Tag Archives: Pastoral Ministry

God’s call from the Andes Mountains

Ubaldo Rodriguez, New Hope Fellowship Baltimore, ubalrod@hotmail.com

I am glad that the Lord called me when I was a teenager. I believe nowadays that listening to God’s call is hard because we must listen through the worries of life and the distraction of the world’s noise to hear and respond to his call.

During the preparation for “my first communion” in the Catholic Church, I started to feel the Lord’s call toward service. I was 12 and lived with my parents by the Andes Mountains thirty miles north of Bogota, Colombia. I remember that I had some questions about Jesus and the Catholic Church. I asked questions like, “Why did baby Jesus not grow up?” “Why did we have to pay for baptisms, confirmations and funerals?” and “Why was preaching not relevant for real life?” I knew, somehow, that something was not right, but I did not know what.

When I was 19, my parents sent me to Bogota to study. After a semester of living in a big city, my father and I got involved in a witchcraft situation without knowing it. We went to different places for help, but we could not find any release. We could not become free from that evil power. My uncle, who was Christian, told us that the only way to overcome that evil power was through Jesus Christ. Therefore, we decided to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and we started to attend a Mennonite church in Bogota. After several months of attending, we were free from that evil influence. After a year, I was baptized by water. I remember that after my baptism, I began to pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I prayed for a long time, believing Luke 11:13b: “. . . how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (NRSV) After three years of prayer, I was baptized in the Spirit in a worship service.

Years later, I studied in Bogota in a two-year evangelical Bible institute. After that, the Lord granted me a one-year opportunity through the Mennonite Central Committee International Exchange Program in the US. Reflecting back on that time, I realized that the Lord was opening doors for me in different places. It was during that time, as I walked through those doors in obedience to God, that my ministry began to take shape. It was also during that time in 1993 that I decided to open my life completely to God and to serve the Lord only. I quit my job and said, “Lord, here is my life, use me as you wish.” God started to open doors outside Colombia for my Biblical and theological formation. I went to Hesston College’s Pastoral Ministry Program. Years later, I went to Costa Rica to study the scriptures from the Latin American perspective. I thought Colombia was going to be the place for a long-term ministry, working with the poor and the victims of the country’s internal conflict, however the Lord had other plans for me. In 2006, God, in his mercy, allowed me to come to Eastern Mennonite Seminary for further education. Maybe God took me out of my country in order to serve somewhere else and not become one of the hundreds of pastors killed recently in Colombia.

God’s call in my life has been a process: accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior, witnessing God’s power against the powers of darkness, experiencing baptism in the Holy Spirit, responding in obedience, receiving an excellent Christian education and committing to serve in the Mennonite Church.

New Hope Fellowship Baltimore is a new church plant connected with Wilkins Avenue Mennonite Church and New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA. If you are interested in supporting this initiative to reach Spanish speakers in the city, contact Steve Kriss, skriss@franconiaconference.org.

Keeping my heart wide open

Klaudia Smucker, Bally

“I am not planning on preaching,” I told one of my seminary professors. “I’m more interested in pastoral care and counseling.”

“Ask your minister anyway, and see if he can fit you into the preaching schedule,” he said.Klaudia's Installation

James Waltner, my minister at College Mennonite at the time, said “Of course we can fit you into the preaching schedule.” I remember sitting up front before giving my first sermon, and having the feeling of wanting to run off the platform.

I began my student internship, not planning on being a pastor. But as the year went on, my seminary practicum, “Minister in the Church,” held many surprises. I preached, I led worship, I did pastoral care and counseling, and I loved every minute of it. I remember thinking, “This is the job I always wanted to do. I just didn’t know it.” My spiritual director noticed how enthusiastic and focused I was when I talked about my church work. She encouraged me to continue to seek God, and wait for answers. I prayed that if ministry was the right direction, it would be affirmed by others.

