One of my treasured roles in pastoral ministry is recognizing and pouring my life into young men and women who have sensed the calling and committed themselves to the ministry of the gospel in all its various shapes. One reason that matters to me is because some pastors and the churches they led did the same for me a generation or so ago. All of us stand on the shoulders of saints known and unknown as we live out our faith, and particularly vocational expression.
I am especially pleased to have the youngest ministerial staff I have ever led. (John, that should make you feel good, but you really do skew the numbers upward.) Of those, the one who was serving FBC before me was Chris Culpepper. I saw him almost immediately as one with special talents and aptitude towards pastoral ministry. He is young, but grew up in the temple and knows the rigors and rewards of vocational ministry. He has, and continues to serve us well at FBC. You cannot help but be impressed with that voice. And while that may be his most identifiable tool at this juncture, he possesses so many other attributes which are already evident to those who encounter him.
He loves his people and continues to build his ministry on relationships first and music later. He already realizes that his particular giftedness is a way of doing ministry, not the ministry itself. He contributes to the whole of our congregational ministry and never sees his area of service greater than our detached from any other. Chris is also driven to and has an aptitude for the quiet discipline of pastoral care. For one of his age and talent, all this is rare.
On Sunday morning we will have the corporate privilege of affirming his giftedness and sense of call by licensing to the gospel ministry. This practice is an often utilized part of our tradition. It affords Chris the sanctioned opportunity to carry out more of the functions of ministry under the authority and endorsement of our church. (Remember, as congregationalists, we assume these responsibilities as our denominational ties are cooperative, not hierarchal.) It also charts a path towards ordination, which we are confident of and committed to.
Chris will begin a year-long process that includes focus on important matters of theology, philosophy of ministry, and the tenets of Baptist identity and ecclesiology (fancy word for what we believe about the nature of the church.) During this season we fully expect and intend to present Chris for full-fledged ordination. It also gives our church opportunity to be full participants in this important conveying of pastoral authority. His process, aided greatly by the variety of skills and experiences of our ministerial staff, and others among us, will continue beyond that day with the intent of helping him to prepare for a lifetime of effective ministry, a finish line that the vast majority of young ministers never reach.
We love Chris, Jasmine, Hudson, and Emerson. And trust me when I tell you they love you too. That’s what makes this occasion and the ones yet to come so special. His licensing will take place within a sermon on being fully equipped to be equipped. That is both his challenge and all of ours. God desires to equip his people for the work of the gospel, good works, and missional unity. Chris is a product of just that, and he desires to join with those called to be both equipped and equipping. That’s a desire we can affirm and walk with him towards decades of its full expression.