I came into ministry as Paul would say, “as one abnormally born.” I didn’t want to be a minister growing up. I wanted to be a clinical child psychologist. I was so set on this that before I got to college, I took the course catalog and mapped out a path to finish with my B.A. in three years because I knew I would have quite a bit of grad school ahead of me. After getting my B.A. I went to the University of Florida to get a Ph.D. in Clinical and Health Psychology. I had God’s plan figured out. I had him on a 7 year plan. Things worked out so perfectly to that point that I was sure I had this all nailed down.
I was wrong.
Then September 11th happened. It was my day to do a transplant evaluation rotation in Shands hospital and I had a fever. I decided to call in sick instead of getting an at risk population sick. I made a quick run to Walmart to get some sprite and some over the counter medication to help me feel better. While in the check out line I heard the cashiers discussing a plane hitting a tower. I heard bits and pieces but all I could imagine was a Cessna had hit a radio antenna somewhere, no big deal. I got in my car and turned on the radio and that is when I got the news. I was glued to my radio all the way. When I got back to my apartment I rushed in and turned on the news just in time to watch the second plane hit.
I was floored. I was depressed. Angry. Very shaken.
Over the days and weeks that followed this event haunted me, as I am sure it did many of you as well. It caused me to ask a lot of questions about my life. It caused me to evaluate what I was doing and why I was doing it and what sort of difference my life was going to make in the world.
I didn’t like my answers. I didn’t like them at all because I realized that it was all about me. It was about who I was getting to work with, the research I was getting to do, the degree I was going to get, publications with my name on them.
It hit me. When it is all said and done every last bit of that is going to be toast. That wasn’t an acceptable thought.
Over the next 4 months or so I began to check out of my work, mentally. The quality of what I was doing began to slide. I wasn’t giving it my full attention. I couldn’t. My heart just wasn’t there any more. So, a few months away from finishing the MA portion of the program I quit. I quit because I had to do something different. I had to do something that would last and the only thing that was on that list was helping people in their walk with the Lord…ministry.
At first, I think what I experienced was a “call away.” I don’t know how God works in these sorts of things but at first I definitely knew what it was that I just couldn’t keep doing. It had to stop no matter what the cost. I didn’t know what all it would lead to but I knew what it couldn’t be. It took a few months of sorting through that before the “call to” came…that I had to devote my life to the spiritual well being of others. That is a calling.
What does this have to do with the missing piece in evangelism?
Let me tell a bit of the rest of the story and then let’s talk application. I remember one of my first ministry classes in seminary. A bunch of people either in ministry or about to begin ministry were discussing calling. Two things were pretty clear in the discussion. First, it was clear that some of them didn’t believe God really called people into ministry because they didn’t personally feel called. Second, it was clear that the consensus was “people back home in our churches” don’t really believe that God calls people to ministry either. That is my recollection…I hope it is a fair and accurate representation of what was said that day. That was 13 years ago so I am a bit fuzzy.
If our ministers don’t believe they have been called into ministry our churches certainly won’t either. If our preachers and teachers don’t feel like God has called them to that task, how is it going to go? How will their heart be in it? This cannot be one more job to get the bills paid. It may have to feel like that in seasons but that cannot be the primary way ministers see their work.
I believe ministers don’t feel called because that is not a part of our language. They didn’t grow up hearing that. They didn’t grow up expecting that. It is foreign to our conversation and we have lost something there. We have bound God up in leather, via ink and paper and don’t expect much more out of Him than that…and we are dying for it.
In line with all of that – how can we ever expect our congregations to engage in meaningful outreach until they feel God is actually calling them specifically to that? What has happened instead, is that congregations have hired ministers who themselves don’t even feel called to ministry to help guide them and so there is no good example, model or paradigm for what calling is all about and what that would lead us to engage churches in doing. So the congregation believes they have a minister to do that…that’s why they pay him but even the minister doesn’t feel like that is what God is asking them to do. So it just isn’t happening.
There are a few questions we need to address in our congregations:
- Is calling biblical?
- Does God still do it today? If so, how? If not, why not?
- When God calls, who does it involve (just ministers, a select few, everyone) and what does it involve them doing?
- What is the priesthood of believers really all about and how should we carry it out?
Until this becomes a part of our language, our children will just see ministry as one of a number of noble professions that get the bills paid. I think it is vitally important that we have this discussion in our churches because I believe people won’t engage in outreach until they really believe that is what God actually expects them and calls them to do…not just the preacher.