Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 3, 2008

Calls and Contemplation

On Tuesday evening, July 1, 2008, I received a divine call from Grace Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, Michigan, to be an associate pastor at their congregation. Technically, the call is to be a “youth and family” pastor, although my main responsibility would be to be a pastor in the traditional sense and then to focus on youth and family ministry as time and opportunities permit. The previous administrative pastor has just retired, and the previous youth and family pastor has now stepped into the administrative pastor’s role. In the future, they hope to call a third pastor who would be more of an exclusive “youth pastor,” and my role would shift a bit in the process. Grace is a congregation in southwestern Michigan with about 1,000 members and a K-8 school, and it is also located in the shadow of a WELS high school. It’s about a two-hour drive from Chicago.

This is the first call I have had the opportunity to consider since arriving here in Belmont seven years ago. I had requested that I not be on call lists up until this summer so that I could finish my second master’s degree in liturgy, which I’m wrapping up right now (and for which I still need to take comprehensive examinations … let us pray!). Lo and behold, the call arrives Tuesday night, July 1!

As of this writing I have not yet received the packet of information from Grace congregation. It will no doubt arrive soon — we haven’t gotten the mail yet today, and they couldn’t have sent the packet until yesterday because the call was extended the previous evening. What I’ve shared with you here is primarily based on a very pleasant telephone conversation I had on Tuesday evening with the current pastor at Grace, a real gentleman and fine pastor who needs our prayers in this process as much as I do.

I’m not going to use this blog as a place to post specific call contemplations, but since these sorts of things are on my mind now, it provides an opportunity to think about what Scripture says regarding a call into the ministry. The two verses that come to mind right now are both in the book of Acts.

Acts 14:23. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders [or ordained elders, or had elders elected] for them in each church and … committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Acts 20:28. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of God of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

In the first verse, we see two missionaries appointing pastors in a congregation that they had begun (humanly speaking). In the second verse, Paul is speaking to another group of appointed pastors and tells them that the Holy Spirit has made them overseers and shepherds in the church. So do people call pastors into the ministry or does the Holy Spirit? The answer is, “Yes.”

Grace church needs a pastor with particular abilities. The district president complies a list of pastors whom he believes will be a good match for the congregation. The congregational voters’ assembly chooses the man from the list whom they believe will be able to serve them well. There is a human process involved. And at the very same time, the Holy Spirit is behind the call that has been extended. That’s not to suggest that the Holy Spirit mystically whispered in the voters’ ears to call one particular man. The call extended and received should be perceived not as “the will of God” but “in accordance with the will of God.” (That sentence alone deserves an entire theological treatise). But the Holy Spirit is behind the call.

The Holy Spirit is also behind the call in which I currently serve at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Belmont, California. Here is a church that I have come to know and love, a church that is like an extended family to my own family, and a church that has its own unique needs for its pastor. And so now I must contemplate two calls and decide where I can best serve the Lord in his kingdom.

I will tell you what this decision will not be based on. It will not be based on salary. It will not be based on proximity to relatives. It will not be based on whether or not I have a parsonage or can own my own home. It will not be based on traveling distance to Lambeau Field (tempting though that may be). It will not be based on the size of the congregation. It will not be based on weather. It will not be based on my personal preference for natural disasters (earthquakes vs. tornadoes). It will not be based on the number of Starbucks within a 3-mile radius. It will not be based on the price of gas (which, at this point, is atrocious regardless of where one lives). And since both churches have decent organs (one pipe, one digital), it won’t even be based on that!

In the days and weeks ahead, I will be in touch with representatives from Grace and the WELS Michigan District, as well as the current leadership at my congregation and from the WELS Arizona-California District. In the meantime, I ask the kind reader for his or her prayers as I contemplate and ultimately decide, after careful and prayerful consideration, where I can best serve Christ in his kingdom.

Oh, yes, and one postscript. If you think that there is some hidden code or subliminal message in this post that indicates which direction I’m leaning, you would be incorrect. If you do hold to such a theory, you would be better served spending your time trying to figure out if Brett Favre is returning to the Packers this year or not! (There’s another case of people with too much time on their hands trying to figure out things that they should leave alone).

[…after an elapse of some time…]

The package has arrived. Call contemplation begins now.

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