CAN THE CALL BE WITHDRAWN?

I was reading a news report recently that I found quite shocking–and the further I read in the report, the more shocked I was. The report told of a worship service that was invaded by a very angry man with a gun. The pastor responded to the situation by pulling out his own gun and shooting the man, killing him. While you can make arguments one way or another, I did find it shocking that a pastor leading worship would be armed and even more that he would be willing–and able–to kill someone during that worship service.

The article then went on to add details. The man who was shot was a former member of the congregation who was angry at the pastor because he had discovered that the pastor had had an affair with the man’s wife and she was pregnant with the pastor’s baby. There is a lot of tragedy and pain in this story and lots of things that could be the focus of attention.

But for me today, the question that arises is weather than pastor should be allowed to carry on in ministry. Is a call from God an irrevocable call or can people lose their call and therefore their place in ministry?

Some denominations give a qualified “yes” to this question. They have standards of conduct for ordained leaders. If, after suitable investigation, an individual is found to have broken the standards, he/she is sanctioned–and that sanction can include removing them from ministry or at least revoking their ministerial credentials. The sanction can be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the offence.

Local congregations may or may not have an answer to the question. I remember visiting one church years ago where the treasurer had been stealing money from the church. Even after he was proven guilty beyond question, he was retained as the church treasurer, although he wasn’t allowed to handle actual money anymore.

Congregations and denominations have a need and the right to set limits on people who carry out ministry on their behalf. As long as the limits are clear and consistently applied, the organization has the right to withdraw the privilege of ministry from an individual.

But there is a larger question, at least for me. It grows out of the fact that some people who have had their ministry credentials or practise ended simply go somewhere else to do their ministry. Their group may not recognize their right to minister but they refuse to recognize the group’s right to do that.

Does God ever remove the call to ministry? This may not be a big issue for many but I think it is worth looking at. We do have one clear case in the Bible where this happens.

In response to the demands of the people of Israel, God provides the people with a king. Saul very quickly commits a serious sin and proves his unworthiness for the office (or ministry) that God has called him to. As a result, God revokes his calling as king. (I Samuel 13) While Saul goes on to rule for many years, he does so without the power and leading of God. While there are lots of stories of individuals trying to remove themselves from God’s call (Jonah), this is the only time I can think of in Scripture where God clearly takes away an individual’s calling. Let me know if you can think of others.

This is an important question because people do act in ways that threatens damage to the church and the faith. But we also know that God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness. And we know as well that none of us is perfect.

When I look at all of these realities, my conclusion is that congregations and denominations do need to protect people and the faith from called ones who misuse their calling. This protection may extend to removing the right of ministry temporarily or permanently. This isn’t the same as revoking the calling–it is a recognition that the group involved no longer recognizes the individual’s right to exercise their calling on behalf of the group.

God may chose to remove the calling from some individuals because of the nature of their actions. Individuals may chose to continue ministering in spite of the revocation of their calling but they will be ministering on their own and for their own ends and that will ultimately make itself clear.

Calling is important and a basic part of the Christian life. But just as being called is not the same as being ready, so also calling is not the same as always being right.

May the peace of God be with you.

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CALLED BUT NOT READY

I began my involvement in pastoral training in 1970 and since then have been associated with the process of theological education of both pastors and laity in a variety of ways in several countries and several languages–some I understand and some I don’t (trusting an interpreter is an interesting experience). On a regular basis throughout that time, I have seen and heard several variations of a common misconception of the call.

Among theology students, for example, there is always at least one who will voice the comment, “I was called to preach, not to study”. Church members are often recruited at the last minute for some ministry and shoved into it with little or no training. When I was asked to teach Sunday School as a teen, I was handed a teachers’ book and shown my classroom full of 8-10 kids and went to work. I have known pastors who look at the congregation and arbitrarily call upon someone to pray or do some other part of public ministry with no preparation or training. While many professions have strict requirements for upgrading and continuing education, clergy, especially in the evangelical denominations have no such requirements at all, although to be fair, a few recommend continuing education and try to provide opportunities which tend to be underused.

It seems that many Christians believe that being called is the same as being ready. A person called to teach Sunday School, for example, just needs to dive in and get to work. A person called to preach only needs to stand in the pulpit to activate that ministry. Time spend on things like training and preparation and upgrading is time stolen directly from the ministry. In fact, there is a strong feeling among some conservative believers that education in any form is a satanic plot to destroy ministry.

