On September 14, 2015, I was ordained to be a minister of the gospel in the North America Presbytery. Since my freshman year in college, being a pastor was a dream for me. Studying God’s Word had brought me the kind of passion and excitement that I hadn’t found in doing much else. So this moment was a monumental one for me. One thing that my senior pastor Steve Park said the Sunday before was that ordination vows cannot be undone; rather, one is merely unfaithful to them. I’ve said this before, but for some reason, this left a pretty big impression on me.
The ordination service was just one part of a series of items on the list for the fall presbytery meeting for the NAP. Thus, leading up to the ordination service, there wasn’t too much time to reflect upon and think of how this ordination service would affect my mindset as a minister of the gospel. One item lead to another, and the ordination service for brother Jonathan Na and me had come. I came to the Lord in prayer, originally intending to thank him for the night, but I got overcome with an ocean of emotions that I was swallowed up in for the rest of the night. I had a lot of questions leading
A couple of thoughts arose in my mind:
1. What changes?
Since 2011, I felt like I had already been doing the work of a minister serving the college ministry of my previous church and a campus ministry at UCSD. At one point, I was preaching, teaching Bible Studies, and holding counseling sessions on a weekly basis. Yet, I was an intern at the church, because I had not been ordained and I was still in the process of attaining my M.Div degree. Functionally, however, it didn’t seem like there was much of a difference between what I was doing and what I would be doing as an ordained minister. The main differences seemed to be what was on paper. As one of many serving in the Korean-American church (sorry for alluding to the stereotype), I think my question resonates with many who serve as intern pastors at their respective churches.
Though not exhaustively, these questions were answered on the night of the ordination service. I had been familiar with the presbyterian structure of the church. There was a plurality of leadership so that power is not misplaced on one specific person above all others. In addition, there was an added sense of accountability on many levels. Local churches were overseen by their respective presbyteries, and these presbyteries were overseen by the general assembly (or synod). Structurally, this all made sense in my head, but it didn’t really hit as to how amazingly powerful accountability was until that night.
Due to the ordination service being in the midst of the fall presbytery meeting, there were over thirty pastors present for the ordination service. As custom in the NAP, there is the laying of hands, where pastors pray for and lay hands on the brothers being ordained as ministers in the presbytery. There was this literal and figurative weight cast upon my shoulders when the surrounding pastors were praying for brother Jonathan Na and me. Not only were these brothers praying for our future ministry as those who trusted that the Lord would guide us, they were praying for us and inviting us into a true fellowship with them as laborers for the gospel ministry. Reflecting on this truly changed my perspective on being an ordained member of the NAP, the church for pastors.
I look forward to the meetings I’ll have with these brothers, and there’s a oddly strong connection built amongst brothers I had just met and would most likely only meet once a year. This is true fellowship and accountability. If I were to stray from correctly teaching and applying the Scriptures, these brothers would protect me from harming my sheep.
2. Why the process?
The process was a long one, starting from my time as a seminarian. Amidst the years of training in seminary and my internship at a church, the ordination process was a strenuous one. Not only was the journey arduous from an academic perspective, spirituality on my end was severely lackgin. After the multiple 25 page papers, the sleepless nights reading Berkhof’s Systematic Theology repeatedly, and the process of memorizing the names of accomplishments of obscure historical figures, the motions seemed a little robotic to me. Sure, pastors need to be tested doctrinally and theologically to ensure proper teaching and application of the Word, but I was lost amid all of the work in the process.
Historically, one of the trends away from Protestant orthodoxy was a combination of drifting away from a focus upon the historical creeds and confessions along with lowering the position of the minister. An overemphasis on the priesthood of all believers has lead to the elevation of small groups above church, personal above corporate, subjective above objective, and the laity above clergy. This is not to say that the minister ought to take himself too seriously, because the presbyterian model seeks to ensure that no minister takes himself too seriously. However, the office of a pastor is one that must be taken seriously both by the one assuming the office and those affected by it. Pastors come with the authority of the Word and as servants of Christ, who was the greatest of all servants.
A couple of passages that humbled me in reflecting upon my call:
The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20, “That words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” These words for the apostle come in times where gospel proclamation was not received as well as it is in today’s culture. For those of us who are Americans, we are shaken up by any kind of pushback given by today’s culture and those relatively opposed to the Christian faith. However, the first century imposed political consequences for faithfully preaching the gospel. The paradoxical image of an ambassador in chains goes forth to show that proclaimers of this gospel come in power but a power that is different from that of this world. As Christ came to serve, we as representatives of Christ come to serve. Contrary to what I often want, the pastoral ministry is not a pathway to earthly riches and glory. Rather, when properly assumed, it brings about a commitment to die so that the living Christ might be known. In this spirit, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 reads, “For I think that God has exhibitued us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” Ought not pastors have this same mindset as the apostle had? The gospel ministry is not a place where pastors seek to mirror the glory of the resurrected Christ on high. Rather, we look to the Suffering Servant who was despised and rejcted by men, a man of sorrows. It’s a dangerous place to be, because it demands full submission but displays temptations for further self-glory.
I ask you for your prayers to be a faithful child of God to properly serve God’s people … In the words of Rev. Ryan Kim, I would “show them Christ” and not myself. Thank you, in advance, for dealing with my mistakes, failures, and insufficient moments as a pastor. May those moments of weakness display the grandness of our King, our Savior, our Shepherd, our Friend Jesus Christ the righteous.