January 23, 2021

Wilderness Update: The Next Step in the Journey

On Monday, I will begin the next leg of my journey into ordained ministry in the Lutheran Church (ELCA). Having been accepted into the process (“Entranced,” in ELCA lingo) based on various interviews and documents submitted, tests taken, and background checks completed, I will now find out my recommended course through a Theological Review Panel that will interview me to determine what I need to be called into official ministry. They will ask about my Biblical, theological and historical knowledge, my practical experience, and my familiarity with the Lutheran world.

I have anticipated some of their recommendations and enrolled at a class at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, which will also begin on Monday morning.

Therefore, I will awaken early, make the drive to Chicago, begin my studies and meet my mentors. It will be a big day, and I would appreciate your prayers as God brings me to mind.

Here are a few of the things I’ll be meditating on throughout the day, statements that have impressed me in my preparations.

* * *

This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

  • Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.
  • The proclamation of God’s message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

As I’ve said in other posts, one characteristic that attracts me to the Lutheran tradition is its insistent and persistent focus on the Lord Jesus Christ as central to the Christian faith. Just as I was attracted to Michael Spencer’s writings here on Internet Monk because of his emphasis on “Jesus-shaped spirituality,” so I have found in this tradition a wonderful emphasis that puts Jesus right at the center of everything.

* * *

Individuals are ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament because they have been called by God. This church believes that the call comes to individuals from God both personally and through the church….

  • Ordained ministers, called by God through the church, are accountable to the Word of God for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
  • Ordained ministers are called by God through the church and are not self-chosen or self-appointed;
  • Ordained ministers are called by God through the church for a ministry of servanthood, and not for the exercise of domination or coercive power; and
  • Ordained ministry is a privilege granted by God through the call of the church and is not a right of the individual.

To be honest, the process I am in can sometimes be frustrating. I have my seminary degreee and over thirty years of ministry experience. Yet it is not my “right” to insist upon a certain path to ministry or a role of my own defining. I must wait upon those who question me, test me, and call upon me to slow down and participate with my local congregation, synod officials, and seminary professors in a continuing process of discernment and discovery. I feel safe and cared for within a community that is listening to God and working together to advance his Kingdom purposes as well as to protect candidates like me and the churches we will serve.

* * *

This church expects its ordained ministers to honor and equip the baptized for their ministry in the world. Such a ministry involves giving leadership in the church’s witness to the world, exhibiting awareness of the global challenges of a multicultural, diverse society, and enabling the members of this church, through the faithful teaching and preaching of the Word of God and the administration of the sacraments for their ministry in daily life.

– Visions and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA

“In the world” — this is the context in which the baptized followers of Jesus are to live out their faith, their love of God and neighbor. The goal is not to build a bigger church organization, though we seek to reach the world with the Good News of King Jesus. The goal is that those who gather in Jesus’ name to worship and receive the ongoing grace of salvation through the Word and Sacraments will scatter into their homes, neighborhoods, offices, shops, schools, and communities, where they will live out faith in the ordinary vocations to which they are called. All Christians are ministers, but for most of us, our sacred tasks involve daily work and relationships in “secular” settings. In the common places of life we live sacramental lives. It is the minister’s duty not merely to build a congregation that functions well within the walls of a church building, but a people who spreads the love of Christ throughout the world.


  1. CM-

    Man that looks intense and a little frustrating. I can only imagine….

    However, as we’ve talked about here on Internet Monk it serves a purpose….I mean please consider…

    1. When Mark Driscoll threatens violence and to break an Elders nose becuase he wants to get his way, that raises red flags.
    2. When John Piper uses the Bible to tell a woman being battered in a domestic abuse situation that she should endure that physical abuse for a night that raises red flags about bad theology.
    3. When other neo-reformed churches like SGM have pastors and ministry leaders who encourage members to not report crimes like child molestations to the local authorities and that it will be dealt internally to where the vicitm suffers; you know you are in a bad, or cult like church that has no respect for either God or civil authority. In that case alarm bells should be going off.

    Much of what happens in the non-denom world, or the reformed world (I saw a little of both…) only confirms why such ELCA policy is in place. And I would bet my ass, that neither John Piper, Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Mark Dever, etc…would never be able to get through the boards, background checks, interviews, documents, etc.. that you have gone through. They are designed to keep out the likes of Piper or Driscoll. I mean come on when your ministry leader threatens violence like Driscoll did or grows a ministry through white collar crime like Mahaney did oh yeah…let’s see how they do with all the background checks.

    But getting back to the ELCA . If you ever get transfered out here CM please let me know. I’ll pop up on Sunday from time to time to hear you teach. Just beware…I give bear hugs!!!! 😀 And while I like the Nats…in your case I’ll make an exception and show up to church wearing a Cubs jersey!!! .

    • I couldn’t agree more. The longer I work for the church, the more I come to appreciate the goodness of denominational red tape. It isn’t there to cramp your style, but to bring about the liberty of mutual submission, focused cooperation, and processes and protections for clergy and laity alike at all levels. Some groups do better than others at this.