The painful reality is that I was a terrible Sunday School teacher as a teen–I had no idea how to prepare a lesson, didn’t know how to deal with the problem kids in the class, expected them to listen to every word I said and know the answers to questions immediately. As a teacher of preachers, I have listened to more first sermons that is probably healthy and know very well that there is more to preaching than just standing behind a pulpit. Being called is not the same as being ready.

Most denominations recognize the truth of this when it comes to their professional leadership–there are various programs and requirements for ordained ministers to ensure that they meet certain standards. In spite of complaints from students and graduates of such programs, the denominations hold to the requirements in most cases.

But at the local congregation level, that is generally not the case. Very little effort is put into training people in their calling. Getting people into positions is the focus–as long as there is a name to put on a annual report, it seems that the church doesn’t care if the teachers can teach, the treasurers can count, the deacons can “dece” or the trustees are trustworthy.

While recruiters operate on this principle, it appears that members of the congregation operate on a different one. The most common excuse for not doing something in the church is “I couldn’t do that”, a comment that comes not from an unwillingness to do ministry but from a lack of knowledge.

Calling isn’t generally sufficient preparation for ministry. The calling, coupled with the gifts from the Holy Spirit, provides the individual with a clear understanding of their place in the ministry of the church. The calling and gifting will together provide the person with interest, some abilities and insights. But there is still a need for more information, more knowledge, more skill development before the individual is able to do effective ministry.

Congregations need to recognize the need for training for those who are called in order to help them develop the gifts they have so that the ministry they are called to can be done well. That doesn’t mean that every congregation needs to provide training for everyone–congregations can work together to provide that training.

Training can also become a required part of the process for involvement in a ministry–Sunday School teachers, for example can be required to take part in training events which the church supports through covering the costs for example.

It is vital for congregations to recognize that all are called to ministry of some form. But it is just as vital that congregations recognize the need to provide for proper training for those who are called. Just as a lack of response to a calling can cause serious problems to a church, so poorly done ministry can cause equally serious problems to the church’s ministry.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHEN ARE WE CALLED?

Some people knew what ministry God called them to very early in life–I was in high school when I first began to believe that God was calling me to s specific type of ministry. I had been a Christian only for a couple of years at that point but was aware that God wanted me for something particular–and began to fight against that calling at the same time.

I know other people whose call to a specific ministry came much later in their lives. Some of the became believers later in life so the lateness of their call can be understood in that context–God can’t really call someone to ministry if they haven’t first answered the initial to come to him. But there have been others whose calling seems to have been delayed until much later in their lives. Although he was in a very different situation from Christians seeking a call, Moses experienced his call to a specific ministry when he was 80.

This raises a question for me about when God calls people to their ministry, a question that is a bit complicated by a quotation from Jeremiah 1.4-5:

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart….” (NIV)

Theologically, this verse does reveal a reality that I believe–God knows what is going to happen in every life and so he not only knows who is going to be called to what but also how they will react to that calling. That doesn’t really answer the question of when people are called though. It does form part of the background in my thinking though.

I would suggest several factors are involved in the answer. First, we remember that God calls every believer to some form of ministry. Those who don’t know or believe this may not recognize God’s calling, somewhat like Samuel in I Samuel. He was called but didn’t recognize the call until it was explained to him by Eli. There may be many believers who claim not to be called who actually don’t recognize they are being called.

Some people who are called may recognize the call for what it is–but as happened in my case, the called one resists that calling. My personal resistance didn’t last longer than a few months, although it flares up now and then even today. But others I have talked to report resisting for years and years. To them and others, this could be seen as a delayed call–but the reality is that the answer is delayed, not the calling.

Another part of the answer is that we sometimes conceive the call to ministry in the wrong way. There is a tendency to see it as a lifetime commitment to teaching Sunday School or being the church treasurer or becoming a pastor. I and others have been known to joke that the only way to get out of a job in the church is to die.

But I have realized that the commitment we need to make is a commitment to following God and answering the call to ministry as a general commitment rather than a commitment to a specific ministry. God can and does change the specifics of the call to ministry. We see that clearly in those called to paid ministry–very few pastors spend their whole ministry in one congregation. As well, those of us who are wise in ministry realize that no matter how well what we did in one congregation worked, we will probably have to do something very different in new congregation. God calls us to ministry in general–but there may be several calls to different specific ministries.

