Considering the Call into the Holy Ministry
Although I was raised in a pastor’s family until my father’s death in 1975, I am told that my ambition in those earliest times was leaning more heavily towards driving a garbage pick-up truck than any other holy calling. I am sure, however, that those years in a parsonage allowed me to always see public pastoral ministry as an option for my life. By the time I reached High School and adults around me started regularly asking me what I wanted to do when I left school I would usually list geology, archeology and social work as my top career contenders. Pastoral ministry sometimes tied for third place in that list but more often than not was a clear “also-ran”.
It was during my High School years that the priority list began changing and I credit a co-worker at North American Lumber with the human side of the difference. Martin Dressler was a shirt-tail, older cousin, who was spending his last years of employment at the same lumberyard I was spending my first years of employment. Martin was a gentle, wise and compassionate Christian man. As we loaded the lumber trucks or shifted bails of insulation together we had hours and eventually days and months to talk about life and eternal life. His gentle persuasion towards offering my gifts and abilities up for public pastoral ministry definitely made a great impact on my decision to apply for the Pre-Pastoral program at Concordia College, Edmonton. Many other family and church individuals assisted in that decision with their encouragement while the staff and professors at Concordia College later kept up the encouragement, but I see those talks with Martin as critical for consideration for the call into the Holy Ministry.
My Concordia College and University of Alberta years went by in a flash. I was entirely focused on those years of education as simply a “pre-requisite” for the final years of Seminary study. Many times now I wish that I had treated each one of those years the same as later years in Seminary classes. I now believe that my ministry could have been enriched even further had I “milked” every general arts class and university educational experience for all it’s worth! God, however, was not content to leave pastoral character formation all up to the formal education process. By the time I had arrived at Concordia Seminary I had experienced much more life than my age in years would suggest. In each trial and hardship, in each revelation of my own humanity I became more and more appreciative of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and certainly more reliant upon it. As theologians of old have noted, God forms his pastors through study, prayer and struggle! (meditatio, oratio, tentatio).
As I look back now over some years of pastoral ministry I am filled with awe and thanksgiving at the way God works through His public ministers with the power of His Word and Sacraments. I have lost track of the number I times He has used my very imperfect humanity to bring His blessings of forgiveness, life and salvation to men, women and children for whom I serve as Christ’s ambassador. It is truly not I but Christ who serves them and I know this more than anyone because I know my own frail flesh and I rely as much on the forgiveness and love that my Christ Jesus gives as do those whom I serve in His name. I have served in the far north of Manitoba and the far West of British Columbia in resource-based communities and now serve in a large urban setting. In both periods of full-time and part-time pastoral employment and in each of the life-stages of congregations in which I have served I have come to recognize God’s own “pastoral heart” as He supports and nurtures my role as under-shepherd to Jesus Christ.
Even in those times of great pastoral and congregational stress where it might seem easier to step back and fill a different holy calling such as a farmer, teacher, business man, soldier, early-retiree etc. I must admit to myself that God has so formed my pastoral heart that I can only now envision taking on a different such calling in order to better serve the mission and ministry calling of the public ministry in a slightly different way.
May God bless you and keep you as you contemplate His Call!
Pastor David Dressler
Lutheran Church of The Good Shepherd, Calgary, Alberta