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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Pastor-Scholar" Postscript: Advice to My Former Self

In an unexpected and timely twist, I recently received an e-mail from my seminary asking alumni to submit advice for this year's graduates that will be bound in a booklet that each will receive.  Below is my submission.  I'm grateful for the moving experience of putting it into words, even if it (at least the good parts) doesn't make the cut for the booklet.  I'm including it here partly as a sort of sequel to my earlier post about my seminary but mostly because you might be in a situation where this advice would be encouraging to you.

I haven't met you, but I love you.  Since I can't see you, I can't give you a hug, and since I don't know you, I can't advise anything but what I would advise myself when I graduated with an M.Div. eight years ago.

It is tempting to believe that earning your degree prepared you for ministry.  It didn't.  It prepared your brain for ministry.  That is essential, and there is no seminary better at doing that than this one.  But pastoring isn't something that's thought or written or even spoken.  It's something that's done.  And you can't prepare for most of it except by doing it.  And much of that can't be simulated by Mentored Ministry, because you're not faced with it until you sit in that chair and bear the title of pastor.

You'll find that you never have enough time for anything.  For example, no matter what they told you preparing a sermon looks like, it's almost never going to work out that way.  You'll find yourself continually unprepared, not having written a flawless, well-researched exegetical paper and converted it into the crystalline Big Idea with perfect supporting illustrations for that week.  Fear not, beloved.  You have been preparing to preach that sermon since the first day you read that passage as a new believer and probably longer ago than that.  God wastes nothing.

Beloved, you don't know what you don't know, and it won't do you any good for me to try to tell you.  But don't be afraid.  As you do your job you'll find out, and you'll have the opportunity to learn what it is.  And yet more that you don't know that you don't know will emerge.  It never ends.  Learn not to be afraid of your ignorance.  Learn to accept it, laugh at it, embrace it, be humbled by it, revel in it.  Ignorance is not nakedness if you're robed in Christ's righteousness.

Never forget the reminder of the most brilliant mortal God ever spoke through: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."  You can't ultimately go wrong by loving the people God has given you to love.  And beloved, you are loved.  No matter what you think you need to do or your world thinks you need to do, at the end of the day, the only thing that your Father wants from you is to accept his love for you and to love him in return, wherever you are, honored or ignored, successful or middling, content or in anguish.

And beloved, if you are that student who has been ground into powder to get to this day, if you are limping across the finish line and cannot celebrate the passage, if you don't know where you're going next, if you feel abandoned and forsaken, if you are living in a famine of hearing the voice of the Lord, hear me: he still loves you, and he's so proud of you.  He may be asleep in the back of your storm-tossed boat as it's going under, but he hasn't left it.

Look me up if you want to talk.  And be blessed of the Highest One.

Cory Hartman
M.Div. '03

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