I have also realized that some of the ministry I have been called to I like more than others. Some people may feel that being called to something they really like is their first call, while in fact they have been answering the call but just in a ministry they weren’t as excited about.

For all these reasons, I think the answer to the question of when God calls us is simplified. If we are believers, we are called to ministry. We may resist but that doesn’t mean there is no call. Our commitment as believers needs to include a willingness to answer God’s call to ministry and seek to serve him as he leads.

May the peace of God be with you.

IGNORING THE CALL 2

More than a few times in my ministry I have seen a situation develop in congregations that threatens actual existence of that congregation. There are many reasons for such situations but today, I want to look at one in specific. I don’t know how common this particular situation is–I think I have had personal experience of it once and have heard of a couple of others that may have had the same cause.

Since the title of this blog says we will are still dealing with people who ignore the call of God, it doesn’t take a great leap of logic to think that this particular problem grows out of someone ignoring their call from God. Some believers, as we have seen, are given a call to engage in what we know as full-time or professional ministry. I know very few people who actively seek such a calling. Almost everyone called to this form of ministry ends up following Jonah before we end up doing what we are called to do.

There are some, however, who manage to maintain the Jonah position for many years. This puts a great deal of strain on their life and faith. Some people I know who have done this have ended up drifting from job to job, church to church, cause to cause. It is hard to settle into a life when underneath it all, your spirit has been called and prepared for something else.

Many who are ignoring this call from God end up abandoning the church. They may also claim to have abandoned the faith as well. It is very hard to maintain a good relationship with God and his people when every moment in God’s presence is a reminder that he has something for you to do that you are trying to ignore.

If these were the only consequences of ignoring God’s call to full-time ministry, that would be bad enough. The emotional and spiritual pain of running from God is severe and serious and the resulting spiritual unrest will affect all of the individual’s life and probably affect their relationships as well. This running from God also affects the church because these Jonahs are not available for the ministry God has called them to do.

But there is another consequence that has even more serious effects for the church. A few of those trying to ignore their call try to continue in the church, perhaps reasoning that if they stay in the church and become active in a local congregation, God will leave them alone. While the thought process might sound reasonable, the result is something like allowing an alcoholic to become a bartender.

This individual is called by God to be a pastor of a congregation. By virtue of the call and gifts that go with the call, he/she looks at the congregation like a pastor would, seeing the needs and possibilities and challenges that many in the congregation might not see because that is not their calling. If the person running from the call were the pastor of the congregation, he/she would be the one called to deal with these things.

But in most cases, the congregation already has a pastor, whose calling and gifts are probably slightly different and whose understanding is probably a bit sharper as a consequence of being where he/she is supposed to be. In the best case scenario, the called pastor and the running pastor find a way to work together.

In the worst case scenario, the running pastor tries to take over the congregation in order to fulfill the call he/she has been running from. The congregation ends up being pulled between two pastors–one called by God to be there and one called by God but not to that congregation. The competition and conflict can easily overwhelm real ministry and result in serious harm to the congregation and its ministry. Results can include defections from the congregation, a nasty split, long term reputation damage, legal entanglements and serious damage to the work of God’s kingdom.

I don’t know how common this is–there are lots of congregational battles that don’t come from people ignoring their call to ministry. But I think I have seen it and the fact that it does happen makes understanding the nature of our calling and the need to follow it all the more important.

May the peace of God be with you.

IGNORING THE CALL 1

If all believers are called by God to ministry, that has some very important implications for the church. Probably the most significant implication is that the church should not be in need when it comes to people to do ministry. If God calls people to faith and then places them in a congregation, presumably he will also call them to a ministry activity in or on behalf of that congregation. Everything should be fine.

But as I tell people often in counselling, we don’t live in “should”, we live in what is. And what is for the church is the reality that most churches are lucky if 10-15% of their people actually know their ministry and are practising it. That percentage does get higher in smaller congregations but even there, we often find people doing ministries for which they are unsuited but in the presumed absence of people gifted and called, they feel pressured into filling the role.

