"How is Christ calling you to join Him in ministry?" This was the question I asked a relatively new believer. "Oh, I don’t believe I’m being called to be a preacher. Do you?" "No," I said, "I don’t think so, but I do believe you are being called to ministry."
"But how can that be?" she asked in a way reminiscent of Mary just after the angel told her she was "with child." And that’s the issue! Somehow most laity I have spoken to through the years assume that if they aren’t called to ordained ministry, they aren’t called to ministry at all! And as a result, they are both missing the high privilege of Christian vocation and, frankly, shirking the obligation of Christian servanthood, as well.
It’s largely not the fault of laypersons, because we preachers have perpetuated a lopsided emphasis on the call of clergy to our specialized ministry. But, as Paul is quick to point out, just because some are called to be the mouth, doesn’t mean that others aren’t called to take their places in the Body of Christ. (See Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12) Nor does it mean that their places are any less revered or any less critical to God’s redemptive work on earth.
Ever since the Middle Ages, however, there has been a disproportionate elevation of the vocation of clergy to the point that the call of laity to ministry has been all but ignored. The professionalization of ministry has made matters even worse, if that was possible. Many people in our pews assume that ministry belongs exclusively to those few special persons called, educated and ordained as professional ministers. It is the lot of laity to be appreciative recipients of their ministry or, at most, to play supportive roles to the ministry of the ordained. Consequently, most clergy are exhausted trying to do the ministry of the whole Body of Christ and most laity are under utilized in the mission of Christ in the world.
Steve Harper spoke of the vocation of all disciples when addressing clergy during the Day Apart at the Life Enrichment Center, last month. Referring to The United Methodist Discipline, he said that every disciple is commissioned to the ministry of servanthood by virtue of their baptism. This ministry of all Christians is, according to the Discipline, both "a gift and a task" (par. 127), both "a privilege and an obligation" (par. 133). "Vocation," according to Harper, "comes from the Latin verb ‘to call’. To have a vocation means to hear and heed God’s call to invest the best of who we are in blessing others and serving God’s causes.
What if every disciple in your congregation was to hear the call of the Holy Spirit to join Jesus in ministry to others? What if every disciple was to hear the divine invitation to invest the best of who they are (their strengths, passions, experiences, relationships, energy and resources) in ways that are a unique expression of who they are and in ways that have a Kingdom impact on the people’s lives? What if each of us was to fulfill the "good works" that God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus to do? (Ephesians 2:10) Imagine the sense of fulfillment that would bring to disciples. Imagine the smile on Jesus’ face as his follower picked up their crosses and joined him in service to others. Imagine a world where believers were making Christ visible in what they said and did.
"Oh, I don’t believe I’m being called to be a preacher. Do you?"
"No," I said, "I don’t think so, but I do believe you are being called to ministry."
"But how can that be?" she asked, "What an opportunity! And what a responsibility! How can I ever know what sort of ministry Jesus is inviting me to do?"
"It takes prayer, of course, and a bit of trial and error to discern that for most people. Generally speaking, however, you may begin to hear God’s call where your passions, your strengths & gifts, and people’s needs all intersect. So why don’t you meditate about that and we’ll talk about it next week. Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover the ways in which God has prepared you to be a blessing to others?!"
If you find the CT Blog thought provoking,
even if at times irritatingly so, consider forwarding it to
other leaders in your congregation and encouraging them to
sign up at www.congregationalexcellence.com.
Dr. Jeff Stiggins