Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Post Ordination Thoughts

People have asked me if I feel different after being ordained.  I really don't.  Maybe that will change after I preach the first time since then but up to this point I feel the same.
How I "feel" takes nothing away anything from what happened in ordination.  Like I have written and said before, "feelings are fickle, they come and they go, they can change in an instant.  Therefore, our feelings don't define us, our God does."  How I feel about it doesn't change the impact of it.

I will say it seemed to happen really fast.  Like most things in life we look forward too.  I waited and waited and waited and waited with great anticipation and then it was over in a flash.  I assumed it would be like that but it still seems like it was too quick.

I really enjoyed the celebration beforehand.  We had dinner with family and friends before the service and it was just such a neat thing to get all those people together around the same table.

One really neat thing about the service itself was how emotional the Bishop was before ordaining us.  You could tell that he didn't take it lightly.  That he didn't just consider it as part of his job or as just another responsibility he had as Bishop.  You could tell that he counted it a privilege and honor to ordain us...thank you for that Bishop Goodpaster!

It was a great weekend and I will cherish it for as long as I live.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I am finally getting ordained!  This Saturday at the Western North Carolina Annual Conference (a several day gethering of UM pastors and lay people) I will be ordained as a United Methodist Pastor. 

Some of you may ask: aren't you already ordained?  The official answer is "no," my answer is "sort of."  Up to this point I have been commissioned.  In my own words, that means I have been in the process of getting ordained...on Saturday that process will come to completion. 

The bishop will ask us the historic Wesleyan questions on Wednesday.  These are questions that have been asked of United Methodist pastors entering ordination for a long time.  For your curiosity, here are the questions we will be asked:

1. Have you faith in Christ?
2. Are you going on to perfection?
3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
7. Will you keep them?
8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
10. Will you preach and maintain them?
11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
13. Will you support and maintain them?
14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?
16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
19. Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

Then on Saturday there will be a worship service where the bishop will lay hands on each of us individually and speak words of encouragement and calling and authority.  For those of you curious, it will look something like this:

Externally nothing changes.  I will still be pastoring the same church.  I will still be Pastor Rich or Reverend Tuttle.  I will have the same salary.  I will be under the same accountability that I have been under.  I don't think people will treat me differently.  So what will be different?

I mentioned one time to another pastor that nothing will change when I am ordained.  The pastor said "yes it does."  I said "what?"  And the pastor said "there's an anointing that comes."  I said "I will accept that."
I'm not saying that a person has to be ordained to be anointed, that's something God does.  However, I do believe that God can use ordination to bring a new anointing and I definitely want that!

One thing's for sure: it has been a long and at times frustrating process.  It has taken a total of six years to get to this point and that's after acquiring an M.Div. degree.  It took failing (I don't care that they call it a "deferral" because at the time it felt like "failing") two committees of the Board of Ordained Ministry and feeling manipulated during one of the interviews.  It took hours and hours and pages and pages of answering theological questions and discussing my calling and experiences I have had in ministry.  Of course through the process I have grown and gained valuable experience.  I can see the benefits of having the process the Methodist Church has on the way too ordination.  I didn't always like it but I can see the value in it. 

It will be nice to finally experience the "fruit of my labor" on Saturday! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Funeral Thoughts

In the last three weeks I have officiated three funerals.  I believe there is such a thing as a good funeral.  A good funeral should: 1. honor the person who died and 2. be a worship service to God. 

There are some basic do's and don'ts for a pastor when preparing and officiating a funeral.  Here are a few that I have learned over the years.


Visit the family before the service.  There are three things you want to accomplish by doing this.

1.  Be a comforting presence - as the pastor you represent God to this family.  There's probably more things to avoid saying than there are things you should say (scroll down for some examples what not to say in the Don't section). 
2. Get to know the loved one who passed - ask about funny stories, favorite memories, what kind of father/mother/brother/sister/son/daughter/friend were they, what did they love, what did they hate, did they have any hobbies, did they have any favorite bible verses, hymns, songs, bands?  All these things make preparing the eulogy so much easier and helps you honor his/her memory.  Take good notes during this time!

3. Start planning the service - Ask the family about songs, scriptures and people they may want to ask to share about the person's life.  Ask them about former pastors that may want to come and share memories.   


Offer glib cliches that are well intended yet highly unhelpful in the midst of grief.  This is the time when if you don't know what to say, it's better to say nothing.  Just let them know you care about them and are there for them.

