(Something to read if you’ve been nominated to serve)
What does it mean to be called to ministry. When I was in high school, I felt called into the ministry. What that meant for me – and for most people I know – was that I was called to be an ‘ordained minister’ in the church. To be a ‘pastor’, to be ‘clergy’, to be a ‘minister of the word and sacraments’. I put all those words in quotes because I am uncomfortable with all of them now. I believe we have distorted the original meaning of these words. As a result many disciples are confused about their own calling as disciples. Are they called to ministry too, and how does their ministry relate to mine?
Let me begin by defining some terms. To be ‘ordained’ is to be appointed and anointed by God for a specific task in His kingdom mission. Although the church has restricted that term to a special class of workers (clergy), I see all disciples as equally ordained by God for their tasks, just different tasks. The tasks may differ, but the ordination by the Spirit is the same.
A ‘minister’ is a servant or slave. In Greek the word is ‘diakonos’, from which we get ‘deacon’. In the bible ALL of God’s people are to be equipped as servants (see Ephesians 4:11-13, “to equip His people for works of ‘diakonos'”). I see all disciples as equally called by Jesus to be ministers/servants of God in the world. The tasks may differ, but the calling to serve is the same.
There are no special offices. Every office (task) in the church is special, and deserves the respect and support of the church as a whole. Contrary to the Roman Catholic dualism which separates the sacred (clergy) from the secular (laity), everyone is sacred, set apart by God and for God as a member of Christ’s body. There are no callings that are more important than others. If God calls you to something, then it is your holy calling.
Called to ministry… but what ministry?
Based on this, I see every follower of Jesus as called to ministry, to service. Our challenge as Jesus followers is to discern where we are called to serve. The question is not ‘am I called?’ but ‘where am I called?’ Before you keep on reading, repeat this out loud for yourself: ‘I am called to ministry!’ and ‘I need to figure out where God is calling me to ministry!’
General and specific callings!
It can be helpful to discern between general and specific callings. In general, we are ALL called to love and serve one another, like Jesus did. No one can excuse themselves from this calling. We have all been anointed by the Spirit of Jesus to love like Jesus loved. This general calling underlies and extends through all our other more specific callings.
Some of these more specific callings include:
- Called to my family. As a member of a family, you are called to love, serve and build up your family. Your specific role in the family will shape how you live out that calling: your calling as a dad or mom, as a child or sibling, as a grandparent or grandchild. Your particular circumstances will also shape your calling: as a single parent, an orphan, a widow or widower, a step parent or sibling, an only child, etc. Families today offer a host of variations in which we are challenged to show the love of Jesus.
- Called to my location. I live where I live (country, community, neighbourhood) by God’s design. Jesus made it clear that how we relate to our neighbours is VERY important. We are called to be good citizens and good neighbours, who pray for and serve the well-being of those around us. Too often christians have ignored their neighbours, as if their holy huddle is all that matters until Jesus’ return. In a sense, every person that crosses my path wherever I am is a part of my daily ministry calling.
- Called to my work/school. My work (or school) is my vocation (Latin for calling). It is not just where I make money or learn. It is where I show my employers, co-workers or classmates what a Jesus-like worker works like. How I speak, how I work, how I serve, how I keep my word, how I relate to others, how I use my time, etc. Paul urges us to do our work for the Lord with all our heart, as if He were our employer (Colossians 3:23-24).
- Called to a specific role or task. In addition to the above callings, most of us end up serving in a particular area either in the community or in the church. In the church: elders, deacons, teachers, committee members, ministry leaders and helpers. In the community: volunteering at a community ministry or agency, supporting a specific cause, serving in our child’s school, coaching a team, participating in a regular social activity or sport. Sometimes people involve themselves in these for selfish reasons, but often Jesus followers view these as their ministry.
Please note, some of these callings may overlap. A mother may be led to say that her role as mother (family) is her vocation (work) and where she will focus most of her energy (specific ministry). Another person may see their workplace as their specific ministry calling, and devote their energies at work and after work to bringing Jesus into their workplace, and in their relationships with coworkers. As a pastor, my specific role is also my work. This is all OK. there are plenty of options when God calls us to serve Him.
The value of one primary ministry calling
In my experience, Jesus followers are often involved in many specific ministry callings. One person may serve on the school board, as a worship leader, and as a member of the Rotary. Then they will receive a request to serve as an Elder. Sometimes the church will give the impression that they need to do and give more for the Lord. They will hear appeals for helpers, and feel guilty, and may add more duties out of that guilt and sense of duty. And then as happens too often, they burn out, crash, and sometimes quit altogether. This is not how things should be.