As I finished my practicum, I was sad to be ending something I enjoyed so much, and happy that I discovered something I loved. I decided to continue to work part time at my nursing job, and work my way through seminary, hoping that answers would eventually come. In my last week at the church, Nancy Kauffmann, on the CMC team, took me out to lunch and asked me if I had ever considered pastoral ministry. I said, “Yes. This practicum has opened whole new possibilities for me. I’m just not sure about the timing of it all.” She said, “I can’t promise you anything until we talk to the church board, but James and I believe you have gifts for ministry. We’d like to recommend hiring you to help us fill in some gaps.”

Klaudia's InstallationThat was the beginning of my ministry journey, although as I look back, I can see that God’s hand was on me, leading, guiding, and bringing others my way to encourage me in that direction. When I preached a sermon as a 16-year-old on youth Sunday in the early 70’s, a woman came up to me afterwards with tears in her eyes, and said, “If you were a man, you could be a preacher some day.” I remember hearing a woman speak with passion and inspiration and thought, “I want to do that for others.” After I gave a presentation in a committee meeting once, a woman said, “God has something in mind for you.”

Not all of the 12 years that I have been in ministry have been easy. Sometimes it has been hard, sad and all-consuming. I have laughed, cried, and lamented along with people as I’ve walked with them through marriage, births of children, difficult issues, personal illness and loss. All of those things inform my preaching, and remind me that life is uncertain. My faith has been strengthened as I’ve watched people trust and follow faithfully in the midst of extreme difficulty. I have felt God’s hand on me along the way, sometimes through wise and trusted mentors, sometimes after time in prayer, and sometimes in the voice of a stranger at the right place, at the right time. As I continue to walk forward in what God has called me to, my prayer is to keep my heart wide open as I continue to listen for whatever is next on the journey.

Called, affirmed, recognized: On believing and living accordingly

Franco Salvatori, Rocky Ridge fsalvatori@gmail.com

When I was just a young kid my older brother and I shared a room. One night he asked me that great Campus Crusade question. “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” I shared with him my best understanding of God at the time—that he was like a big computer up in heaven, calculating everything I did. I almost pictured God weighing my life on a balance scale of good versus bad. If the good things I had done outweighed the bad then I had earned heaven. If the bad things came in heavy… well, you know the story. My brother took the time to explain that I could know where I would spend eternity, that all I had to do was accept Christ’s gift for me. Together, we traveled downstairs to my parent’s bedroom and I remember kneeling to pray and ask Jesus into my heart. This was only a few years after Christ had entered our family and made radical changes. My parents weren’t your average Christian family when I was born, my father was an alcoholic and my mom was just holding the family together. I was only four but I remember when life started changing in our home. One day after dad had taken a short “vacation”, he returned different. He was still a steel mill worker, but something was different. He smiled. That next year when it came time for me to start in school, my brother and I both went to a new school. My parents chose to send us to a Christian school to make sure that we grew up with a strong biblical foundation.

Life continued this way for about 3 years after my own personal experience with Christ, when another big change happened in our family. My parents sat us down to say that we were going to be moving because my 39year-old father was going to college. He felt called into ministry. It was this event in my family that displayed faith better than anything I had ever experienced. We packed up and moved, trusting God. Little did we know before the end of dad’s second semester, it wasn’t college he would be in, it was the hospital. Dad was diagnosed with a large tumor in his colon.

Besides my salvation experience, this event had the most profound effect on my spiritual journey. It was at this time in my life, when I could no longer walk in the shadow of the faith of my parents, that I had to determine whether or not I believed in a God who would “call” my parents to leave everything and then abandon them there. It was truly not a long journey, because of God’s people, and because of the truth of 2 Corinthians.

