The ordination process for the United Methodist Church is a long and tenuous journey. Given the trend of the denomination over the years, it’s easy to see how this slow, arduous process has developed. Essentially those who have made it in want to make sure those who are trying to get it are worthy of the designation of pastor. That’s understandable.
When I was nearing the end of the process, it was time for me to go before the board of ordination and defend my theology, my preaching, and my understanding of church doctrine…all of which they had read or viewed ahead of time. I can still picture pulling up to the old school church that morning over 10 years ago. The building itself was classic…lots of brick and stained glass, long white hallways…a very sterile environment.
I entered a white room and sat down at a white table in front of a dozen pastors I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. That morning was spent answering their questions and listening to them debate ideas among themselves. Then, after returning to the holding area, I was approached by one of those pastors who told me the bad news…
I did not pass and would not be ordained.
My preaching was not sufficient. I was not qualified to preach the story of Jesus and encourage others to put their faith in him after all.
I was disqualified.
I have a feeling that many of you feel disqualified as well. You don’t feel qualified to share the story of Jesus and your faith in him with others. This is not a problem…
until you feel like you’re supposed to.
You experience the tension when you are spending time with a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate or teammate…and there’s that moment while he or she is speaking when the thought hits you; “This person is struggling and I know what he needs. He needs hope and faith in Jesus. I should talk about God here.” The feeling to share could be a desire within you or even a conviction of God in that moment. But you don’t share…
And I think I know why…
The first reason is a mindset that has been perpetuated by the church. This line of thinking makes you reason your way out of sharing, because you don’t have the credentials to do so. Leave it to the professionals! After all, “I haven’t been to seminary,” you think to yourself. “I don’t even have any Bible verses memorized!”
Instead of sharing who Jesus is to you and what he has done, the best you can do is invite the person in front of you to church…where those who are qualified can take care of it. Again, this is something the church, mainly the paid professionals like me, have created, perhaps unknowingly, for a long time.
Another reason you don’t share is because of a past behavior or lifestyle. You remember who you used to be and think, “Who am I to share my beliefs with anyone?” The shame and guilt that you still carry for what you did…to yourself or to others…keeps you quiet about your faith.
So we continue making faith a private thing.
The problem is that keeping quiet about the story of Jesus and how it impacts us is not something we see in the story of God following Jesus’ resurrection. Actually, it’s the opposite. Let’s take a look at Peter for example…
Following one of the most pivotal moments for the church–receiving the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ resurrection–Peter stands to explain everything to the thousands witnessing this moment. But here’s my question: Who is Peter to share all of this with others?? Don’t you know his past and his resume? As a matter of fact, just prior to this account, we read of Peter adamantly denying that he even knows Jesus. That’s not much of a resume to now be the proclaimer of Jesus’ story…and even telling others what to do in light of this news!
But there is one statement Peter makes in his speech to which we need pay close attention.
He says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Savior.” In one sentence, we see what qualifies Peter to share.
Peter’s profession of Jesus as Savior qualified Peter as proclaimer of Jesus’ story.
And the same is true for you and for me. Forget the credentials, the achievements, the permission giving bureaucracy, the past behavior… it’s your identity in Christ that gives you the right and ability and to tell others about him. If, like Peter, Jesus is both your Lord and your Savior, you have all you need to tell others of your faith in him.
And notice the instructions Peter gives to the crowd: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” To simplify the idea of repentance, it just means to turn around.
So let’s do that. Let’s turn around…
Turn from the mindset perpetuated by the church that you are not qualified to share the story of Jesus with others or your experience of him. In other words, for you repentance just means to change your mind. Don’t make it more spiritual or more complicated than it is.
For others, you need to turn from the guilt and the shame you carry because of who you used to be. Receive fully your new identity in Jesus and be confident of it. To fully surrender looks like giving Jesus every single part…even the shame and guilt. Lay it all down!
Then, after you repent, after you change your mind and lay down your shame and guilt, share.
Share who Jesus is (no memorized Bible verses required…after all, that’s why God gave us Google). Share what Jesus has done for you. And encourage the person you are sharing with…the neighbor, the coworker, the classmate…the one close to you, but far from God…encourage her to repent. Encourage her to change her mind about who Jesus is and who she is.
In this simple act of obedience, you become a co-laborer with God. You join Him in his mission to reconcile a broken and hearting world back to himself and to reconcile all of us to each other.
There is no greater experience than changing your mind and sharing the story of Jesus with someone you know…all because you decided that your profession of Jesus as Savior qualifies you as proclaimer of Jesus’ story…
and then seeing that person with whom you shared change his.