This reality comes about mainly because Christians generally don’t know that they have been gifted and called by God for specific ministries. And this comes about because over the years, the church has allowed the leadership to disenfranchise laity. Sometimes, this has been a direct and deliberate decision on the part of the professional leadership who will tell lay people they have no real role in ministry. At other times, it results from the leadership not being willing to share the ministry because they are too insecure to admit that someone else might be able to do some of the tasks they feel they have been “called” to do. I used to joke with my students in Kenya that we clergy only expected lay people to pray and pay–and if they paid enough, they didn’t even have to pray.

As a consequence, many people ignore their call to ministry. But ignoring the call to ministry has serious long term effects for both the individual and the church. I will take a brief look at some of these consequences.

Believers who ignore their call to ministry, either through ignorance or willfully, end up being immature and weak in the faith. Ministry isn’t just for the benefit of others. It is also a benefit to the individual called. God generally doesn’t call us to things that we can easily do–there is always a gap between our abilities and the needs of the ministry. That gap is to cause us to turn to God and seek the help that we need to carry out our calling.

Since the calling also involves exercising the gift or gifts of the Holy Spirit we have been given, doing the ministry opens us to God more fully. Not doing the ministry we are called to means that we miss the spiritual benefits that come from being actively engaged with God through the Spirit on a regular basis. Without that engagement and the ministry that enables and encourages the engagement, believers will not only be immature and weak, they will also be bored and unchallenged. There will be little incentive to be seriously involved, making it easy for people to drift away or seek to “be fed” elsewhere.

The church itself will also suffer when the majority of its people ignore their calling. When the people called to the ministry don’t respond, the door is open for several possibilities:

1. Vital ministries go undone, meaning that people are not being introduced to the love of God like they need to be.

2. People who aren’t called to a particular ministry are guilted into doing that ministry, meaning that the ministry they are doing and the one they are supposed to be doing and both suffer.

3. The door is open for people to take over portions of the ministry and church for less than perfect reasons. While not called–and occasionally not even a believer, such people seek the fulfillment of personal needs through the subversion of the ministry, causing the church more problems.

Making people aware of the reality of their calling needs to become a priority for all Christian leaders. Both individuals and congregations are stronger when believers are discovering and doing the ministry they are called to.

This blog is titled “Ignoring the Call 1”–tomorrow we will look at part 2.

May the peace of God be with you.

HOW ARE PEOPLE CALLED?

Although I talked about several calls in the previous blog, this and the next few blogs will only be looking at the call to a specific ministry, whether professional or not professional, because that is where I see the most problems. A lot of the problems centre around knowing when and how God calls an individual to a certain ministry. One issue is that when Christians believe that only certain people are called to ministry, they tend not to look for their own calling. A second, bigger issue is that in North America, we have tended to make recognition of a specific call a very personal and individualistic process.

To start with, we need to recognize that is all believers are called to ministry, then all believers are probably going to experience one or more calls to specific ministries at some time in their lives. Churches probably need to develop an atmosphere that encourages people to be open to such a call and provide ways for them to recognize such a calling.

That atmosphere of encouragement can be helped by understanding that in the New Testament, God’s call to ministry is not just a personal, internal experience on the part of the individual. A call to ministry is also accompanied by a public revelation of the chosen person and their ministry–and in the New Testament this public revelation often has more weight than the internal calling.

Take the call of Paul as an example. Paul’s ministry in the early church began when he was called to help provide leadership to the new church founded in Antioch through the preaching of some persecuted Christians looking for a safer place to live and preach. As the church in Antioch begins to develop, Barnabas seeks out Paul and brings him to the church as co-pastor. (Acts 11.19-26). Later, the church and its leadership is engaged in worship at one point when they received a message from God that amounted to a call to Barnabas and Paul to take up a new ministry that would take them away from the leadership of the church. (Acts 13.1-3).

What is interesting is that we don’t know anything about Paul’s personal sense of his calling in either case. Given the deep and painful internal struggles many people seen to have over the issue of their call to a specific ministry these days, that is very significant.

I have talked with many people who feel they might have a call from God for some specific ministry. Often, they are having a difficult time–their desire to be faithful battles their desire to be safe; their wish to follow conflicts with their fears; their commitment struggles with their doubts. Nothing anyone else says seems to help in the struggle–in North America, we think we have to understand and validate our own calling.

