ELCA Approval Essay Background
As a candidate for ordained rostered pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, I’ve been in the ELCA candidacy process for the last four years. The first candidacy step was Entrance, which included an interview with my synod’s candidacy committee, a psychological evaluation, and an entrance essay. You can read my entrance essay online here.
Following entrance into the candidacy process and my first year at Wartburg Seminary, I completed a summer unit of clinical pastoral education (CPE), interning as a hospital chaplain. My CPE placement was at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
After my second year of seminary, I went through the next step of candidacy, Endorsement. You can read my endorsement essay here. After endorsement and my second year of seminary, I did a year-long internship at St. Peter Lutheran Church, here in Dubuque, Iowa.
Before beginning my final year of seminary, I wrote an essay for the final step of candidacy, Approval. The approval process also included an interview with seminary faculty and another interview with my synod’s candidacy committee. I’m pleased to say that by the grace of God and the call of the church, I have been approved for rostered ministry in the ELCA!
I’m posting this essay online to share some of my faith journey and call story with others, and in the hope it may be helpful to others discerning a call to ministry or who are already in this candidacy process.
Read part 2 of my endorsement essay
Read part 3
Read part 4
Approval Essay Part 1: Person in Ministry
Prompt for Part 1:
- What is your understanding of God’s mission in the world? Describe your faith in the Triune God and how your Trinitarian faith has informed your understanding of God’s mission?
- What community of faith prior to your seminary studies helped shape your understanding of God’s mission and your gifts for missional leadership? Identify missional leadership gifts that were developed and strengthened by your experiences in this formative faith community and provide a few examples.
- As an outgrowth of your personal gifts for missional leadership, envision how you will nurture and empower others to serve as missional leaders through their vocation and participation in the life of the church. Within your response integrate an expression of a Lutheran understanding of vocation.
As a Lutheran Christian, I believe I am called by the Holy Spirit to participate in the work of the Triune God in the world. Throughout the Bible, we hear the story of God – the one who created the world – actively working in the world, seeking reconciliation with a creation that over and over again rebels against its Creator. God’s chosen people, Israel, repeatedly forget their reliance on God, choosing to seek life elsewhere. Yet out of love, God refuses to give up on the world. Again and again, God calls God’s people back to reconciliation with their Creator.
The ultimate demonstration of God’s love for the world and desire for all of creation to be reconciled comes in the incarnation, in God becoming flesh, coming to dwell among us in the person of Jesus.1 Jesus, fully God and human, experienced all of human life and its temptations, yet remained faithful, living out God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. On the cross, Jesus took all the guilt, shame, sin, and rebellion of the world upon himself, and put it to death. Taking the death that results from our sin of self-reliant idolatry upon himself, Jesus died for our sake, that we might be free of our bondage to sin, free to rely on God rather than ourselves, free to serve others, to become who God created us to be.
Jesus identified his mission as coming to give abundant life to the world, coming to bring good news to broken people in need of hope.2 Because of God’s action in Jesus, we are freed to participate in God’s ongoing mission of reconciling the world to its Creator, restoring a fallen, broken creation to what God intends it to be. As a leader in Christ’s church called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, I believe my calling is to proclaim this message of God’s grace, freedom, and liberation to the world.
In Jesus’ resurrection, we see the first fruits of God’s new creation, a new creation from God, who has reconciled us to the Triune God through Jesus Christ. Because Christ has been raised, we are given purpose in life. As followers of Jesus, as the church, Jesus’ body, we have been entrusted with participating in God’s reconciling work. Of course, the work of God’s Spirit extends beyond the church into all areas of life, but the primary way God’s mission in the world is accomplished is through the church, where God is making us ambassadors for Christ.3
Called together, enlightened, and set apart by the Holy Spirit4, the church is entrusted with proclaiming the gospel message of God’s love for the world. Like Abram in Genesis 12:3, we are blessed that we might be a blessing to the world. We are called to work for justice so all people may experience the abundant life God intends.
As a pastor, I see my role as being one called by a congregation into a role of public leadership and servanthood, designated as the one responsible for shepherding the proclamation of God’s grace. I’m called to use my gifts to proclaim the story of God’s love for the world through preaching and sacraments, that the Holy Spirit might use my efforts to work in the lives of others.
