Next Monday is Commencement for Wesley Theological Seminary of which the Lewis Center for Church Leadership is an integral part. Commencements are happy and glorious occasions. The location of Wesley’s commencement service at the Washington National Cathedral adds to the grandeur of the day.
It is impossible to evade the tension between those common sense practices that make ministry possible and that deeply personal spiritual calling that sends people to seminary in the first place.
But the spectacle of commencement soon gives way for seminary graduates to the daily routines of pastoral leadership. Perhaps that is the reason that commencement messages tend to gravitate back and forth between the sublime reminders of the high calling of ministry and the practical guidance required to achieve, or at least not sabotage, effective church leadership.
It is impossible to evade the tension between those common sense practices that make ministry possible and that deeply personal spiritual calling that sends people to seminary in the first place. My friend and former colleague, R. Kevin LaGree, captured both of these dimensions succinctly and well several years ago when, as dean, he addressed graduates of Candler School of Theology of Emory University at their diploma granting service. He offered the soon to be graduates these two exhortations.
“First, don’t do anything stupid. This bit of wisdom has served me well over the years, and I gladly pass it along to you. When you are tempted to let loose at someone who has deliberately irritated you; when you feel caught in the glass house of parish life; when you mope that your talents and gifts are ignored or even tamped down by the noncreative forces around you; whenever, in short, you are tempted to do some impulsive thing because it would feel so-o-o-o good to do it, remember this exhortation: don’t do anything stupid. I can testify that it has helped me every time I’ve remembered it, and that every time I have forgotten it, I have regretted not following it.
“Second, be the person God created you to be. You will continue to be pressed to be someone other than who you are. Your own ambition may tempt you to become what is popular at the time in order to hasten your rise to the top. Those with whom you work may seek to make you over into someone with whom they are more comfortable. In the dryness of your spiritual journey, the allure to have someone else’s spiritual experiences will be strong and tempting. Be the person you are created to be — that is the essential spiritual journey on which we all travel. In the mystery of God’s grace, the fullness of shalomdepends on each of us being the person God created us to be, because, without our unique contribution, shalom cannot be complete.”
These are two outstanding reminders for all who would be Christian leaders whether in church, home, workplace, or society.
- Changes Congregations Are Facing Today eBook by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.