But the New Testament pattern seems to be that the God who issues the call to a particular ministry gives the call to both the called and the wider Christian body. This is particularly important to understand since one of the biggest struggles associated with calling is that we always feel unworthy and unable in the face of the calling.

We feel that because we are unworthy and unable–God doesn’t call us because we are great, he calls us because he wants us and he will give us what we need. But because we are called in our unworthiness, God also tells the faithful that we have been called–and in the end, we should probably learn to put a lot more faith in that part of the calling than our own feelings. As I have told many people over the years, feeling unqualified for the call is probably the best indication of the reality of the call possible. Our sense of unworthiness coupled with the affirmation of the wider Christian community is probably as close as we are going to come to a complete assurance that we are definitely called to a particular ministry.

It just may be that instead of agonizing about our own call, we need to spend more time with the Christian community, helping each other discover together where God is leading each of us. It seemed to work quite well for the leadership of the early church.

May the peace of God be with you.

WHO IS CALLED?

A few years ago, my search for a better understanding of the call lead me to do some research. I discovered that the New Testament talks about several calls that Christians experience rather than just one. I did publish an article about these calls but instead of pasting the article here, I will just list what I found with one or two references to each here. If you are interested in the full article, let me know through the comments section and I will email it to you.

I discovered the following calls:

1. We are called to faith in God through Jesus Christ. Matthew 11.27-30; Romans 1.6

2. We are called to receive blessings as a result of accepting the call to faith. Ephesians 1.18

3. We are called to express these blessings of our call to faith in our lives. I Thessalonians 4.7

4. We are called to engage in ministry as God leads. I Peter 2.9. Acts 1.8

For me, one interesting result of the research was the lack of a fifth call, a call to certain individuals to become pastors or other church leaders. It seems to me that the call to engage in ministry is directed towards all Christians in whatever state or situation they find themselves. It is not that God calls people to faith and then issues a special call to a few to special ministry.

Rather, the New Testament pattern is that to accept the call to faith is to accept a call to ministry. This is perhaps most clearly and most powerfully seem in the results of Stephen’s martyrdom, which is recorded in Acts 7. Acts 8 begins talking about the consequent persecution of the church that broke out after his death. Jerusalem became a difficult place for Christians to live and many fled their homes, becoming religious refugees.
But Luke records an interesting fact about these refugees. Rather than become fearful people who ran from their lives and abandoned their new found faith, Luke says in Acts 1.4. “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” NIV. Persecuted, afraid, running–but still engaging in ministry. These believers were fulfilling their call.
Certainly, some of the early Christians were engaged in what we would today call full-time ministry–and there is ample evidence in the New Testament that they received an income for this or at least were eligible to receive an income for this. The Apostles as well as individuals like Paul and Timothy engaged in their ministry as their occupation. Other believers engaged in their ministry either in addition to or as part of their occupation.
The farmer who was a Christian was engaged in ministry as well as farming. Paul often functioned in this way–he made tents to support his mission work. He acknowledges that he has the right to be paid for his ministry but didn’t always make use of this right. (I Corinthians 9.7-18).

For me, the results of the research was an understanding of call that doesn’t distinguish between laity and professional, ordained or not. All are called to ministry or some kind. A few may be called to make their living from their ministry while many others are called to engage in their ministry as part of another way of making a living.
This takes away a lot of the aura and prestige that we who get to call ourselves “Rev” like to surround ourselves with. We, like all believers, are engaged in following the calling of God to be his servant to his needy world. The fact that we get paid to do ministry while others get paid to do something else while doing their ministry doesn’t make our call different from theirs. The fact that we have different gifts for our ministry doesn’t make our call different from the call of those with different gifts.
This is not to say that pastors and church leaders are not important or their ministry isn’t important. Rather, it is to say that all ministry is important and all who respond to the call to faith are called to ministry. If we as individuals and churches could understand that, there would be a lot more and much more effective ministry happening in our churches and communities.
May the peace of God be with you.

THE “CALL”

I have been thinking for many years about the “call”. Early in my Christian life, I heard about “calls”–a call was something mystical, strange, demanding which came to some believers and turned them into pastors, missionaries, evangelists and so on. To be called was to be somehow set apart, changed from “normal” into something different, although it was hard to really describe the difference.

