This past week marks 20 years since I was officially set aside for the Gospel ministry. I can remember vividly both the weight and exhilaration of my ordination service. I had already been getting my feet wet serving as an interim pastor for a church and previously as a youth pastor in my home church. Now, I was being publicly affirmed by both my home church and the church where I had been preaching for the past several months.
My ordination council consisted of a large group of men from my home church and pastors from our Baptist association who had observed my progress in ministry. Before the worship service, I sat in the front of a room before these men and was asked in-depth questions about my personal life and doctrine. Some questions were preplanned, some were random. There weren’t any issues with my answers to the questions as the men in the room affirmed my calling. I was embraced with hugs by everyone in the room.
We emerged to enter the worship service in the sanctuary that was filled with many people who had an influence on my life. The pastor who had baptized me as a teenager was there, my Sunday School teacher who had patiently taught me as a child was there, my college minister was there.
Most surprising of all, my father who was not a Christian was there. I can remember the day beside my parent’s garden that I told him that God was calling me to be a minister of the gospel. Knowing what little my dad knew about leading churches as an outside observer, he warned me that this was going to be a “tough row to hoe.” Dad tried to dissuade me, but he eventually accepted that his son was going to do a hard thing.
The church that day was filled with the worship of many voices that I had known most of my life. My pastor Larry Redding gave me the charge to preach the gospel in a sermon that was etched in my mind.
However, the most unforgettable part of the service was when I knelt down at a chair in the front with my fiancée Amy standing by my side as men of the ordination counsel came forward one by one to lay hands on me as they prayed over me. This took a considerable amount of time in itself.
Then, the line began to fill with others as my pastor gave the invitation for anyone to come forward and say a short prayer or encouragement.
What happened next was not what I expected.
There were somber words, like the one from an old man in the church who must have thought I had too much fun as a youth pastor. He said, “son, now we’re getting down to serious business.”
There was a man who knelt down in front of me whispering as he choked up that his marriage was in trouble, asking if I would pray for him.
Then, there was an inebriated woman with an alcohol problem (with the strong smell of alcohol on her breath) who embraced me and began sobbing as she asked me to pray for her.
I look back and think about what a strange, glorious evening that was. A lot like ministry itself, you never know for sure the next thing that will come out of someone’s mouth. You never know when someone’s going to bear their soul to you. You never know who will show a side of themselves that anyone rarely sees.
For these past 20 years, there have been shocking moments, there have been glorious moments, and there have been excruciatingly tearful moments. Every experience has caused my wife Amy and I to rely upon the Holy Spirit for resources beyond ourselves.
That’s ministry under the guiding hand of a sovereign God, who knows what we need before we even ask. He supplies the grace to sinners like me to point other sinners where grace may found, in Christ alone.