Reflections on my recent ordination at Grace Bible Fellowship
“Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart…”
~2 Corinthians 4:1
I remember the first day when my wife and I stepped foot on the campus of Grace Bible Fellowship. It was a beautiful summer day on June 23, 2013, but I was devastated. Just eight days prior, I had resigned as a pastor from the ministry of which I had been a part for close to a decade. Eight days after a church resignation is equivalent to eight seconds after a biking accident. The wounds were raw, and the pain was excruciating. With all of our ministry plans and hopes for the next several years shattered, Kathy and I found at the beginning of the process of wandering in the wilderness that many ministers know as the interim period between ministries.
Nearly five years later, on March 11th of 2018, I was formally ordained as a pastor and elder of Grace Bible Fellowship. It will be marked as one of the most significant events in my family’s life.
I’m still not sure how it all happened.
I’m not claiming denial to the sequence of events that led up to the ordination. In the June of 2014, seven months after Kathy and I joined GBF as formal members, I was offered the opportunity to serve as an interim part-time pastoral assistant. In the June of 2015, I was offered the opportunity to serve in a full-time capacity. In January of 2017, I was approached about the prospect of becoming an elder. In March of 2018, I was ordained as an elder. The dots were clearly there. It’s the connecting of those dots that I have trouble tracing. The transition from one milestone to the next was seamless, which I found to be a most profound testimony of the providential wisdom of God. Proverbs 16:9 reminds us that while the mind of a man plans his ways, it is Lord who directs his steps. In my particular situation, I wasn’t even planning, because I didn’t really know how to plan. The only course of action I knew to take was faithful obedience to the revealed will of God.
Then again, that’s always how I’ve approached pastoral ministry. The ambition for a particular ministry title has never been a part of my modus operandi. When I first committed myself to the path of vocational ministry of the gospel 2006, I didn’t know the difference between a pastor, elder, and deacon. I was clueless regarding my spiritual giftedness. All I knew was that Christ desired to make disciples of Himself and I desired to give myself wholly to that endeavor. For that cause, I was willing to give up my previous career ambitions. I do what I do so that the Word of God may go out to the people of God, that they may be conformed to the Son of God and be prepared for the kingdom of God.
I’m not saying that I was clueless during the time that I’ve served at GBF. By the time my family joined the membership, I had graduated from seminary, served as a youth and associate pastor, had been formally ordained as a pastor and elder at my previous ministry. I’ve had enough time – and enough feedback from others – to where I’m gifted and where I’m, well, not gifted both at the previous ministry and at GBF. I was fully aware of the biblical mandate for the office of overseer and the nature of the work. And the desire for the work has always burned with a steady flame. But, with all integrity, not once over the last five years did I ever approach Pastor Cliff (GBF’s pastor-teacher) to ask when it was that I could become an elder. It wasn’t for any lack of desire. But I firmly believed that it was not in my place to do so. It has never been up to me to plan the course of my life as a minister. There’s a difference, after all, between being faithful and forceful. The duty of the man of God is not to force his way into a pastoral position, but to faithfully proclaim God’s Word, equip others for the work of the ministry, love God’s people sacrificially, and endure all the hardship that comes for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord decides which responsibilities in the labor of the kingdom he allots to me for whatever season of life. I myself don’t have a 10-step plan for going from layman to leader. I really don’t. And even if I could recount the events, the movement was more fluid than methodical. I guess I could say, “Stay intimately communing with Christ, be faithful to teaching His Word whenever you get the chance, and care deeply for the people in your midst. Do this to the best of your ability, week-in and week-out, and see what the Lord decides to do with it.”
Plus, it’s not like I’ve arrived. If anything, it’s more of, “Here we go…” Whatever position or title or function was never the end for me, but simply a means to the end of the sanctity of God’s people. To be ordained is more than to be recognized. It is to be held responsible. It is to be entrusted. It is to be held accountable. A gift entrusted must be a gift employed, fervently and faithfully. And by God’s gracious commissioning, it has happened to me for the second time.
Ordination into pastoral ministry and eldership is much different the second around than the first. For one, there’s a more sober realization of the suffering and persecution that comes with the ministry. But more pointedly for me, there’s a greater and deeper appreciation for the sovereignty of God. I’ve come to understand that I was ordained not because of my qualifications, but because of God’s sovereignty. As I write, I grieve with the many men who are qualified for pastoral ministry and, for one reason or another, are out of the ministry. Not everyone who desires to pastor and is qualified to pastor actually gets to pastor. Further, I realize that a man’s ordination at a particular local church is far less about ambition and much more about submission. During this whole process, one dear saint told me, “I was so happy to hear that you were being ordained…because it meant that you had decided to stay with us rather than moving to another congregation” (I’m paraphrasing). The gift of pastoring (cf Eph 4:12) will remain with the man of God wherever he goes. But to be ordained as an elder at a particular local church indicates his commitment to give himself to the shepherding care of that particular flock of God. For one, it means that I’m committing to link arms with the current elders of GBF. It was at GBF that I learned what true, godly pastors and elders look like. The elders who so lovingly and wisely helped my family reconstruct our lives were the same elders who welcomed me into their team, and for that I am doubly honored. It also means that, for now, I am looking nowhere else other than to the saints of Grace Bible Fellowship as the primary people to whom I will serve, day in and day out, week in and week out.
Ordination is important because God’s people are important. Being a pastor and elder is crucial because the sanctity of God’s saints is vital. Before Christ, I have not changed. Intern, assistant, elder, or whatever the title…I’m a bondservant of Jesus. I always have been, and always will be. He directs my life and commissions my ministry as He pleases – different works for different seasons – and to that I am bound. His Word – the same Word which I’ve been preaching and teaching since 2007 – hasn’t changed. Feeding His flock is all I’ve known to do, and that’s all I’ll continue to do – whatever the form. And right now, that flock is the membership of Grace Bible Fellowship.
From devastation to ordination. GBF…my family and I are here to stay.