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.