The eighth ordination vow made by all Ruling Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament in my denomination is this:
Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love? I will.
When I hear about pastors and congregations who feel stuck, I think about this promise. My hope is that all pastors and all elders evaluate ourselves in terms of how well we are keeping this one.
First of all, are we praying for the people God has called us to serve? And secondly, are we seeking to serve them with these specific markers?
Do we have energy for this ministry? If not, we need to ask why? Is it because we are simply in need of a Sabbath, a vacation, or a Sabbatical? Do we have energy for other things – but not for this particular calling? If so, maybe we need to consider a new ministry. If our energy is generally depleted for ministry it could be time to retire.
Are we still willing to learn new things? Do we attend conferences, lectures, and retreats to hone our skills? Do we read books, watch webinars, and listen to podcasts that enhance our ministry? Or do we believe we know all we need to know?
How imaginative are we in this calling? Can we see the possibilities? Are ideas easily sparked? Are we excited about the potential all around us?
Do we love these people? Can we see our congregation through the eyes of Jesus to the point that we can love the grumpy ones, the judge-y ones, the mean ones, and even the hateful ones?
Effective Ministry – whether as professionals or as volunteers – requires enormous energy, bountiful curiosity, fertile imagination, and abiding love. When it comes to annual evaluations of both paid and unpaid staff (and I’m including all volunteers here) we need to ask ourselves and each other these questions. God deserves our best efforts.
Keeping this particular ordination vow will free up a stuck congregation every time.