MY CALLING

             Early in my ministry career, I was speaking in a city in Western Canada and the pastor of the church I was speaking at arranged an interview with the local paper.  Rather than ask is I would like to be interviewed, he simply set up the interview and told me to expect the reporter at a certain time.  Since I was a bit less inclined to complain at that stage of my life, I let his rudeness go and was polite for the interview.

During the course of the interview, the reporter asked why I was doing what I was doing.  I used my professional shorthand and told her that it because of my calling from God.  Her lack of much in the way of faith background immediately became clear when she looked at me blankly and asked me to explain what a call was.  I really can’t remember what I said to explain the concept of God’s call but in the end, everything I have done professionally and a lot of what I have done personally is a result of my belief that God has called me to do it.

Now, I don’t get emails, snail mail or phone calls from God.  Nor is his call accompanied by a clear timeline and a specific set of plans and directions.  And at any given time in my life, I can be extremely confused about what God is calling me to; fighting against what I know God wants me to do or begging him to change the call or at least its specific application.

But overall, I believe that one of the consequences of my accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord is willingness to let God make decisions about what I do and where I do it.  If I have really accepted Him as Lord, that involves my being willing to submit my life to him and allow him to direct me.  For me, that has played out primarily in terms of my work.  I believe that God has called me to make ministry my occupation.  Not everyone is called to that particular career path–but all of us are called by God to serve him and follow him in all areas of life.

For me, knowing and following God’s leading has been important.  It has also mean that I have not always been happy with where the call took me.  In fact, many times I have been more than a bit unhappy with where the call has taken me.  If I had been in charge of my life, I would have bulked up the teaching and researching and writing and basically eliminated the pastoral stuff.

But I am not in charge–or it is probably better to say that I work hard at not being in charge.  Because I have chosen to make God through Christ Lord of my life, in the end, I seek to do what he wants me to do, even if I am not always happy with his leading.  I am free to complain, I am free to pray (beg) for a change–I am even free to simply refuse to do what God asks of me.

But overall, I keep coming back to where God calls me, even when I am not happy.  That almost sounds like I have some serious emotional or mental issues but the truth is, I learned a long time ago that while I may not always be happy with where God is calling me, it is always better for me to be where God wants me to be.  Underneath the struggles and the bouts of unhappiness and even depression, there is a sense of joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants.

And in the end, I have also learned that giving up a certain amount of short-term happiness is well compensated for by the deep seated and long term joy and peace that comes from doing what I know God wants and being where I know God wants me to be.

So, that means that at a point in my life when I could easily be done with a career that hasn’t always been the happiest for me, I am still going.  I am still going because this is where God wants me to be and I am doing what he wants me to be doing.  I am sure that retirement is there somewhere down the road–but for now, I will follow the calling and enjoy the joy and peace that comes from that.

May the peace of God be with you.

 

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WE NEED SOMEONE TO…

I was at a meeting recently, one of those meetings that are occupational hazards for those of us in ministry.  It was scheduled for the whole day, including lunch.  Now, in my ministry career, I have spent a lot of time at such meetings as a speaker, a chairperson or just as someone attending such a meeting.  Meetings of any kind are generally not my favourite aspect of ministry–but that may become the topic of a later post.

At many of the meetings like this that I attend, there is always a point in the meeting where those in charge reveal that some committee or another needs someone to do some task.  Generally, the tasks have some purpose that is legitimate and maybe even important.  It will also be a volunteer position, although occasionally, there might be compensation for expenses, although since most of my meetings are church related, that isn’t a given.

I have found over the years of attending such meetings that there are generally two types of people when it comes to such requests.  There are the volunteers, which we will look at tomorrow, and there are the non-volunteers, which is what I want to look at today.  There is some shifting between the categories but in general, most people fit in one or the other category.

I personally tend to be in the non-volunteer category.  I think part of that might result from the mantra I learned in my brief military experience, where we were continually being told “Don’t Volunteer”.  More of the unwillingness not to volunteer comes from the fact that I need time to think things through and volunteering when I first hear something just doesn’t fit with my need to think and pray things through.  Occasionally, I don’t volunteer because I know immediately that I don’t have the time and/or ability to do the job.  But more often than not, I don’t volunteer because I need time to think and pray.

Others whom I have talked to as a pastor have a different reason for not volunteering–they are pretty much convinced that they have nothing to offer that would do anyone any good.  In their  minds, calls for volunteers are never for them because they would never, ever be able to do anything.

