Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
As I write this, I am deep in the process of decluttering and packing for an upcoming move. Everything is under scrutiny: “Whose is this?” “Do we still need this?” “What even is this?” My task for this week is to tackle all the books, and there are plenty of them among us, with a dual clergy couple and family of avid readers: children’s books, novels, memoirs, Bibles, commentaries, books on writing, travel, theology, faith formation, leadership. So many books.
I started off trying to decide which books to let go of. Duplicates were easy. The falling-apart paperbacks were not that difficult. Into the donation box they went. But then the process slowed way down, and I began thinking things like I loved this book. I used that book a lot at one time. I might read that one again someday. I should finally read this one. Not many were going in the giveaway box. Choosing books I was willing to part with wasn’t working.
So, I switched my strategy and started picking and packing the books I knew I wanted to keep (and pay to move). Scanning the shelves for the most important books, rather than the least important, was a game-changer. I easily filled my boxes with the must-haves. The rest can now go on to bless others. Somehow, selecting the keepers was easier than choosing the giveaways.
The whole process reminds me of this ordination question, which seems a bit like a duplicate. We’ve already answered pieces of it in prior questions. We’ve already said yes to following Jesus Christ. Yes to Scripture. Yes to the confessions. Do we really need this question too? I think so, and here’s why — it provides a turning point in the ordination questions, shifting from what we believe to how we will serve. As we answer, we are invited to consider what we will take with us into our ministry ahead.
As church leaders, we have an abundance of possibilities for spending our time, energy, and resources. The shelves in our metaphorical library are stuffed full of chapters from our own history and our church’s—good ideas, meaningful stories, helpful reference materials. All of it has been valuable at some point, but it can be messy and cluttered and difficult to manage. It can weigh us down just when we are asked to pick up and go forward. New seasons in our life and our congregation’s life invite us to reassess and let some of it go. But how do we choose what to let go of? It all seems useful to keep. What if we need it someday? What if we forget who we once were? Staring at our overfull bookshelves, asking what we can let go of, can lead to paralysis.
What happens if we switch tactics and instead determine the must-haves? What are the keepers, as we look toward the future into which God calls us? This question hands us what we need: obedience to Jesus Christ. The authority of Scripture. And guidance by the confessions of our faith. Packing those first means our ministry library is grounded and anchored. Letting go of some of the extra clutter left behind makes room for the Spirit to do new things in God’s good future. Our future shelves may need ideas on how to welcome new neighbors, or use our buildings differently, or begin some kind of ministry we haven’t even imagined yet. With just the must-haves in our library, we have both what we need, and room to grow into whatever is next.
Moving into the future can be scary, labor-intensive, and humbling. It’s also an exciting adventure. May God bless your continued ministry and service as a leader in the church of Jesus Christ.
- What are some of the old chapters in your personal or congregation’s library that are cluttering your shelves?
- With the “must-haves” anchoring your library, what might God be calling you to add to your ministry shelves in the future?
- How do the resources in "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons based on the Constitutional Questions" deepen your understanding of this ordination question?
The Rev. Julie Coffman Hester is a pastor and writer in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She is inspired by faithful ruling elders, like her parents, and the remarkable disciples with whom she has served in local congregations.
This article is the fifth in a 12-part series focusing on the constitutional questions that church leaders answer upon their ordination and installation, using some of the materials from "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions," which is available through Equip, the church’s online training platform.