When someone joins the United Methodist Church, they pledge to support it with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Anyone can procure a copy of The United Methodist Book of Discipline and read for themselves the official stance of the Church on the elements of the pledge, but I thought it might be helpful to see what a clergy perspective is as shaped by years of ministerial experience, formal training, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
At some point in the history of Christianity, it appears that the role of clergy got inflated, as if we are all things for all people. That is the title of Christ alone. We are those who are called to service in his name. We lead directly and lead through service, but we are not the only ones in the Church called to serve. Everyone who desires to claim discipleship of Jesus Christ is called to service in his name. All of every age and station are expected to be at work in and with the Church that Christ founded. Regardless of denominational affiliation, we are all part of the universal Body of Christ, the family of faith that cannot be overcome by doctrinal divergences and theological sticking points. We are the Church, and we have work to do.
We offer ourselves and present our faith in our service, the service of love. In humility and gratitude, we should wash the feet of the world, literally and figuratively. We were not raised up out of our sinfulness to stand in judgment over others, but to choose to kneel down and be present with them. That is not just my duty and the expectations of my status in the church, but it is true for all of us. I am happy to do this with you. I would personally prefer it that way. Yet too often I hear people say, “Well, that’s the pastor’s job,” as if they had no responsibility. That just is not the case. Jesus made it clear that all people, gathered at the foot of the throne on Judgment Day, would be held to the same expectations of actions:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:34-36 NRS).
I alone cannot do these things. I alone cannot begin to turn the tide of human suffering. I cannot begin to sustain such actions begun on my own without others to join in service with me. The small percentage of clergy compared to laity are not sufficient either. It takes all of us. We must do this together, and God brings us together in the Church to do just that. I dare say that the vast quantity of what we do as Christians in the Church is not about us, but others, either God or other people. Worship is about God. Ministry and mission are about the people we are serving. We should and hopefully do tend to our spirituality, but not first and foremost. That can never come at the expense of our devotion to God and care for others either. Take Jesus: even when he would withdrawal from the crowds to be alone, rest, and pray, when people in need came to him, he ministered to them, serving them with his power and words of comfort. We follow his path, and live out his model.
We cannot abdicate our responsibility, our God-given duty to serve. Belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ means that we place the highest value on what we can do for others in God’s name. For every act, every kind deed can proclaim the truth of Christ and open space for people to encounter the Living God through us. We are portals to divine experience, and when we slough that off on another, then we close an avenue for grace that may have had the more impactful outcome for another. Served by God’s love and grace, we serve others in acknowledgement and thankfulness. It is a testimony. It is an act of faith and devotion to serve as God has first served us. No clergy can bear that alone, nor should we have to in a world filled with a multitude comprised more of lay persons than clergy. Every Christian needs to take responsibility, needs to take up the mantle of service Christ has places on all our shoulders. When you are weak, overwhelmed, or just exhausted, then share your mantle with me, but I expect that you will do the same for me. We are in this service of love together. So we will come into the Kingdom of God the same: together for all time.