It is my personal conviction that each Jesus follower should have only ONE primary ministry calling. This is their one area of focus, where they invest themselves the most. In addition they may take on small secondary callings, but these should clearly be second. When a choice between the two is required, their desire and responsibility is to their primary calling. Not because it is better, but because they have responded to God’s call to that area.
My conviction is not based on a specific biblical command or teaching. Rather is it based on wisdom. Just as the apostles had to delegate so that they could focus on their primary ministry (Acts 6:1-7), we should learn from their example. When disciples take on too many tasks, they are like a garden hose with little holes along the sides. By the time the water gets to the hose end (the primary calling of a hose), only a trickle remains.
Choosing between ministry callings
Saying yes to one specific ministry requires saying no to another one. In my case, saying yes to Maranatha meant saying no to Crossroads. I can’t do both, though I still carry Crossroads in my heart. I had a difficult choice to make which I prayed about, and in the end I accepted God’s call to Maranatha. I believe every disciple should approach their own calling in a similar way.
For example. You are a worship leader. You love leading worship and have sensed God’s calling to serve in this ministry area. You are then nominated to serve as an elder. Your gifts have been recognized, and you are asked to consider this nomination as a new primary calling. There is nothing wrong with this, just as there was nothing wrong with Maranatha approaching me to consider a call there. As a worship leader, you now have a second potential call that you must pray about and wrestle with. Do you feel the call? Do you affirm your gifts? Do others encourage you? Is it time to leave or too soon? What will saying yes mean to the worship team? What will saying no mean to the Elder team? These are the kinds of questions I wrestled with when I considered my call. There were no easy answers, and risks in both directions, but I had to make a choice. In your situation you must do the same.
Every disciple should reserve the right and responsibility to say yes or no. It is not wrong for a minister to say no to a calling, and it is not wrong for a disciple to say no to a calling. I have known people who were undecided, and chose to let the lot make the decision for them. This is certainly possible, if that decision is sincerely made with prayer.
Every disciple should also be released from the guilt of saying no, or from leaving one ministry for another. Guilt is not a proper or healthy motivation for accepting or refusing a call. If the person feels called to move on, or to stay on from where they are, who are we to challenge them when they are desiring to follow God’s leading.
All ministry callings matter
One more thing. As I said earlier no one ministry is more sacred or important than another. Being an elder is not more important than being a youth leader. Being involved in the church is not more important than being involved in the community. As long as people are pursuing their calling with the prayerful commitment of a Jesus follower, eager to show and share the love of Jesus in that specific area, we should bless and encourage them.
If someone feels called to serve with a community agency or ministry as their primary calling, they should not also add a primary ministry in the church. They can add a secondary ministry with which they can help sometimes, but they should make it clear that it is secondary, and they are reserving their main energies for their primary calling.
If you are presently serving in a less demanding ministry (let’s say serving on audio-visual once in a while), you need to recall that this ministry matters too. It is an important ministry that deserves more than just a little investment of yourself. If you are in this kind of ministry, give it your heart. Look for ways to improve or expand it. Pray about how God could use it even more effectively. Treat it as a ministry that matters, and invest in it as your primary calling!
But will their be enough people to serve?
Good question. My answer is yes, based on a number of qualifiers. If people are prayerfully pursuing and following their calling, God will raise up the necessary workers for what needs to get done. If there are not enough ministry workers, then we should (1) pray to the Lord for more workers (2) discern whether that ministry is necessary, or whether God may be calling it to end, or (3) discern whether changes need to be made to that ministry in order to make it more relevant and attractive. If God wants a ministry to happen, He will raise up the workers.
If every member of the church focused only on one primary ministry, there would be more than enough workers in the church and community. If every disciple took seriously that God was calling them somewhere to serve the kingdom, whether in the church or community, there would be more than enough workers. At present there are too few doing too much, and too many doing too little. Let’s even things out a bit.
Where is God calling you to serve?
There are many, many options for where you could serve. No one should tell you or guilt you for where to serve. Are you doing no ministry, or are you doing too many? Are you making excuses for not devoting yourself to one ministry area? Are you investing your heart fully into the one ministry God has called you to?
Have you recently be asked to serve in another ministry, and facing a tough choice. Deal with it as any minister would deal with a call to a new church. Pray about it. Talk to others about. Discern your gifts and your passions. Open yourself to God’s prompting. Consider the pros and cons. Then humbly and boldly decide on one ministry (whether to stay or to change), and trust God for the rest. You are free to say yes or no, as you sense the Lord leading you.
God is calling you to ministry somewhere.
He will help you decide, if you want to respond to His call!