As a part of the candidacy process for ordination in the United Methodist Church one is required to type up and submit answers to a number of different questions and prompts. As I approach my meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry on Thursday, February 23, I will be posting a few of my responses here. The first of these responses follows, below. ¶ 311.2.a.i: What is the most formative experience of your Christian life?
I could answer this question by talking about my church growing up, or the amazing and encouraging friends that God has blessed me with, or my experience in seminary and how it was probably exactly what I needed right when I needed it - all are wonderful gifts from God. But I think at this point I’d like to say that the most formative experience of my Christian life has been my current job as director of youth ministries at Aldersgate UMC in Santa Fe, TX.
This charge is strengthening my faith. I loved seminary, but writing an exegetical paper on a passage from Isaiah (for instance) is much easier to me than convincing a roomful of skeptical 9th graders that God has done something dramatic and beautiful - even exciting - for us and for our world, and that God wants us to participate in the continuation of that drama, beauty and excitement that he’s still doing today. It’s not that I don’t already have faith, or that I don’t already believe these things that I teach. I most certainly do. But the exercise of having to explain my faith and why I’m so excited about it, and having to do so in different words and from different angles, has been deeply formative for me. It’s as if my mouth having to form the gospel is teaching my heart all over again how to love it. Having to explain why the good news is so good enhances and enlivens that goodness for me. Talking about how exciting God’s reign is has made God’s reign even more exciting.
Further, being at Aldersgate encourages me to pray. There’s nothing that has encouraged prayer more consistently and humbly in my life than my being responsible for the spiritual formation of this small band of young people. Jesus claims that there’s a lot at stake here. Evidently messing this up might end worse for me than if I had a millstone tied around my neck at the bottom of the sea. But I’m also humbled and driven to prayer by the simple fact that I love these teens that I get to work with, and I care deeply for the families with whom I interact. And so I give thanks often, and I intercede on their behalf. What a gift!
Lastly, my time at Aldersgate continues to grow my love for Christ’s church. Churches are messy. Sometimes we fight or bicker. Sometimes we spend way to much time talking about things that are really just silly distractions. And sometimes we do a terrible job of loving each other, not to mention our neighbors and our enemies. But sometimes the church gets it. Sometimes we catch a vision, if only a fleeting one, of God’s mercy and grace, and sometimes we even act on that vision. Sometimes we live out our allegiance to God’s Reign instead of trying to fortify our own reigns. Sometimes, if just for a moment, the church lives into her calling by really and truly worshipping God, and by really and truly living into God’s mission for which he’s sending us out into the world. Church is messy, sure. But by a miracle of grace God nurtures and shapes these messy bodies into what will become his bride. Aldersgate can be messy. And yet somehow God still manages to offer us his Sanctifying grace. And that has been deeply formative for me.