Theologically, I heard the call described as a sacred event that required a person to give up a normal life and become a full time servant of God. The called one became a special messenger who occupied a special place–more than an ordinary person, closer to God, enabled to somehow understand the things of God better.

Even though I grew up Baptist, I (and many others) saw God’s call in a priestly context. A priest is an individual who stands between God and humanity and acts as the communication conduit between the two. The theory behind priesthood is that people are too sinful to approach God directly and God is too holy to approach people directly so both need the “middleman” (or “middleperson” to be politically correct) for effective communication.

While most Baptist I know talked about the servant nature of the call, in practise, there wasn’t much servant hood practised by the one in the middle. The call seems to have brought with is the right to dominate congregations, be as infallible as the pope, knowledgeable about everything religious, ability to do everything the church needed done and a general aura of importance.

While these called ones, especially in the Baptist denomination, taught the priesthood of all believers, the practise was that we had–and often still have–a priesthood of all the called. But for all our insistence on equality and priesthood of all believers, even we Baptists end up with a two tiered faith in practise: we have lay people and the called ones. While officially, the calling is about service and responsibility, in reality, it often becomes about privilege and specialness.

Very early in my ministry career, I began to see problems and inconsistencies with the accepted understanding of calling. I knew that I wasn’t overly spiritual, that others who weren’t “called” often possessed a spiritual vitality and insight that were much better than mine. At times, I tried to compensate by adopting the manner and approach of other “called” ones I saw. While it seemed to fit with the arrogance I possessed in abundance, it really didn’t feel right in the end, nor did it make me all that good at ministry.

At the same time, I began to move in the circles of the “called” and in that process, I discovered several things. First, I discovered some really great spiritual guides, whose influence continues to have an influence on my life. But I also discovered that many of the people who were called were not all that much different from me–insecure, uncertain, afraid of being found out. I began to see that things we said and did in the name of God often came not directly from the heart of God but from our own needs and insecurities.

I saw, for example, preachers who powerfully and clearly denounced some sin from the pulpit, claiming to speak for God. In the early years of ministry, I would then begin to hear the whispers among others of the called that that preacher was guilty of just that sin. In later years of ministry, it wouldn’t be whispers but clear and open revelations.

As I learned more about psychology and sociology, I could see that many of the personal ministry techniques of the called were not necessarily directly from God but instead were spiritual versions of old, well known ways of dominating people and groups.

The end result is that I developed a great many questions about the calling, questions like:

1. Who is called?
2. How are people called?
3. Why are they called?
4. When are they called?
5. How is the called recognized?
6. What happens when the call is ignored?
7. Can the call be rescinded?

I believe very strongly that God calls people–but as I have thought about these questions and other issues associated with calls, my understanding of calling has changed, for the better, I hope. So, for the next few days, I will look at the issue of call in the blog.

May the peace of God be with you.

EVALUATING EVALUATIONS 2

This long string of blogs dealing with the evaluation process traces back to my understanding of Acts 2.42-47. There is one line in that passage that we need to pay careful attention to so that what we do is done for the right reasons. That one line makes a lot of what churches and church leaders do today misguided as best and wrong at its worst.

You don’t have to be deeply involved in the church today to see that there is a lot of pressure on churches to be growing numerically. There are books, seminars, workshops and training sessions on how to grow a church. When these don’t work, leaders fall back on the traditional motivator–guilt. Baptisms are given prominent coverage in denominational publications. In fact, for many people today, growing numerically is the standard for a good church.

The problem is that numerical growth isn’t the church’s business. We have tended to make it our business and in some cases, we have been successful. Using methods and approaches borrowed from business, advertising and the social sciences coupled with tricks and tips handed on by generations of church leaders, we can make a church grow numerically. If we don’t worry about how long a person stays involved in the faith or how much they really understand the faith, we can rack up some impressive figures using these techniques.

But numerical growth is not the same as people coming to faith. Numerical growth techniques may bring some people to Christ but is just as likely to bring people to a person, an institution, an idea, a theory–anything but Christ. The church, like any other human organization, can find ways to attract new people at least for a time.

But neither the church nor individual believers can bring people to faith for the simple reason that it is God who brings people to himself, not us. Look at the second half of Acts 2.47, where we are told, ” And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (NIV) The church in Jerusalem was worshipping, fellowshipping, educating, and serving. They were being faithful to their new found faith, discovering what was required, what needed to be changed, what new ways they were being asked to follow.

