Gardeners or guardians?

When I was officially installed here in my new call two Sundays ago, Bishop Ullestad led me in reaffirming the promises that I made at my ordination:

  • Will you preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and with the confessions of the Lutheran church? Will you carry out this ministry in harmony with the constitutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?
  • Will you be diligent in your study of the holy scriptures and in your use of the means of grace? Will you love, serve, and pray for God's people, nourish them with the word and sacraments, and lead them by your own example in faithful service and holy living?
  • Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God's love may be known in all that you do?

I will, and I ask God to help me.

Maybe it's just me, but that third promise - to give faithful witness in the world, that God's love may be known in all I do - governs my execution of those first two promises.

Because what is the point of preaching and teaching, of being faithful to the holy scriptures, of aligning myself with the Lutheran confessions and the ELCA?

That God's love may be known.

And what is the point of studying the scriptures and administering the sacraments?

That God's love may be known.

And to what end do I love, serve, pray for, and lead fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and all of God's children?

That God's love may be known.

And so I see myself as a gardner. I feed and water and tend to a congregation and a community that God's love might blossom and grow. The purpose of ministry, for a gardener, is to leave room for grace to bloom, and to nourish souls, and to encourage growth in grace, compassion, and love.

But there are also plenty of other pastors who see their role as guardian, rather than gardener. They want to defend the faith, and defend a particular flavor of Christian theology, and protect brothers and sisters in Christ from bad or incomplete or shallow or harmful theology. They seek to uphold meaningful boundaries and distinctions, many of which are deeply faithful and loaded with important historical baggage.

In a lot of ways, I empathize with the guardian model of ministry. I like traditions and structures, and I value integrity. I'm a theology nerd and a liturgy nerd, and I have plenty of opinions about the "right" way to do things, and "right" understandings of how God works.

But when hand-wringing about scriptural interpretation and confessional adherence get in the way of giving faithful witness to God's love, then guardianship becomes a problem. When sacramental theology becomes more focused on who's in or out, or who is deserving, rather than expanding our understanding of the sacraments as means of grace, then guardianship becomes a problem. When we start believing that God can only show up if we worship "correctly" or if we start believing that salvation only comes to those who pick the "right" atonement theory, then guardianship becomes a problem. And more than a problem. A liability.

Because my ordination vows never ask me to protect my congregation from non-Lutheran theology. And they don't tell me that I'm ordained to be a protector of tradition or orthodoxy.

They tell me to be faithful. Be faithful to the scriptural witness. Be faithful to the vision of those who have come before you. Be faithful in your grace-giving, and in your love and care for God's people. Be faithful, that God's love might be known in ALL you do.

And so I approach the privilege and responsibility of ordained ministry as a gardener, not a guardian. Because I am called to bear witness to the grace and love of God, and to help others see the wide reach of God's embrace. It's not about defending or protecting. It's about tending, and nourishing, and growing in grace.

No comments:

Post a Comment