Monday and Tuesday of this week I spent at Lancaster Theological Seminary at the annual Church and Ministry Convocation. This convocation attracts church and ministry committees and conference staff from New York to North Carolina. It is always wonderful to be back at my alma mater, and I always come away changed in some way. There is something about the place…maybe the creaking old buildings or the spiritual presence of generations of pastors formed there…that feels like a well of living water to which I can always return. I learned much about ministry during this convocation, both my own and that of the wider church. I suppose that what we were talking about was the health of the Body…the Body of Christ.
Maybe you have no idea what a Church and Ministry Committee (CMC) does, or how it is important to church life and leadership. Maybe you have a vague notion but it seems like just another committee. Suffice to say that in our Gettysburg Association the CMC has the authority to ordain pastors, grant pastors standing in our Association, supervise licensed and student ministers, conduct ministerial fitness reviews, assist congregations during times of transition, and provide resources for the many issues that arise in our local churches. The committee members serve two 3-year terms, typically, and it is comprised of both lay and clergy. In these days of scarce resources and diminished conference staff, this committee has taken on more and more responsibility. At the heart of this committee’s work is the notion of covenant. This was a big topic of conversation at the convocation.
God said “I will be your God and you will be my people.” That implies a promise of relationship. Covenant means “promise” and it is the most remarkable aspect of living within the Body of Christ. We do not sign a contract or rely on legal authority to seal the promise. We honor the covenant in and through our relationships with each other and within our relationship to God. Covenant provides stability and helps us to remember the promises we make at baptism, confirmation,and other key moments of the Body. Every decision we make within the church teaches something, for good or for ill, about covenant. We either live within covenant by the conduct of our church life and as disciples, or we live outside of it. The health of the Body depends on the degree to which we abide by our covenant obligations.
The Church and Ministry Committee exists to help our churches and pastors be more faithful and effective in ministry. This happens in many ways: through the vows taken at ordination by a ministerial candidate, by faithfully conducting fair elections when a pastor is called to a local church, by installing pastors, by encouraging and admonishing our colleagues in ministry, and by walking with both congregations and pastors through the seasons of life. This is how the Body of Christ remains strong and true to our calling as Children of Light. Pray for the work of this committee, as they labor with you in the fields of the Lord.