They made some mistakes which they learned from and corrected–they were concerned with offering to God their best. But it was God who gave them new believers. Certainly, they were involved in the process–as they carried out their responsibilities in the four functional area, they were not only serving God but also were creating a safe and secure home for themselves and new believers whom God was bringing to the faith, partly through their efforts. But the bringing of people to faith in Christ is God’s responsibility, not ours.

I sometimes use the image of the church as a nursery to help explain this reality. God is in charge of bringing people to himself and when people finally surrender to him, he wants them to have a safe place to go to as their begin their new life. When the church is working at being strong in the four functional areas, discovering its weaknesses and dealing with them then it is becoming a safe nursery for God to use for the protection and development of his new followers.

The flip side of that is that a church which isn’t a safe and secure nursery cannot expect God to place new believers in their midst–what loving parent places babies in an situation that they know is unsafe and likely to harm the baby?

Our job as churches is to make sure that we have as strong a church as possible, a church where the four functions are in balance and we regularly check ourselves, doing the necessary repairs and maintenance. This is our job, one that regular evaluations help us do more effectively.

We can find ways to bring in new people–but only God can bring people to himself and such is his love for these new believers that he wants a safe and secure nursery for them. If we work at providing the safe and secure nursery then God has the opportunity to bless us with new believers, when and where he sees fit.

May the peace of God be with you.

EVALUATING EVALUATIONS 1

Let’s pretend for a few minutes. Pretend that your church has actually gone through the evaluation process using the four functions. After discovering the weakest function, the congregation immediately begins to develop that area of church life. During the process of evaluating the church, a pastoral job review was also done, which resulted in no major tensions but did produce some suggestions for improving his/her ministry.

The processes described here are important but do take a lot of time and energy. When I was a pastor doing these kind of things, all of us directly involved collectively groaned when evaluation time rolled around every couple of years. We groaned not because we doubted the value of the process but because we knew that we would have another layer of work added to already busy schedules.

As we got into the process, someone was sure to ask, “Why are we doing this anyway?”–and the person asking the question may well have been me, the one who developed the process and encouraged the congregation to adopt the process. If you have been following the blog, you know that I offered an answer to this question in the October 6 blog–an answer that does make sense and which we found helped to keep us on track most of the time.

However, there is another part of the answer that we will look at today. You see, when all the work has been done, the church and pastor will have a good picture of their overall ministry. And no matter how good that ministry is, it is never perfect–there is always room for improvement. That improvement is part of our calling.

Our call as believers and as churches is to give to God our best. That is not just referring to our offering or our individual gifts. As individuals and as congregations, we are called to give to God our best. While we can never reach perfection in this life, we are called to continually work at trying to reach perfection.

In the end, trying to offer to God the best ministry possible is important in and of ourselves. Just as the sacrifices in the Old Testament had to be the best of the flocks and herds, so the ministry we offer to God needs to be our best. There will certainly be limits imposed by our circumstances–but we offer the best we can in our situation.

One pastor I taught years ago in Kenya came to our school speaking at least three languages but couldn’t read or write in any of them. But he offer to God what he had and I have to say that he was one of the best preachers I have heard–and I have heard a lot of preachers over the years. His lack of literacy skills prevented him from doing a lot of things in ministry–but he offered to God what he had and did his best.

This is what God requires of all of us–not perfection but the offering of our best. When it comes to congregations, that best probably requires that we take the time to look at what we are offering to God, discover the weaknesses and difficulties and work at fixing them as part of our service to God.

The effort we put into the evaluation processes should produce better ministry. It should produce a stronger, more joyful congregation. It will help the pastor and leadership understand their roles better. It may even result in actual numerical growth, although that particular result is not something that we can control.

But no matter what the results, the process helps us become more what we were meant to be. We seek to grow in faith as individuals and congregations and the required growth is only possible is we are willing to examine ourselves and our church, offering both the results and changes to God as part of our commitment to him.

The process of self-evaluation is important in and of itself–we cannot be perfect in this life but the journey towards perfection is an important part of our faith lives here.

As to the issue of why numerical growth is not a direct consequence of the ministry evaluation process, we will look at that tomorrow–there is a very important Biblical principal involved here that often gets overlooked or forgotten.

May the peace of God be with you.