On September 29, I will be ordained as a pastor of Stonebrook Community Church in Ames, IA which is part of an association called Great Commission Churches. This is something I have been dreaming about for a bit over 13 years and seriously working toward for the last several years.
As this is something of a momentous occasion that carries with it an enormous amount of cultural baggage (both positive and negative), I wanted to take a minute and explain some of the details.
What it means to be ordained
Ordination means different things in different streams of the Christian church. What we (along with most Protestant churches) mean, is that a man is recognized by the church to have been called by God to this responsibility of pastoring and has been proven to possess the character, knowledge, wisdom, and skills necessary to perform this role. The first part of this, being called, is important because many Christians possess the character, knowledge, wisdom and skills to serve the church in this role, but not all are called to the office of Pastor/Elder/Overseer.*
Over the last several years I have been training “on the job” at Stonebrook through mentoring, on-going theological coursework, and service in various ministry roles. An apprenticeship, if you will. Over the last year I have been working closely with the other pastors of the church to get a feel for what the role entails, and how we work together as a team. Over the last few months, I have been assessed by our church’s leadership in the areas of character and doctrinal knowledge/understanding/conviction. Over the last few weeks, the whole church was given an opportunity to speak into the process and voice any concern and/or encouragement. The encouragement was overwhelming.
I have been very blessed by all this. Praise God for his timing and processes.
“So you went to seminary?”
While the Bible does not lay out any academic requirements for pastors, it does say that an elder must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), and that “…he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) Many denominations therefore, wisely, have an academic requirement such as a Master’s degree in Divinity or Theology. This is not something that our churches require, though there is a doctrinal test for eldership, and theological training is offered in house. However, due to the way I believe God has gifted and wired me, and because studying, discussing, and teaching theology is something that I take great joy from and sense God’s presence in, I am currently working toward a Master of Theology degree.
“But, I thought you were building a business!?”
Yes, I am! And I plan to continue! This career as a Web strategist and developer was actually a strange twist to me in the road of life. For several years after college I saw my work in Web design and development as something of a placeholder, a way to put food on the table until the “higher calling” of full-time ministry made itself available. During that time, which I now look back at and realize was the “seminary” God had intended for me, my views on vocation changed drastically. (See my sermons on “Work and Worship” from this past summer: How The Gospel Affects Our Work and Work is Worship). Studying theology comes easy to me. What I lacked was work ethic, perseverance, an understanding of how to work with people as a team, personal management skills (time, task, money, health), project management skills, the ability to hold up under immense pressure (by God’s grace), and countless other lessons. All of these I learned in the marketplace in a way I do not believe would have been possible for me in “the academy”.
I now understand that I am bi-vocational. That is, God is calling me to two distinct and equally important roles (in addition to my role as husband, father, and churchman): the work of equipping organizations for the beautiful and effective use of digital media, and the (team) work of pastoring the people of Stonebrook church. I see that these roles are equally valuable and important for the advancement of God’s kingdom and for human flourishing. I also see the intersection of these roles in a clear way I hope to articulate over time. I am excited for the future.
So now what?
For now, not much will change about my life and my role (except for the continual forward progress in life, family, work, etc). I will continue to coordinate the music ministry of the church, continue to be a part of the theological training processes, continue to preach occasionally (with increasing frequency over time, Lord willing), continue to work with men and women in the church who seek to grow in their relationship with their Creator, Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, and continue to pursue my ultimate aim in life: to Know God. To really know Him. And to make Him known.
I fear that for some, bearing the title of “Pastor” will cause awkwardness in our interactions. My greatest hope is that we will all (myself included, maybe especially) realize that I am the same Matt Heerema that you have always known. No one needs be on their “best behavior” around me. Please don’t feel obligated to think of something spiritual and profound to share with me (unless you were going to anyway!) Please don’t worry about offending me (I’ll bet $20 you couldn’t if you tried.) Yes, I will probably say and do things that make you uncomfortable. Most of the time it will be because I love you and want you to see what I see. Some of the time it will be because I am still a sinful man and I lack perspective, get cranky, tired, hungry, impatient, and sometimes am just plain foolish.
Yes, there is probably an appropriate reverance for the office, but the reverence of a man is something that is earned over a long haul of faithfulness. I have a couple of decades to go there. So please, call me out when you see me doing or saying something stupid. And please, call me Matt. Just Matt. (Or Mr. Heerema if you are under the age of 9.)
* My personal conviction, which matches that of our church, and many other churches, is in line with Alexander Strauch’s book “Biblical Eldership” which sees all of these roles as synonymous in Scripture, describing different aspects, functions, and characteristics of the role. (If you don’t want to read a book, watch this 12 minute video of him explaining the concept)