When we suffer, it gives us an opportunity to experience comfort from the God of all comfort. I quickly felt the care of many people that God brought around us, and the comfort of the God who brought us there. It was during this time that I felt the presence of God carrying not only me, but also my family, through this entire event. God eventually healed my father through surgeons and time, but without this suffering I have no idea what my spiritual life would look like today. I can truly say this journey was a start of a lifelong faith journey following the example I saw in my parents . . . believe and live your life accordingly.

During my high school years, there was little differentiation between my call to a fully surrendered lifestyle and to going into full-time ministry. As you have heard, I was privileged to be a part of a family where total abandon was modeled. When I continued to surrender more of myself to God’s will, God revealed in me a passion for serving and different gifts for ministry. As I began to think about career, God pursued me to pursue ministry. When I went to college, I entered full-time ministry to high school students, and I pursued this passion for the next eight years of my life.

From there, we followed God to Eastern Pennsylvania so that I could attend Biblical Seminary’s LEAD program. Through it all, God continues to be faithful to me, my family of origin, and the wonderful family with which God has blessed me along the way. God continues to use our family in ministry as we continually walk each leg of our journey being faithful to “believe and live accordingly.”

Pastors engage social media’s role in church life

By Sheldon C. Good
Mennonite Weekly Review
(Reposted by permission from Mennonite Weekly Review.)

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HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. — Though online social media should not replace face-to-face interactions, these tools can enhance ministerial leadership.

And social media are nothing more than tools, two consultants told a group of 30 ministry leaders at an educational gathering March 17 at Franconia Mennonite Conference Center.

Most often, social media include Facebook,?Twitter, blogs and online video.

“It’s providing amazing opportunities for pastoral care,” said Scott Hackman, a seminary student and a consultant with MyOhai, LLC.

But people have different views of social media’s functions and effects. The group of pastors described social media as connection, nuisance, virtual community, addicting, time-consuming and a new definition of friends.

Hackman, a former youth minister and salesman, shared how his journey with social media began.

“I was a stay-at-home dad, and I wanted to connect with others who were in a similar context,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could connect with people and actually engage with them.”

So Hackman created Dad Parlor, a Facebook page dedicated to create space for fathers to share and connect.

But a Facebook page — and social media overall — does not replaced the need for face-to-face interaction, he said.

In fact, Hackman believes social media enhance interpersonal relations.

“In Sunday school, someone undoubtedly will say, ‘Hey, I saw this about you on Facebook,’ ” he said.

Hackman acknowledged that “how you lead in person looks different than how you lead on Facebook.”

Hackman and Todd Hiestand, lead pastor at The Well, a church based in Feasterville and a consultant with MyOhai, led the group in an example of crowdsourcing, which taps a group’s collective wisdom by asking people to submit feedback on a question or thought.

Hiestand said he sometimes uses crowdsourcing when preparing for sermons.

“I ask a question via Facebook,” he said, “and people in my community will engage with feedback.”

Hiestand said the way people respond can give him a sense of the pulse of his congregation.

“And sometimes I can then even incorporate that into my sermon,” he said. “It can even get people thinking about a sermon topic before Sunday.”

Hiestand explained some of the available social media tools and a few of his “rules of the tools,” specifically adapted for congregational life.

He acknowledged the misconception that social media offer a quick fix for churches.

“Sometimes people think, well, if I just join social media, my congregation will grow by 400,” Hiestand said. “I actually view it as the opposite. It’s all about building relationships.”

Building connections via social media, he said, is comparable to the long-term, slow process involved in forming interpersonal relationships.

“If you invest the time, you will reap the rewards,” Hiestand said.

He stressed, though, that engagement should be focused on other people, not oneself, as a way to supplement real relationships.

Hiestand described how tools such as Facebook, blogging, video and Twitter all have pros and cons.

“Facebook, for some people, is about sharing that they had macaroni and cheese for dinner,” he said. For others, it’s viewing photos, video and advocating for causes or interests.

No matter how social media are used, Hiestand said, leaders should always remember that even online “you are never detached from your role as a leader.”