Some cliches to avoid:
- Don't worry they are in a better place
- You are so fortunate to have other children
- God must have wanted another flower for his garden/angel for his heaven
- Death is a part of life
- You shouldn't grieve like an unbeliever
- It's great that your mom/dad died before you did


For the service and eulogy...even if you didn't know the person, pretend you did.

- Be honest about how you met and what you knew and didn't know about the person, but don't blatantly share that you didn't know them well...you lose some credibility if you do that.

- If you took good notes when visiting the family they will assume you knew the person well by what you share.


Talk too much about what heaven is like...either when visting the family or in the eulogy...stick to what we do know from the Bible. 

- We know that even though the loved one was a good person, their goodness does not get them into heaven, forgiveness found in Jesus Christ does.

- We know that Christians are given new, imperishable, resurrected bodies...this is really good to talk about in contrast to any illnesses/infirmities/difficult struggles the person may had...they are free from those now!

- We know that at some point God is going to make all things new.  Talking about the new heavens and new earth are much more biblically sound than all the associations that come with talking about just "heaven."

- We know that God promises to comfort those who mourn.


Use the eulogy to preach a person into or out of heaven or hell.

- Lets face it, it's easier to do a service and eulogy for someone we know professed faith in Jesus Christ, however, if we didn't know their faith, it's not our place to play judge.

- In the instance of someone who the family thinks was not a believer, I lean on the truth that God has more grace than we give him credit for and we never know whether or not a person gave their lives to Christ at the last second...even if just in their own minds. 

- Either way, a good eulogy should be mostly about the persons life not on where they ended up. 


Give the family and friends permission to grieve.

- Saying something like "grief is normal and necessary and it's by going through grief that we can find healing" can give families assurance that they aren't alone and that their emotions are normal.

- We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with tears.  People may be slow to tell stories about the person who passed to the family for fear that they will cause the person to cry.  Telling those stories is a good thing.  Sharing the memories is an essential part of honoring the person and bringing healing to the family.


Don't be scared to share appropriate humorous stories and memories of the loved one.

- It's okay for people to laugh about a funny story or memory during the eulogy.  The family and those gathered will appreciate it.

- Avoid sharing a story if the family specifically asked you not to share it.

- If it's something that could paint the person negatively, try to spin it with humor.  If it was true of the person people will know and laugh with you if you laugh.  For example, if a person has a lot of quips and idiosyncrosies you can share how unique they were.  I once shared about a person that had a "quiet stubbornness" and talked about how that was both a great strength (she had convictions) and at times a weakness (wasn't always willing to give into others suggestions).

- One time I visited a lady and she was asleep.  I sat there a minute to see if she would wake up and apparently she woke up and I was asleep.  At her funeral eulogy I shared the story and said that she was the only person in the church besides my wife that could say she had slept with the preacher.  People laughed.  I had gotten permission from the family to tell that first. 


Bring an item that represents the person if you can find something appropriate and relevant.

- I have:
1. brought and shown and talked about a persons favorite candy
2. brought and shown and talked about a rock for someone who loved rocks
3. brouth a pepsi for someone who loved pepsi
4. brought and shown and talked about a cookie for someone who loved cookies
5. worn gardening gloves for someone who loved to garden
6. seen a pastor wear overalls under his coat and taken off the coat as a surprise to honor the one who passed
7. seen someone bring golf clubs and swung one for someone who loved golf

- If there was something they loved using it as a prop is a great way to begin a eulogy.


Find a scripture for the eulogy that fits the person well.  For a eulogy it's okay to take some appropriate creative licensing with scripture.  You don't want to take the verses out of context but at the same time you don't have to teach the scripture either.  I usually keept the background info very basic and simple to speed up the movement into how the verses fit the persons life.   

- Today I used Matthew 25:19-23 to talk about man who had went on over 26 mission trips.  He was a man willing and glad to serve the kingdom of God.  I'm sure he heard God say those words "well done good and faithful servant."

- 2 Timothy 4:6-8 is a good one for someone who is older, had a "good" death and had a strong faith.  It's easy to think of ways that the person either "fought the good fight" or "kept the faith."  You can say "And now they have finished the race of life well and are experiencing the eternal joy of their salvation" or something along those lines.

- Joshua 1:5-9 is excellent for someone who had strength and courage in the midst of difficult times.

