Spring Ministerium 2024
Christ the King, New Brighton

Ephesians 4: 1-7, 11-16

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Triune God. AMEN.

Weren’t we just together? It feels like yesterday when we blessed one another in the vocations to which we have been called. The world is moving that quickly. So many things are coming at us all at once.

Since we last gathered, much has happened in this synod. New colleagues have joined us; one of you just installed this past Sunday (Welcome, Annie Langseth). I am so grateful all of you have come to serve in the Saint Paul Area Synod. And ordinations – Jua Jay Her, Carrie Stiles, Amy Vigesaa, Reed Fowler, Katie Lindberg, Stanley Ayashim, Wes Kimball, Pepe Demarest, (and Ruthie Mhanga — I haven’t forgotten; your ordination is next month). All of you have been ordained since we last gathered. What a year.

But there is more, of course. Babies, delightful new births; along with the deaths of those we love. Those always seem to come together. But there’s more. Other family challenges have rocked some of you to the core as you deal with issues of mental health, aging parents, worries about your future call, or the ambiguous angst that comes in the middle of the night when you cannot sleep. At the ministerium we come together because, by God’s grace, we belong together – we belong to one another.

In the Epistle we hear, “I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called …” (Ephesians 4:1). Friends, this morning you will hear again the questions that were asked of you at your ordination. It is a fitting Lenten discipline to be called back to what is fundamental in our calls.

It is so tempting for all of us to be caught up in the immediacy of the demands made by those with whom we serve. The budget gap reported each Sunday in the bulletin. The disappointed elder, who cannot believe that you would move the location of the congregation’s garage sale. The report you were asked to write a month ago. The lagging fundraising for the youth trip this summer. The volunteer, who just bowed out. The job posting for a youth leader that has garnered no responses. No interest. Zilch. Not a week goes by that we are not assaulted by what is unfinished, what is not working, what may not be our responsibility but sure feels to others that it is our problem to solve.

It is no surprise to learn that pastors and deacons are having second thoughts about continuing to do this work. People report they are simply exhausted, spent; they want more leisure time, better pay, and a more predictable schedule without having to navigate strife among members. Studies have been done and now are the topic of wider media interest on the future of the church. If you haven’t read the reports, I can send you the links because – believe me – I read them all. [1]

The pandemic, which sent us home four years ago, is often thought to be a major contributor to this restlessness with clergy vocations, but other studies indicate that there are similar shifts for people in all sorts of professions – teachers, health care, journalism, and higher education, as well.[2] What makes for a well-lived life? What does God require of a person of faith?

In the Bible study at the church where I preached on Sunday, the pastor said, “Maybe we have all become too caught up in the world, in our possessions and things.” (Thank you, Ivy Huston.)

Is she right? That is a question we each need to wrestle with in this Lenten season. What motivates our deepest commitments and what drives our discontent? Friends, we are not exempt from the wiles and deceits of the times in which we live.

From the earliest days, the community that was drawn together by the resurrection of Jesus, had to wrestle with what their lives as Christ-followers were all about. You would think they were Americans for the way that competition surfaces over-and- over again in the Acts of the Apostles and in the letters to an emergent church. Who is the most important? Who is most favored? Who has the inside track on privilege?

St. Paul writes, “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gifts. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:7, 11-12)

And lest you think that list is exclusive, throughout the New Testament other roles are also named – deacons and catechists, missionaries and table hosts, funders and administrators, and by inference, musicians and song-leaders. And beyond that, there is the work and ministry of all the baptized out in the world — for the sake of God’s world.

This is our common, shared calling in Christ. Let me say again — by God’s grace, we belong together – we belong to one another.

And that brings me to a puzzle that I have not been able to solve. Perhaps we can solve it together.

In one of those studies on clergy discontent, the researchers analyzed the connection between a congregation’s vitality and a clergyperson’s consideration of leaving the ministry or leaving that context. The report suggests this: “… there is a strong correlation between a congregation’s positive outlook and fewer thoughts of departure.”[3] None of us are surprised. But that’s not the puzzle. Let me share more. “Interestingly,” the researchers write, “while providing some benefit, relatively few traditional supportive measures such as clergy peer groups, coaches, therapists, sabbaticals, or days off made a statistically significant difference whether a clergy person was considering leaving the ministry or their congregation when controlling for other influential factors.

What is positively associated,” they write, “with fewer thoughts of leaving is what we have said above – being in a church with a bright outlook for the future, one that has less conflict, is more open to change and adaptation, and cultivates a good, healthy relationship between members and pastor.”[4]

Some of you serve in unhealthy contexts. Some of you enjoy more perks – not only in the positive outlook and hopefulness of your setting, but you are paid more; have staff colleagues in the building with you; benefit from more weeks of leave and vacation; and in all ways have a seemingly easier road to travel. The puzzle is – what do we together do about that?

Friends, I wrestle with the meaning of Ephesians 4:7 – “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” I do not think for a minute that God makes up for a deficit in some callings by providing an added infusion of grace, as a consolation.

But I do trust that God sees that we do not all come with the same resources of talent or family support or even our capacity for resilience. These factors vary for each one of us. And they varied on the day of our baptism and on the day of our ordination. God does not only call the super stars, as we do in drafting professional athletes.

But God calls all of us together to this holy work. The strong and the weak, the bold and the timid, the energized and the weary, the naïve and the wise, so that “as each part is working properly, (together, this) promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Eph 4:16)

That’s the puzzle, friends. How do we show that love to one another? How do we witness to each other our faith as children of the resurrection? How do we demonstrate that we do not live only for ourselves but that we are willing to put ourselves out for one another, drawing on the unfailing, immeasurable love of God for us in Jesus Christ?

But I’ll warn you – God’s love can blow up your life. God’s love knocked Paul off his horse. Timothy boarded a ship and spend his life as a missionary. Lydia opened her house and Dorcas gave clothing away – maybe even her own.

Be warned. The love of God can blow up your life as you know it and lead you to do things that surprise even you. And I mean that in a church context where challenges are not evenly distributed.

Friends, some of you will want to tell me – or tell Bishop Hassanally and the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church — how we could better structure our lives to reduce the inequities across our congregations and ministry sites. Those insights are surely welcome.

But more importantly, let us show each other in this ministerium the love which Christ modeled for us. Especially, you with more perks, more resources, more congenial leaders to back you, more experience at weathering the hard seasons of self-doubt and grief. Dream what you can do to lend a hand and then lend that hand. Maybe even be open to a call in one of the tougher contexts yourself.

Because we are in this ministry together. And in the end, what matters to God is building up the whole Body of Christ. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

Bishop Patricia Lull



[1] Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations (EPIC), Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2023. See also the National Study of Congregations (2020)

[2] Scott Hagley and Karen Rohrer, Ministry and Other Difficult Jobs, The Christian Century, April 2024.

[3] EPIC, page 21.

[4] EPIC, page 22.