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.