      • I believe red tape is a theoretical benefit. Having come from the Reformed Church of America, into the non-denom world, and now discerning a call in the ACNA, it seems to be to be dependent upon who holds the keys. The RCA was ridiculous, ineffective, and out of touch. The non-denom world made it easier to focus on whatever I felt was important, but with no support. My current experience with the ACNA’s Diocese of Cascadia proves having order and function in place while placing power in the hands of a capable bishop with his heart in the right place makes things a whole lot smoother.

        I’m going to the Diocesan Synod in a couple of weeks. There I’ll see first hand how they handle politics. But I’m already impressed that only 4 hours of the weekend are devoted to politics. The rest is worship and workshops. Check it out. http://www.cascadiadiocese.org/synod.cfm

        • Headed to the ACNA? Nice! That is a direction I seriously considered for a while. Unfortunately, I’ve heard they still have a few political kinks to get out of their newly emerging system, which had something to do with a distancing between them and the AMiA. But I’m glad to hear that good leaders are emerging. The character of the men in power absolutely makes a decisive difference.

          I agree that many times the red tape can be counter-productive, but I’ve also seen it thrown away too hastily too many times. I know many Reformed/Presbyterians feel their denomination is an impediment to mission, but I’ve never heard a discussion on the details. There’s a balance of power in church as well as government, based on the idea that no man is capable of handling authority responsibly without accountability.

          I’m looking forward to hearing more about your discernment process. I hope it will be a blessing to you and them (and I think it will)!

          • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

            I think the AMiA thing has been a major learning experience for us all. What I’ve taken away from it is the importance (to our form of polity, anyway) of having a college of bishops that is, well, collegiate rather than all power effectively in a single person. So much more could be said, but I just ain’t gonna 🙂

        • Brendan,

          Can I email you? You gave me your e-mail before, but I think I lost it.

          I am also considering the ACNA, and I would like to hear how you’re experiencing the process. Like Mike posted, even though I’ve been to seminary, and have a decade of experience, I can’t dictate terms. I respect that, but it is a little frustrating, and I’m not sure if I can work it out in my case.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says

          I’ve spent the last couple of years going through the hoops to get ordained in ACNA, and, Lord willing, will be getting ordained to the transitional diaconate next month. My experience has been that different dioceses do things differently with regards to the ordination process, and there is not as yet a province-wide standard. The process for me has been somewhat… fuzzy…. and I think that’s largely due to the smallness of the diocese and my bishop often being out of the country, as well as my graduate degree being a Master of Christian Ministry rather than a more traditional M.Div. I had said I was willing to go on to get my M.Div. if the bishop wanted me to, but both he and my rector wanted me to be the diocesan guinea-pig for non-M.Div. postulants. Also, at the very beginning of the process (about three years ago), my rector told me that his goal was that by the time my ordination came up, the congregation, the bishop, and everyone would be so sure of my calling that they’d be saying “it’s about dang time.” And that’s what’s happened.

          But, yeah, there’s lots of red tape, and lots of hoops. I’ve watched two of our priests (one of whom, like Chap. Mike, had been previously ordained in another denomination) also go through the process. They each had a different story from me. I’ve also seen a couple of prospective postulants get fed up with the process and go to other dioceses. None of theses have been traditional discern-a-calling-get-support-go-to-seminary-get-ordained things, though our rector’s son just left for seminary and is on a more traditional road.

          While I would have liked it if the process for me had been more straight-forward and checklist-like, that’s mostly my own impatience talking. It’s actually been a good experience overall, and I’m glad that the checks-and-balances are there to keep us from doing anything hasty [insert Treebeard sayings here].

      • In our diocese (TEC) there is a year of discernment before ordination, but also a discernment process in seminary. It’s unlike the pre-hiring process akin to a theological bar exam in reformed circles, and “hey, man, Jesus told me to be here” sorts of self-initiation in independent churches. What I like about TEC is that aspirants first become deacons, and learn the blessing of serving. I finished college in 3 years, not because I am so smart, but I was so darned impatient. It is a temptation to rush things, but I have learned form experience that a discovery period is best for all involved. And I suspect CM is experiencing the very same thing.

  2. Travis Sibley says


    As Eagle said, I imagine that this process can be frustrating, but I agree and even admire a church body that would go to such lengths to protect its congregation and ministers alike.

    I wish you well on your continuing journey!

    Keep us updated.


  3. “Entranced” sounds very poetic!!

    Prayers for you to learn and grow and let the chaff that doesn’t speak to you fall by the wayside to get to the heart of God.

  4. One more Mike says

    May the wind be at your back in this journey CM. The ELCA is richer for having you carrying a shepherds crook in their vestments. Many blessings.

  5. Blessings on the journey! I’m going into my 4th year of ministry (ELCA) at age 57. It was a long journey (5 years for me, with kids, commuting 2 hours to sem, and working) but it was an amazing experience. While the demands for ordination may seem high to some, they exist
    for good reasons. Congratulations!