- I have used Numbers 6:22-27 (focusing on verse 27) for a man who had "put his name" on his family.  In so many ways his legacy was known through his family.

These are just a few Do's and Dont's, I'm sure there's others I'm not thinking of.  If you think of anymore please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Frustration of Unidentifiable Results

If you need identifiable results from the work you do to feel affirmed, do not go into ministry.  In most professions if you do the work you see results.  They may not always be the results you want, but the results, either positive or negative, are identifiable. 

Doctor - you either make someone better or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Lawyer - you either win the case, lose the case or find middle ground with a plea bargain...either way there's an identifiable result

Mechanic - you either fix the car or you don't...either way there's an identifiable result

Farmer - you work to raise crops or animals and see the results

Accountant - you crunch numbers and find the results of the numbers

Sales person - you either get the sale or you don't...either way you know the outcome

Manager - people either want to work for you and do well for the company or they don't, either way, while it may take time, the results will be identifiable at some point

Therapist - if it's a long term relationship with a client - you either see progress or not - either way there are results


You preach - you put your heart and soul and self into a sermon and deliver it yet you never know if it really connected.  You never really know how God is using it in people's lives that week.

You counsel - you share time with an indivdual and/or couple and encourage them and point them to biblical truth and may even make a difference in their lives. But you can't see whether or not they are genuine and "buying" what you are sharing with them. You can't see what's happening inside of them.

You officiate funerals and weddings - you plan and prepare for these important services.  You deliver the eulogy at a funeral and the message at a wedding but you never really know if your words helped the family or if your words will be heeded by the man and woman.

You lead - you lead by pointing the leadership of the church towards changes that you believe are desired by God.  Those decisions are made and change occurs that could either shrink the church or grow the church, either way, while there may be results, it's hard to discern whether the results are because of a good decision or bad decision.  Numeric growth doesn't always equal health and numeric decline doesn't always equal lack of health.  Sometimes a church needs to shrink before it grows, it's just hard to see whether or not the results are due to a wise decision or unwise decision.

Please do not misunderstand, I love being in ministry and I am not trying to gain pity or sympathy.  I am not trying to say "poor me I can't see results."  More times than not I find myself fulfilled with what I am doing.  And to be honest, there are times when you do see and hear about results (I'm not talking about the assumed "good message pastor" on the way out after the service, that's usually...not always...but usually just a cordiality).  Maybe it's a phone call after a sermon or a card after a visit or an e-mail several years after counseling with someone.  These are wonderful affirmations of your ministry, however, they are few and far between.   

What I am saying is that ministry is unique.  There have been seasons in my ministry that are frustrating because I cannot see results even though I am putting in the work.  It's difficult to work and work and work and see no identifiable results of that effort.  Dealing with that frustration comes with the territory of ministry.

So if a person is results oriented and called into ministry, they need to know that they will face the frustration of unidentifiable results in their ministry at some point or another.  It comes with the calling.  Maybe this is one reason so many pastors burn out in less than 7 years.  They get tired of not seeing results of their efforts and choose a career where identifiable results are more obvious.  It makes sense.

There are three ways I deal with the frustration of unidentifiable results in ministry:

1. When there is an affirmation/result of my ministry, I accept it and give it staying power in my life...I know I'm going to need it to last a long time.  I was telling a counselor one time about a "win" in ministry and how good it felt.  He asked me "is that enough to keep you in ministry."  After a pause I said "for now it is." 

2. I choose to believe that God is at work even when I cannot see it.  If I am faithful and obedient to what God is calling me to do and to who God is calling me to be, then the results are up to Him, not me.  This is hard to do when the results seem to be counterintuitive.  There is a decision the leadership at Catawba made at my request that has hurt the church both in attendance and in budget.  I still think as hard as it is, it was the right decision.  It grieves me to see people leave the church and for there to be tension in relationships but I have to trust that God is doing something I cannot see.

3. I choose to beleive that my identity is not in the results of my ministry, but in my relationship with my God.  I am called to be faithful and obedient in ministry.  I am called to be a steward and to be accountable as a leader.  I take that calling seriously.  However, the results of my ministry and the feelings surrounding those results, whether celebratory or frustrating, do no define who I am.  Choosing to live in the truth that I am loved by Christ regardless of what I've done, am doing and will ever do should be where I find my identity.  The work of Christ on the cross and the susequent result means that I don't have to put my faith in results but in the finished accomplishment of Jesus Christ.