For my dear church work family receiving their placements today (and for those who are already in the field).
On our vicarage placement day, I had no idea where we would be moving. Half-formed, excited visions of Colorado and the Pacific Northwest rushed through my mind, while selfish dread at the idea of some nowhere-town in the Dakotas made my stomach twist uncomfortably.
Vicarage is a funny thing. Well, LCMS seminary itself is a funny thing. I had moved to the Midwest (a mythical land of baseball-obsessed Yankees and frozen custard, as it was then known to me, a native Texan) as an unemployed newlywed. After two years of making St. Louis my city (and unexpectedly feeling at home there), it was time for us to move for my husband’s internship.
This internship is only a year, and logically, you know you can put up with pretty much anything for at least that long. It’s a trial run; a chance to experience a different culture; a ministry bike with training wheels. Even so, as the pastor for that placement service preached, I wasn’t expecting to feel so illogically opposed to putting even my temporary fate in the hands of the seminary.
“As seminarians, you’ve all studied the Bible’s teaching on the sheep and goats,” he began, and I thought: Great, an obscure eschatological reference. Tuning out in three, two…
“But I’m here to tell you something different,” he continued, and my ears perked up. “I’m here to tell you about myotonic goats.”
We all listened, half-terrified and half-amused: myotonic (fainting) goats were prized for their biological quirks. When a herd was attacked, this particular goat would faint and be preyed upon while the rest of them scattered to safety.
In case you’re missing the analogy: the vicars were the fainting goats. There to gain experience teaching and preaching, but also to gain experience in being humble and sacrificial on behalf of their church. To be more like Jesus.
It was a strangely encouraging sermon. And certainly one I’ll never forget.
I’ve thought back to it many times in the years since. I thought about it when my husband had his first late-night emergency hospital call during our vicarage. I’ve thought about it every time he’s been on the edge of panic about our new church plant. I’ve thought about it when I read the apostolic admonition to those who are called to teach: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Church work is not for the faint of heart. You and I know it firsthand. I am sure that you, dear sister, have already taken waspish remarks and loneliness in stride. And you, dear brother – I’m sure you’ve already fallen down on behalf of those entrusted to you.
I know it’s hard. But you’re in good company.
Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
No matter where you go from here; no matter whether you feel like your call is “divine” or not (it always is, by the way, because even the seminary cannot override God’s plans); no matter if you move home or if you move somewhere you’ve never seen before; and no matter if you like your new call or you don’t, you may depend on this: Jesus is already there, and you’ll need to become more like Him. As I do. As your future church does, following your example as you follow His.
But you may also (and please, please do) depend on this: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
Personally and perhaps selfishly, I am praying the same good things I received on our Call Day over you: for clarity, for welcome news, for financial stability, and for a healthy church home.
But I am also praying for your strength and humility. I am praying that you will be convinced of your weakness and that you will be lead confessor in your future ministry. I am praying that you will continually remind yourself that ministry isn’t about you. I am praying that no matter how much time you spend in your first call, you will be receptive to sanctification and absolutely certain of your justification. And I am praying you will remember your brothers and sisters in the trenches of ministry with you; that you will keep in touch with them, lean on them, and that you won’t try to do this crazy, beautiful life alone.
See you on the other side,
Your Fellow Fainting Goat