Discernment is always a process.
Sometimes it is short. Sometimes it takes years. Sometimes it means listening to voices that are not your own. Sometimes it means ignoring those voices. A path can become clear after an “Epiphany” or it can be a slow and zig-zagging realization. Yet one thing is certain throughout it all: the Holy Spirit is present to both guide and empower a person to follow where God leads. This is true for everyone (not only pastors) and as I share my own process, I hope it can be helpful in yours.
The call to serve the church.
After I was nominated to be a candidate for the office of Bishop in the NE Synod, I heard many voices of support and even enthusiastic calls that I would be good in this roll. I have a rural background but also suburban experience. I’ve lived in NE by whole life and know the state well. I have gifts of leadership and listening that have made me a good pastor and many people believe those would translate to the office of bishop.
Yet I also know the office of the bishop is not like being a pastor at all. It is a vital role for the church and the synod has been blessed with excellent bishops over the years but the skill set needed is not that same as serving a congregation. I had little clarity about what to do. I felt called to the process but not necessarily to the position. So I decided to let my name go forward and trust that God would help me find clarity eventually.
The Holy Spirit speaks up.
As a part of the nomination process, candidates did interviews and were to fill out biographical information. I did my interview the last Monday of Lent. Two days later we had our final Holden Evening prayer service. Those services had been so meaningful to me and to so many others. I sat in awe as many of our young people, many families, many generations, kneeled in prayer and lifted up a light in a world that seems stuck in the dark.
It was then that I had that moment of clarity. When I was asking where God was calling me to serve, it was clear to me that it was as a pastor in a congregation. That calling is too strong to set aside. I was not afraid to serve as bishop if elected. God always equips those who are called but my heart is in the parish and that calling resonated with a clarity I had not known for many months.
So I sent an email to the selection committee that Friday withdrawing my name from consideration for the office of Bishop of the NE Synod. It didn’t feel right to continue the process when I had no internal sense of call to the role. Below are a few excerpts from that message:
Today is the deadline for submitting additional materials for the bishop’s election process. I am so appreciative of the care and intentionality that is being given by everyone involved. I too have continued to carefully weigh my sense of call to this position and after much prayer and ongoing discernment, I respectfully ask that my name be withdrawn for election to the office of bishop of the Nebraska Synod. I am deeply grateful for all those who have encouraged me to consider this nomination and it is an honor to be among other respected colleagues.As I told Deacon Melang during our recent interview, I initially let my name move forward because I felt called to participate in the process, even though I didn’t have clarity about my calling to the office. It felt necessary to walk down the path in order for God to show me the way.I feel confident that God has now done that. Sometimes it only takes a few steps down a path to realize that it is not the right one for the moment. My spiritual director said that among the voices urging me to go this way or that (and there have been a lot of them), the voice of the Spirit would resonate with a sense of clarity. In recent days that clarity has come as an affirmation of my call to parish ministry. While I know God would equip me to serve as bishop if elected, pastoring a congregation is where I feel called to best serve the church. I will continue to support the incredible work of this synod and offer my voice, ability, and perspective in whatever ways I can as together, we walk the new paths ahead of us.