I don’t feel I have nothing to offer when someone asks for volunteers–I am just reluctant to speak up without taking the time I need to make a decision, so like so many others, when the call for this or that position goes out, I don’t respond–or, better, I don’t respond by immediately jumping into the position.  I might respond later, once I have had the time to think that I need but chances of my responding right there and then are pretty slim.  It has happened, but only at those times when I knew before hand that the call was coming and had been thinking it through.

While I am comfortable with the “don’t volunteer immediately” approach that I have developed, there is a downside.  If I don’t volunteer and don’t really listen to the call and therefore don’t think about it, I may be missing something that God wants me to do.  Over the years as a pastor, I have seen this play out a lot among the people who don’t volunteer because they think they can’t do anything.

People like me need to be careful when it comes to our not volunteering.  Going through life with a blanket “no” to any and every call to do something is probably a mistake.  We all have at least one gift of the Holy Spirit that needs to be expressed for the full development of the church and the faith.  Sometimes, that gift will best be expressed in the context of a something that we are asked to volunteer for at a meeting of some kind.  When I automatically say no, I may well be saying no not so much to a committee’s request to me but rather to God’s request for me to volunteer for something.

I need to remember to take the time to think things through, rather than just say no and forget about it.  I don’t have to volunteer for everything that comes along but I do have to be open to God’s leading, which may even come during a long and not always riveting meeting.

May the peace of God be with you.

ANNA

In my blog posted on January 11, 2016 called “One Night At the Hospital”, I told a story about Anna, one of the students I was teaching at the time. Her willingness to minister to a grieving mother whom she didn’t know and might never see again not only provided me with a great story to use with other ministry students but also helped me understand the nature of ministry much better. But Anna’s story doesn’t end there.

After we left Kenya and Anna finished her study, she became a church leader. At that time, the ABC didn’t ordain women and so Anna became a “Sister”. The sisters had their own structure and as if often the case, did a great deal of the work in the church. Anna’s duties would have involved preaching, administration, pastoral visitation, teaching, organizing–in short, she would have been doing everything her male counterparts were doing, except she couldn’t be ordained.

As I put it to the class one time, Anna and the other women would preach a better sermon than many of the male leaders, do good counselling with people after the worship service and then still have to make tea for the men in leadership who hadn’t done much of anything during the service. Anna and many of the women in the church thought this wasn’t right.

But Anna was called to ministry and wasn’t going to be stopped by the rules of the church, no matter what she thought about them. She did her work well, often serving in the shadows of the male leaders–and most of the time, I suspect, making them look good as a result of her good work,.

So, our story flips ahead about 30 years. I am standing on the balcony outside the teacher’s staff room at our school in Kenya. Just below is the church pastor’s house. I had heard that there had been a recent change in pastoral leadership at the church but hadn’t met the new pastor yet. So, as I am walking along the balcony to the staff room, I hear a female voice say, “Jambo, mwalimu” (Hello, teacher).

At the door of the pastor’s house is Anna, newly ordained, preparing to serve with her husband as pastor of the church. I run down to greet her and we chat a bit about old times, what we have been doing since, she asks about our daughter whom she had really taken to. It was a great meeting and one that made me feel that my earlier work was still bearing fruit.

A bit later, I have a meeting with my Kenyan counterpart as we work to set up a mentored ministry program. My job is to develop the structure and requirements of the program since I had administered a similar program in Canada. Mwangi’s part was to make sure that my structure worked in the ABC and to select good pastors as mentors since he knew the pastors better than I did.

He was excited at the meeting because he knew one pastor who would be one of the best choices we could get the for program. This pastor has a good track record and had even been an unofficial mentor to Mwangi. He developed a deep and powerful appreciation for the demands of ministry because of this association. Of course, as you have already guessed, this pastor was Anna.

So, I train Anna who trains Mwangi and then together, Anna, Mwangi and I train others. Anna’s story from the hospital became one of our case studies in the mentored ministry program and her input and insights were very valuable during the training sessions for the other mentors. The students she mentored all appreciated her wisdom and understanding of ministry.

This is part of the excitement of trying to do what God wants. He works through time and distance and separation and orchestrates a vast plan that brings people together and works through them and reunites them and does all sorts of wonderful things. My early work in Kenya helped Anna shape her already impressive ministry gifts, she helps Mwangi shape his impressive ministry gifts, I re-appear for a bit and help them develop a process that will help others benefit from their training and insights and abilities.

I don ‘t know when or even if Anna and I will connect again–but I do know that because of God’s grace, both of our ministries are stronger because of our times together.

May the peace of God be with you.

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.

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.