Being a pastor doesn’t mean that I am supposed to have all the answers, or even be the most faithful follower of Christ in a congregation. Rather, being the pastor of a congregation means that I am the one called to be responsible for making sure the church stays focused on its purpose for existence, its role of participating in God’s mission through proclamation of the gospel and service to the world. I participate in God’s mission by equipping others to do ministry in their daily lives. My goal is to help people connect their faith with their daily lives, recognizing how God is at work in and through them in their daily vocations.
Serving as a leader in the church is a unique calling, because the church is a unique institution in the world. Although the church is a human institution which ought to be engaged in doing good works in the world, advocating and working for justice for all, if that is all the church is, then it becomes a social services agency. The church’s unique identity is the body of Christ.5
One of the biggest challenges facing the church is the need for us to be clear about our unique identity and role. As the church, we serve others in response to God’s call, and we are the church because the Holy Spirit enlivens us to be, inspiring and enabling us to do God’s work. When we as the church do good work, when we participate in God’s mission, it is God who is at work through us. If the church loses its unique identity, it may be doing good work, even serving God’s mission, but it is no longer the church.
Our mission as the church is to speak of God, proclaiming the gospel message that God has broken into the world in the person of Jesus Christ to set people free. The church exists to proclaim that God is with you, and that Jesus loves you, but the church cannot merely speak this message. For the church to participate in God’s mission as it is called to do, it must be both speaking and acting. The church exists to proclaim the gospel in word and deed. How amazing it is that God chooses to work through this flawed institution made up of imperfect, sinful people!
My understanding of my own call to participate in God’s mission has been shaped by several communities of faith. I grew up in one of the first mission start congregations of the ELCA, Ascension Lutheran Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where I am the youngest charter member. Part of what I appreciate about Ascension is an intentional willingness to experiment, to try new things (and equally importantly, to stop doing things when they’re no longer helpful). My pastor describes it as a “permission-giving congregation.” Ministry is not something done by only the leaders, or some group of spiritually elite, but by all people. The role of church leaders, including the pastor, is to help others recognize how God can use their gifts and how God is working through them.
A big part of my own call to public ministry in the church has to do with the willingness of others to identify gifts in me, encourage me to use them, and allow me to try. For instance, I first became aware of my love of worship planning when I was given the responsibility of creating visual media for projection in worship. I’m sure there were others in the congregation who could have done a better job than me, and I’m sure there were times when I tried things that didn’t work that some people wondered if I was too young to be responsible for something so publicly visible in worship.
But being trusted and equipped to do worship media as a teenager led me to get involved in planning and leading worship services in my college faith community. Being given opportunities to plan and lead youth group activities equipped me to serve as a summer camp counselor at Crossways Camping Ministries during college, which gave me the confidence to identify my call to seminary and professional ministry.
I also have been involved for many years in BadgerTEC (Teens Encounter Christ), a faith community hosting bi-annual retreat weekends for teenagers. Part of what I love about the TEC ministry is that in many ways, it is peer ministry among teenagers. Although there are pastors shepherding the weekend, they and the other leaders are there to facilitate the weekend and to empower youth to engage with each other. As a teen serving on the team putting on the weekend, TEC was the first place I was given the opportunity to give talks and to lead small groups in discussion, experiences important in my discernment of my vocation.
My goal as a leader in the church is to equip others to participate in God’s mission, to help people see how God is calling them. That doesn’t mean I want to make everyone in my congregation into a future pastor. Rather, it means I am called to help people connect faith and life, to see how the Holy Spirit is equipping them to serve God in whatever vocations they are called to.
By proclaiming God’s liberating message of grace, I want to help people live out their baptismal identity as children of God and find meaning in their lives through serving God by serving others. I am excited to see how God will continue to use my gifts for proclamation and my passions for listening to people’s stories and serving others as part of God’s mission.
 John 1:14. All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
 John 10:10b, Luke 4:18-21.
 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
 The Small Catechism, The Creed in Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 355. ¶6.
 Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:24.