  6. David Cornwell says

    I know the process can be very frustrating. However in the end it can be very rewarding. Thank God this denomination has a comprehensive process in place. Take care on your trips to Chicago. Remembering you in our prayers.

  7. I can personally testify to the “insistent and persistent focus on the Lord Jesus Christ as central to the Christian faith” of the Lutheran tradition. Of all the authors I have read on the subject of science & religion, no one comes across as more Christ-centered than George L. Murphy, a now retired ELCA pastor and adjunct faculty member at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. This comes across, for example, in his book “The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross,” and in his numerous articles in “Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith,” the journal of the American Scientific AFfiliation.

    Bast wishes for your journey.

  8. May God continue to bless, guide and minister through you.

  9. I’m praying for you, CM.

  10. David Crawford says

    Mike, may the Lord direct your steps and level your paths. I thank him for working in your life which had enriched mine. Take care brother as you discern the will of God as he will never let you down !!!!!!

  11. I wish you well. May you find great joy in Christ as you seek to serve Him and His people in this venture.

  12. CM, you’ve hit the nail on the head with what makes Lutheranism so special: It is the most tenaciously Christ-centered tradition, hands down. Case and point; what you name a church after says something about it. Either Lutherans are completely devoid of creativity or the fact that a good third of them are named “Our Savior Lutheran Church” means that somebody is important there.

    I suppose it does feel like your training and experience are a bit undervalued by the system right now. But there is a brighter side to this: I doubt you will find your theological orientation to be excessively challenging, especially since you are a musician. I’m sure you may spend a bit more time with Melanchthon and Chemnitz than before, but I bet everything will seem somewhat familiar, even if it is terribly busy.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “a good third of them are named “Our Savior Lutheran Church” ”

      Eh? This may be a regional thing. In ethnically German areas the generic Lutheran church name is “Zion”. The last three churches I have belonged to have had that name. More generally, in my experience, Lutheran churches are frequently named for God or various attributes of God (in any of the three persons). “Our Savior” falls into this category, but so do the extremely common names “Grace” and “Faith” and countless others. Moving down the list, if the church bears a saint’s name it will almost always be Paul or one of the four evangelists. (Yes, there is St. Olaf: that’s a Norskie thing.) Then we get to the completely unimaginative “Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church” names. Finally, there are occasional names which are tremendously evocative, if you know the code. Baltimore has a “First English Lutheran Church”: a name which is just rife with early 19th century cultural politics.

      • And Back East, it’s another thing entirely (ELCA, anyhow) re. church names and congregants – where I come from, most are descendants of early settlers who were already Lutheran. (“Early” = 1700s.)

        Most churches seem to be named for the Evangelists and writers of the epistles.

  13. I have no problem with red tape if it serves a purpose to set standards and accountability. Often those who complain the most about red tape are those who want to do as they please. As I have commented several times, those in the highest places of honor should be held to a higher standard of accountability. There have been too many stories of “God’s Anointed” committing heinous acts of fraud and abuse simply because they were not held accountable for their actions. After all, how can “God’s Anointed” do any wrong?

    But red tape is no guarantee. I think deregulation did contribute to our recent economic fall, but regulation breeds its own forms of evil in the forms of collusion, corruption, and bribery. I saw a recent news story begging the question why no one involved in the Wall Street meltdown has faced trial; perhaps the answer lies in the number of Wall Street bankers, brokers, and lawyers appointed to cabinet positions in the Obama administration – which promised to restore regulation to Wall Street. In terms of religion, I have watched pastors no more finish vowing to hold to the teachings of scripture and the Lutheran articles and creeds before turning around to preach chapter-and-verse from Rick Warren. Too many people go through the motions of processing the red tape or checking the compliance boxes as a means to do what they please. It becomes meaningless bureaucracy and ritual.

    John Wesley talked about holiness not in terms of legalism or license but (borrowing from Bishop Jeremy Taylor) sincerity of heart or purity of intention. That is something only the Holy Spirit can do in us. One can do the right thing with or without strict rules and red tape, but never without sincerity. The reason notorious religious figures abuse their flocks is due not just to an absence of standards and accountability. As some say, ethics is what you do when no one is watching.

    • I might add that red tape not only becomes meaningless bureaucracy and ritual but also acts of hypocrisy – putting on the mask to look like we agree and uphold the rules when (like the pharisees) we know all the loopholes to avoid the rules while appearing to zealously obey every one. The heart of the old Adam is shear evil. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9 (WEB).

    • I’m not just talking about red tape, but about a community that takes time to work together, listen to God and one another, set up clear processes that have purpose, and take time to consult and evaluate along the way. I don’t consider that bureaucracy but wisdom.

      • Chaplain Mike – I believe you’re right on “wisdom,” as opposed to “red tape.”

        There are rigorous standards in seminary and later for good reasons… I guess it might be difficult for people who come from other traditions, especially those where people can just grab the title of “pastor” and apply it to themselves, willy-nilly

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