November 22, 2009

The call to serve Christ as a pastor is not a deserved privilege or entitlement. However, the call does grant privilege.  It grants the almost immediate privilege of access to people’s lives and souls.  For clergy, the call is often acknowledged by the word, “Rev” which is short for “Reverend”.  It is a powerful word that often grants immediate access to people’s lives.

In the space of a two hour meeting on a Friday night with about 8 people I did not know, and who did not know me, plus the signature of a District Superintendent, I went from Bill Sterling college Junior, living in a dorm; to Rev. Bill Sterling, pastor of 3 churches, living in a parsonage (the regular pay check wasn’t bad either-I thought I was a millionaire).   My theological training consisted of Sunday School, worship, and a correspondence course through my denomination for a license to preach.  I now had the title, “Rev”.   Overwhelmed by it all, I had no idea what the implications were.  I did not comprehend the responsibilities.  I had no clue as to the sacred privilege that the title and role would entrust to me.

One of my first pastoral visits as “Rev” was to Mr. Bill.  He was home.  He was dying.  From our first meeting to our last time together, he called me “Reverend.”   He wasn’t concerned about my training.  He wanted to know about my faith.   He would talk about his life and faith.  Sometimes his wife would sit with us, sometimes we were alone.  I visited listened, shared scripture and prayed.  The listening part had nothing to do with pastoral counseling skills.  I didn’t know what to say.  He shared his fears, his hopes, and his concern for his wife.  He took what each day brought peacefully and calmly.  He gave me far more that I gave him.  The title, “Rev” gave me instant access into the sacred space of his life and dying.  Yes, at our first meeting, we were strangers.  Yet the common faith we shared, and the title “Rev” gave both of us a greater level of familiarity.

Over 37 years of ministry, the title “Rev” has been a title, a label of my call, unlocking doors and granting me as a pastor, the privilege of access into people’s lives and souls.  It has granted me access to moments and places in people’s lives where I had no right to be, didn’t want to be, but where I was needed. I have had the honor and privilege of people giving me the gift of being invited into their lowest, most vulnerable, painful and most fearful experiences.  I have also had the privilege of being invited into their high moments and joys.

Through the call, Christ allows me to represent him in these intimate moments and relationships.  This is the privilege granted by the call and it scares the daylights out of me at times

My next post will be THE ADVERSITY OF THE CALL

Blessings,  Bill



November 5, 2009

I had a Sunday School teacher named Miss Agnes. She loved Jesus, my fellow budding biblical scholars and me deeply. She dreamed about Jesus and had visions. Miss Agnes told my mom and dad that I would be an ordained minister some day. They were thrilled. I wasn’t. Sailing through my high school years, I discovered that I was the target of a vast conspiracy. Other Sunday School teachers, relatives and even pastors who hardly knew me, all conspired to keep the idea alive.

I tried very hard to run from it. I thought I had some very creative excuses-not good enough (still very true); terrified of speaking in front of people (still somewhat true); God can’t use a sinner like me (a more personal variation of ‘not good enough’), as well as a host of others. In my first year of college I discovered that they were not as cool and original as I thought. I quit running and said “Yes.” My parents were thrilled. Finally!! Some friends were not surprised, others said, “You’ve got to be kidding!!” And me, I was just glad the chase was over. Thirty seven years later and no regrets. I wouldn’t have missed the ride for anything.

Like God’s call on all of our lives, my call to be a pastor has nothing to do with my being good enough, smart enough, talented or gifted enough. I don’t deserve the call. Honestly, knowing me as I do (and God knows me far better than I know myself), I would not call me to be a pastor. However, God did. I believe that God’s call on a my life, and anyone’s life, is about what God sees in terms of whom and what we can become if we obey and respond to the call. I believe that it’s all about God unmerited love, aka grace.

It is definitely not about me. Yes, my first year or two contained some rather large ego trips. My first pastoral appointment was a group of loving, wise Christian people who knew how to gently and firmly deflate ego my trips. At times, I still forget it’s all about God and not me but God brings me back to reality – sometimes gently and at other times, not so gentle. Now 37 years later, I still wonder in amazement at what God has done through me. I am more awed at what God has done in spite of me. I can’t boast about my call. I can only be amazed and thankful.

God has a call for your life. The call may be for pastoral ministry like mine. Your call may be for something entirely different. Stop running. Say “Yes”. Buckle up for the ride of your life. I’d love to hear about your call. Send me a comment.

My next post on the call will be about the power of the call.

Blessings Bill