Rev. Mark Ruf

Perhaps because I grew up in a parsonage, I had no intention of ever entering the ministry.  Not that I harboured any negative feelings toward the church; the tasks of ministry simply seemed too overwhelming, and the prospect of a somewhat “public” life was unappealing.  At the same time, I felt strongly about the responsibility that both the local congregation and the church at large had been given under the Great Commission.  Christ had done such great things for me – I had to respond.  So, I remained active in my local congregation:  teaching, leading various groups, sitting on boards, supporting the congregation’s activities.  Slowly, I began to appreciate how the people with whom I worked were motivated by genuine gratitude to God and served to simply give back to Him.  They were most “at home” when serving their Lord.  Still, I was not ready for a life in public ministry.  I was extremely nervous at the thought of leading worship – of preparing SERMONS week after week!  I remained uncomfortable with the thought of being the individual that was front and center in many congregational activities.  I did not think myself qualified for the office of the ministry.  I wanted to live a life that offered service to God, but how?

Growing up in Vancouver, I loved the mountains, the ocean, and all the activities they offered.  So I began preparing for a career that would allow me to pursue the stewardship and management of such resources.  I entered UBC with the goal of a degree in Resource Management.  Those were good years.  Still, as I neared the half-way mark of my five-year program, I was unsettled.  I truly enjoyed what I was studying, and the people with whom I worked, but our studies and work simply did not “fit” me the way it fit my peers.  One day, after I explained this to a close friend, she asked me outright:  “Have you ever thought about ministry?” I could not honestly say I had thought it through – prayerfully – and had legitimately dismissed it, so now I had to do just that:  think and pray!

One thing led to another as, through conversations with my parents and Christian friends, I began to realize that my concerns with ministry were not centered on the tasks of ministry itself, but on me and my own perception of my personal weaknesses.  I began to realize that one of the blessings of ministry, and of Christian life in general, is to be led to know the truth of what St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:10:  “…for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Church work was not about me, but about Christ and the Word being at work – just as is promised.

I contacted Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton – then a very new institution – and was surprised at how willing the faculty was to help me understand the prerequisites I would have to pick up prior to applying for seminary entrance.  I would not have to start from scratch as I feared, but could finish my degree at UBC and gain the courses required through electives and one year of summer sessions.  So I became the only person in UBC’s Forestry library who was studying Biblical Hebrew!  At least to the best of my knowledge!  Seminary was challenging intellectually, financially, and physically.  The hours of study were long.  But this was now a true vocation – the challenges set before us in class and field work had a purpose.  The support of the Edmonton Lutheran community was a real blessing.  The seminary community was tight-knit and my field work congregation truly became family over those years.  Along with the work, there was a great deal of laughter and fun.

God provided for me, too, in terms of the concerns I had over public speaking and teaching.  Through exposure to field work experiences and class work I began to realize that God would provide in these areas as well.  I remember reading an article in Leadership Magazine.  It was an interview of two individuals considered effective Christian speakers.  Both offered valuable insights, but what impacted me the most were these words,

“Before I preach a sermon, I ask myself two questions:  Do I believe that what I have to say is Biblically true?  Do I believe that these people need to hear it?

If I answer “yes” to these two questions, I tell myself that I’d better say it!”

That’s pretty simple, but in a way, so is our task.  Speak the Word and strive to model a life that does not show perfection, but joy in Christ’s forgiveness – a life of service rendered out of gratitude, not compulsion.  Amid all the complexities of life in this sin-impacted world, the task of the Church is really quite clear: point to Christ, not to ourselves.  I’ve remembered that often over the years, and it has been a blessing to do so.  I’ve been taught more and more how reliant we are upon our Lord and how reliable He is.   I’ve been privileged to be a part of peoples’ lives in their joys and their sorrows.  I’ve been able to laugh with them as we serve the Lord together.  It has been an honour and a privilege.

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