers, and that you go places we could never reach, and that you learn things and teach us things that we could never come to on our own.  I hope you carry on the faith.

Finally, I hope people see Christ in you.  Now.  Tonight.  In the morning having breakfast. In the pulpit on Sunday. Among the youth in the evening and with the elderly at the retirement home and with the poor in the bread line.  And next year, too, and ten years from now, and ten years after retirement, I hope people see in you the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

You are being ordained, for God’s sake!  Literally, for God’s sake, you are being ordained.  The word “ordained” means to be set in a direction.  I hope your whole life is aimed in a direction—by Christ, toward Christ, with Christ, in Christ, for Christ.  I hope people see Christ in you.

That’s my prayer—for all of those being ordained this evening, for all of those who have knelt where you will kneel tonight, and for all those who will kneel in your presence in this place in years to come, I hope people see Christ in you.

Yours in Christ,


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4 Responses to 192. Hopes, Dreams, and Prayers for Pastors

  1. Jan Bond says:

    I want you to know that your words, indeed, gave me a renewed spirit for serving God and neighbor. I am pumped to continue turning this big ‘ole ship I serve around. Every once in a while I need something, someone to give me that boost/push and you, Bishop, did that for me as you spoke at the ordination service and in this blog. Praise God for those who lead!

  2. John Elford says:

    Thanks, Robert, for the passion in your prayer and especially for the prayer for courage. I’m more and more convinced that overcoming our bifurcation of mercy and justice and our separation from the poor are keys to rethinking and transforming United Methodism.

  3. Rev. David M Jolly says:

    I am printing this for the wall above my desk. It has been too long since I read and meditated on a well spoken, spirit-led, description for what I and all pastors should be about and why. I must tell you though that it is too big for me, that like all things worth doing as the Body of Christ it is too big for me to do alone. I will need to ask the Lord to be my strength, help and guidance all the way, and I will also count on the prayers of the people I serve. Thanks to each of you who spoke and may your hopes, dreams and prayers in this come to be in those who were called, equipped and sent and all by the love and grace of God. Pastor Dave

  4. Michael Pope says:

    Thanks for your timely, lively and relevant words for our pastors and our churches. These reflect my hopes and dreams for our pastors today too. I believe that many of your words apply to the vocation of ministry in general too, whether clergy or laity, for we are all ministers of Jesus Christ. I appreciate your ministry and leadership to our Annual Conference.

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