One of my greatest joys is to read ordination papers. These are papers that people entering the ministry have to submit to be admitted into the ministry. They are usually 20 to 30 pages and cover biographical information, educational background, and doctrinal positions. I tell people that I am very enthused and optimistic about the future of the church, in the USA and globally, after I read these papers because I see that God is still calling people young and old to the Gospel ministry as he has called Peter, Andrew, James, and John from the Sea of Galilee.
There is a part in these readings that always fills my heart with sadness and often brings tears to my eyes. It is the part where I read about the absent or missing fathers. For whatever reason, the fathers have left the family and had little to do with the growth of the children. This absence produced pain, hurt, anguish, and hope that things could have been different. In this vacuum which leaves mothers very overworked and constantly tired, grandparents, great-grandparents, and other relatives and neighbors step in and develop the spirituality that helps clarify the divine calling to the candidate.
As I was reflecting on the hurt that is so obvious and thick in these papers, I praised God for the fact that through many difficulties – economical, political, and cross-cultural – the possibility never crossed our mind that we, as the Stefan children, would not have two parents present. The people that we knew all had two parents and they were surrounded by grandparents. I knew that I would become a minister since I was in the second or third grade. My parents were aware of this and encouraged that calling until my ordination in 1977 at the First Romanian Baptist Church of Detroit and I was hired by the First Baptist Church of Hightstown, NJ.
While I sympathized (empathized – let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God), suddenly, I felt a pain that was unclear, yet present. As I reflected on it, it was not the pain of an absent father in the household, but a pain of brothers, sisters, and mothers who have left the various churches where I served without ever giving an explanation for the reasons they were leaving. When I thought about the people I baptized and the people that came as members in the churches where I have served – if they had all stayed these churches would have grown tremendously. How thankful I am for those who stayed!
I think that the people who leave congregations can cause as much pain as the fathers who leave their families. I do not want to underestimate the legitimate reasons fathers leave families or brothers, sisters, and mothers leave congregations, but I hope for some reasonable explanation. I am thick-skinned and I can take an explanation. I also want to improve in what I do, and often the best improvement comes from someone telling me concretely what needs to be done.
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I am still reacting to a brother that left the congregation and then sent me a note telling me how to increase the congregation he left. Like the people whose papers I have read, even with the passing of the time, the pain is still raw. I know that with the passing of time, God will heal this, that I may even have the courage and love to have a conversation with this brother, but even more I pray that I will have fewer and fewer people leave without an explanation.