The Rev. Brenda Kostner Johnson, pastor at Anthony UMC in Kansas shares her reflections on Calling, Mentoring, Collegiality, and Vision.
Calling Isn’t Static
I could never have predicted how many times I would have to tell my “call story.” At each milestone (beginning seminary, entering the candidacy process, interviewing for TiM, commissioning, church introduction), I thought maybe I would have the “final” story. However, if I have learned nothing else about a calling, it is that your calling in vocational ministry should never be static. Our calling in ministry is dynamic, changing with each church, ministry, and life transition. As we deepen our faith journey, delve into study for vocational growth or use different gifts, we must find that God is calling us in new ways. Gifts I could not have imagined before I started seminary have come to light as I serve in a solo pastorate. Passions I did not know I had have had the chance to flourish as I serve in ministry.
I have learned that part of our calling is to constant discernment and openness to the Spirit as she weaves her work of encouragement and inspiration in our lives. For those of us starting our ministry, we have 30-40 years of service to the church ahead of us. It seems crazy to me to assume that I will be serving in the same way for that many years.
Certainly, my calling to work in the Church and my passion for changing lives by sharing the gospel is not changing, but the ways in which I do that certainly are!
I may never have the “final” version of my call story to share, but I have embraced that now. I love sharing how God has moved in my life thus far and where I might be headed in the future. It’s a journey, written day by day.
Mentoring Is a Gift
Not everyone makes a great mentor, but when someone takes the time to invest in your learning and growth as a pastor and person, a sacred relationship is created. In the TiM program, I have learned that some people see mentoring as a forced upon “job” and others want to believe they are good at it. If one is truly lucky, they end up with a third option, a mentor who is both excited and gifted with the skills to mentor well.
One has to be a good listener and able to place themselves in another’s shoes. One also has to be willing to lift up a mentee’s gifts and not be intimidated. This means the best mentors have hearts focused on abundance not scarcity. In a way, mentoring is a means of grace as we are encouraged to grow our love of God, ourselves and our vocation.
Colleagues Are How We Thrive
One the best parts about the TiM program for me has been the connections with other clergy. This at first happened just with my cohort and with key conference staff. Now it has grown to other TiM mentors and coaches, more young clergy, people from the TiM board and conference staff and many others. Ministry much like the journey of faith is not a solo experience, but something done in community. Being in the TiM program has allowed me to boldly take my place in this community and not be afraid to reach out for advice.
Our collegial community is a reminder to me that we all experience similar issues in ministry even though we may be in churches hundreds of miles apart. It is a reminder that this work is difficult regardless of individual gifts or personality. It is a reminder that we can learn from each other if we are open to it. When I encounter something previously unexperienced in my ministry, I know that I have many people who will listen to me and/or offer advice. We are not in competition with each other but in mission together to strengthen the body of Christ.
God Brings the Vision
A popular question from congregants when I started my solo appointment was, “what’s your vision for our church?” Since this was within the first month, I worried that they would doubt my leadership ability when I answered that I was waiting to learn more about the community and to discern together where God is calling us. I stand by my response but could tell that it was not what they expected. So used to having someone tell them what to do, I wanted them to be a part of the process.
And while during my first year some clearer visions and dreams were forming in my mind, I have brought people alongside so that we can share in discovering God’s vision for our church. This is holy work and work that many long-institutionalized churches have never done. When we are done, I want the vision to be something that the whole church can own and carry with them years into the future regardless of whether I am there or not.
Through the TiM program, we are starting the process of a Fruitfulness Grant. This is exciting because it is helping us learn about our community together and pray together about how God might be calling us to impact it. I’m really challenging them to dream big, to take a chance and get out of our comfort zones. Because I do believe that God calls us to change lives and calls us to love God and our neighbor more deeply. And this is not something I dictate, but co-lead because we are all co-creators with God.