The Evangelical Covenant Church ordained and commissioned 99 pastors at Gather 2021. This is a holy and sacred moment of anointing for mission. It is also an occasion for all Covenant pastors to remember and reaffirm their own ordination or commissioning. Though the worship service was virtual this year, an ordained pastor laid hands on each ordinand in locations throughout the world.
David also was set apart by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel. David’s life is full of twists and turns. He is real and authentic and does not always get it right. Yet he remains a person after God’s own heart as he experienced a convergence of call, character, and competency.
We see this convergence in Psalm 78:70-72: “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them,” (NIV).
“[God] chose David his servant” (v. 70). Over the course of David’s life in the sheep pens, God was quietly at work, preparing a teenager to one day shepherd a nation. David is God’s servant, one who will do everything God wants him to do (Acts 13:22). God chose David to serve in this unique way just as God chooses and prepares some to serve as pastors. Truly, pastoral work is a calling not to be entered into lightly.
While serving as a counselor at a Christian camp in the summer of 1980, I sensed God’s call into full-time vocational ministry. The direction of my life was changing, and my heart was lit on fire by the Spirit. Ruth Haley Barton writes in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, “Somehow we know that this moment is different. This is not about making a brilliant career move. It is not about security. It is not about success or failure or anything else the ego wants for us. It is not about choosing among several attractive options. This is about the Spirit of God setting us on our feet and telling us, ‘This is yours to do.’”
Through this process, the story of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John became strikingly real. They left their nets, their boats, and their father’s business to follow the Messiah (Matthew 4:18-22). I left behind what I thought was in my future career. In following Jesus, we are transformed from fishermen to fishers of people. Jesus’s call upends the course of our lives.
When I came home from camp, I met with the leaders of my church and told them my story. I was 21. They listened intently and replied, “Let’s test it.” They gave me some ministry assignments, and the Spirit began to work on, in, and through me. Within a year, they affirmed the call as genuine.
My prayer is that every ordinand would experience the convergence of call, character, and competence.
As I write this, my heart grieves for sisters in Christ who also experienced a genuine call but were told that women cannot be pastors. In the Covenant Church, we believe women are called and gifted for all roles in the church. This is one of the distinguishing marks of our denomination. We are committed to fostering the flourishing of women. I invite all male pastors to encourage women who are sensing a pastoral call from God.
When I am discouraged, looking back on those days provides reassurance. My “call” story is both a subjective and objective experience. I am grateful for both aspects. I’m grateful for those church leaders who worked with me. I’m grateful for my parents who supported me. I’m grateful to the Evangelical Covenant Church who ordained me. Yes, God prepares and equips those he calls.
“David shepherded them with integrity of heart” (v. 72). There was a singularity to David’s sense of self. He fulfilled his ministry from the core of a courageous and intimate faith. Far from perfect, he is still remembered as a man after God’s own heart by the Apostle Paul in Acts 13:22. It is an enduring note of grace for all who serve.
David’s heart aligned to God’s heart. God’s heart aligned to David’s heart. David wrote, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). That’s the language of spiritual integrity, union, and devotion. As an imperfect leader, David models conviction, confession, and reconciliation with God.
“With skillful hands he led them” (v. 72). David was a shepherd, a leader, a guerrilla fighter, a poet, a musician. He had many skills that God used to accomplish his redemptive purposes. This repertoire of competence was developed over time through training, trial and error, humility, brokenness, prayer, and worship.
Sometimes people ask me, “Which is more important? Character or competence?” The answer is, “Both!” Character and competence are equals, but character is the first among equals. When competence outpaces character, hubris wins.
With success, David became haughty. He lost track of his missional calling, briefly forgetting who and whose he was. David’s pride caused deceit, theft, death, and destruction. In the wake of his fall, David demonstrated a repentant heart, confessing his sins, fasting, and praying. An imperfect leader, David humbled himself and contritely realigned his heart with God’s after going astray. He expressed this humble and submissive posture in Psalm 51:17: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” It’s remarkable that any king would be so vulnerable and transparent. He was not just going through the motions of repentance the way his predecessor Saul had done years before (1 Samuel 15).
Pastors need to be humble, obedient servants. This is when we are at our best. When we are not at our best, I pray that we turn back to God with the same intentionality and contrition as David, realigning our hearts with God’s.
My prayer is that every ordinand would experience the convergence of call, character, and competence. And for those of us who were ordained long ago, may we experience a fresh rekindling of the spirit of David. May we continue to invest in God’s mission through the Evangelical Covenant Church—a church that has invested so much in us.
And for those who are not pastors, please pray and remind us of our call and why we chose to become pastors in the first place. We are here to serve you.
Together may our hearts be aligned to God, encouraged in heart, and united in love. This is who we are as a Covenant people.