Hiestand’s rules also included:

If you wouldn’t say it from the pulpit, don’t say it online.
Don’t be a jerk; rather, be encouraging.
Don’t self-promote.

Hiestand said he constantly reminds himself that “my attitude on social media is going to affect how people interpret my sermon on Sunday.”

Ministry leaders at the gathering use a range of social media and have different opinions about their effectiveness with ministerial leadership.

Dawn Nelson, lead pastor of Methacton Mennonite Church, has a Facebook page but said she only uses it occasionally.

“I use it to keep up with what people are doing, but I also try to check in with them verbally about what they write, in case it is misleading,” she said.

Nelson started a church Facebook page a few years ago but hadn’t used it until recently. Someone now co-administers the page and shares photos on it.

“I hope it will grow,” Nelson said.

Beny Krisbianto, pastor of Nations Worship Center in Philadelphia, sends updates about church ministry projects and special events using Facebook.

Regarding pastoral care, he said, checking Facebook pages of people in his community “is the best way to know what’s going on in their life in that moment.”

Jim Ostlund, pastor of youth and young adults at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, uses all four of the social media discussed at the gathering — Facebook, Twitter, blogs and video.

During worship, he’s also used Skype, an online voice and video chat program.

Social media have become valuable tools “in maintaining ongoing contact and building relationships with congregation members, especially young adults and youth,” he said.

Steve Kriss, director of communication and leadership cultivation with Franconia Conference, said that for pastors, social media can blur public and private life.

“The pastor is always a pastor, and a personal opinion is always a pastoral opinion,” he said. “The pastor’s challenge is to find ways to use the technology purposefully, generatively, hopefully.”

Pastoral Training Program ‘Steps’ into Philly

Eastern Mennonite Seminary at Lancaster’s STEP program (Study and Training for Effective Pastoral Ministry) will offer its first cohort session in Philadelphia in September 2010. This cohort is a move by the seminary to offer pastoral training to urban and racially and ethnically diverse pastors.

“This is a big deal for us,” said EMS at Lancaster director Mark R. Wenger. “EMU is responding to dynamic church growth, community outreach and ministry in Philadelphia.”

Every year since STEP began in 2004 church leaders from Philadelphia have participated in the program. But it required driving every month to Lancaster for sessions.

“Offering STEP in Philadelphia fits with my vision for taking high quality pastoral training as close to the local congregation as possible,” Dr. Wenger said.

Karen Jantzi, adjunct instructor at Temple University and member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, served on the advisory committee for the STEP Philadelphia cohort. She will also teach in the program.

“I believe that everyone needs to have an introduction to basic theology and biblical studies,” Dr. Jantzi said. “I’m excited about this program because it indicates that the Pennsylvania conferences and the denomination understand the importance of nurturing leadership within the city.”

The advisory committee, made up of pastors and leaders in Philadelphia, helped Wenger and EMS determine the feasibility of starting a cohort in the city. They also helped shape the program to make it relevant to the urban context.

Wenger is expecting 8-15 persons for this year’s cohort in Philadelphia. Participants will be Anglo, African-American, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Latino. While most will be from urban settings, at least one pastor from a rural congregation will join them.

“The sociological study by Conrad Kanagy titled ‘Roadsigns for the Journey’ spoke about racial/ethnic congregations being the growing edge of the denomination. This is what I’m observing in Philadelphia,” said Wenger. “Working in an urban setting will have some challenges,” he continued. “One is that many of these churches don’t have the resources that more
rural congregations have to help educate their pastors.”

To help with affordability, Wenger is raising money to provide $1,000 scholarships for each participant.

The STEP program (Study and Training for Effective Pastoral ministry), a partnership between Lancaster Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite University, provides training for people who are licensed for pastoral ministry or who have been encouraged to consider pastoral work, but may not have had college, Bible school or seminary.

For more information on the STEP program, contact Mark Wenger at 717-397-5190 or by email at wengermr@emu.edu