Surprised by the call

by Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

My work as an executive coach and process consultant requires me to travel around the country as I work with church-related organizations from various denominations. I enjoy my work and was looking forward to doing more of it after having recently finished a Ph.D in human and organizational systems.

phil bergeyThen came a call I did not anticipate. My wife Evon and I have been members at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church for 20 years. This congregation helped raise our three children and has been a place of support for all of us. Firman Gingerich, our lead pastor, announced his resignation and he and his wife Susan’s plans to re-locate to Iowa to be closer to family. Blooming Glen’s congregational leadership board (CLB) wanted me to explore if there was any way I could serve as part-time interim lead pastor in the midst of my other work.

I was surprised: surprised by the call, surprised by my initial openness, surprised by my family’s encouragement, and surprised that after several conversations with my spiritual director I found myself seriously exploring the possibility.

Despite this surprise, being called to serve in ministry roles is not new for me. In 1978, I felt called to voluntary service with Mennonite Board of Missions to Stratford, Ontario. In 1984, I was called to congregational leadership at Franconia Mennonite Church, the congregation into which I was born. In 1988, I felt called to pursue training for Christian service and moved my family several times in order for me to study at Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). In 1991, I was called to serve as a teaching elder at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. In 1993, I was called to serve as conference coordinator and executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference, a role I served in for 14 years with the identity of a seminary-trained businessperson rather than as a pastor.

So why was I surprised by this call to serve as part-time interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church? I am still puzzling over this, but I suspect it has something to do with growing up in the midst of our family business, Bergey’s Electric. I watched as my parents and siblings integrated ministry into their everyday work. I did not grow up with a dichotomy between church and work although the intersection of the two remains a lifetime fascination. (At AMBS, my master’s thesis was titled “What has Wall Street to do with Jerusalem.”) Work settings are just another way to interact—and minister—with people around us. Ministry happens when we are open to being used by God wherever we are called.

Over the past few months I have realized one more surprise. My dissertation focused on the question: How do Mennonite pastors describe their role in leading planned organizational change? At the time it seemed expedient to focus on a group I knew well and could easily work with to conduct my research. I figured the learnings would be useful in my work coaching pastors and other religious leaders. In retrospect, God was planning yet another surprise.

So I look forward to putting my theoretical learning to use in the ministry opportunity of pastoring a congregation through a time of leadership transition. I am honored to do this with a wonderful pastoral team and many committed volunteer leaders. This reality tempers my fears as I realize that ministry is a community calling when that community is open to God’s leading. To this end I find comforting the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples in John 16:12-14:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.