Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Are You Called to Ministry?

Everyone is called to salvation. Based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, you are predestined to be saved (Ephesians 1:5). All you have to do is say Yes. If you’ll do the coming, Jesus will do the saving.

Everyone who decides to be a Jesus follower is also called to ministry. The appeal to make disciples rolled off the same tongue -- in the same breath -- as the invitation to follow Jesus and be baptized (Matthew 28:19-20). We are all called to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Most Christians will live out their ministry calling through their life at home, at school, and in the marketplace. Their income comes from their job. They pray with their eyes open (pray without ceasing) throughout the day as they take their kids to the game, treat patients in the clinic, wait tables, or just hang out in their neighborhood. God uses their prayers, conversations, and influence to encourage people and to prompt some of them to check out a friendship with God. They also volunteer in their local church and possibly in a para-church ministry that serves, resources, or protects a niche of vulnerable people.

Some Jesus followers, however, are called to vocational ministry. Whether or not they are paid, they sense a strong prompting from God to devote a major slice of their life to leading in a church. This is a huge deal. A big responsibility. A serious commitment.

Some will sign up to be a lead pastor (only the crazy or the clearly called become lead  pastors!), while others will be invited by the lead pastor to work with him on a team that will either change the world or die trying. They might or might not be full time, and probably won’t be, at least at first. The contrasting sides of this commitment are (a) the camaraderie, outright fun, and satisfaction of working on a healthy and effective team with people you love and who fire you up, and (b) the hard work, the sometimes-long hours, the raw grit, and the resolve to do whatever it takes to help the team achieve its God-sized vision.

What do you do when the lead pastor invites you to serve on the staff? If you have prayed about it and received agreement of the call from your spouse and maybe from a mentor you trust, accept. Dive in. Commit. But what if you’re not sure whether you are called to vocational ministry? Pray. Talk with your spouse. Then make a commitment to serve for a season. Try it out for long enough to learn whether that’s where God can use you best; at least six or nine months, maybe a year. Give it your very best during the time you’ve committed. Come through. Go the extra mile. And keep tuned to God’s voice.

Story time: A while back, Epikos Vancouver invited Sarah to be on staff. She had just polished off a master’s degree in environmental science and had never imagined serving on a church staff. We sensed that her wiring, her passion, and her walk with God were a perfect fit for what God is up to, so we invited her onto the team. She accepted with an open mind, but her intention was to serve in church leadership until she had a chance to work in her field of educational expertise.

Over time, it became clear that Sarah is all but indispensable to the church. Not only does she bring a rare mix of skills and talents, but her attitude, her spiritual maturity, her humility, and her wisdom are exceptional. She is becoming a leader of leaders. We joke that if Sam or Ron croaks, the church will hum along just fine, but if Sarah bites the dust, we’ll have to disband the church! We have tried to affirm that in her, not just verbally, but by doing our best to increase her compensation as we are able. We hope that the continuing convergence of increasing her paycheck and the Spirit’s conviction will convince Sarah to devote the rest of her life to full-time, vocational ministry. Even if that doesn’t happen in the long term, we know that Sarah will give everything she has to build up God’s work while she is on the team.

We have just started that process with Christina, our new youth leader. She has exceeded our hopes for building our youth ministry while attending nursing school. We have seen a refreshing combination of skills, character, and spiritual growth. She is delighted to serve in the church at this time, but she plans to become an RN. Both parties are comfortable with her part-time leadership as the church grows and as Christina seeks God’s will. God might want her to be a nurse someday, or God might have full-time, vocational ministry plans for her that will result in a lot of young people finding Jesus and growing up in Christ.

Are you called to ministry? Yes. Vocational ministry? Maybe. Pray, talk with people you respect, and give it a try. And whether you have committed to short- or long-term vocational ministry, throw yourself fully into the task. God will multiply the investment of your time and your heart, and when the dust settles at the end of the world, you will know that your life has mattered for the kingdom. How cool is that?

Does What Breaks Jesus’s Heart Break Your Heart?

I am listening again to an old talk by Nelson Searcy and Ron Sylvia called “Am I Called to Be a Church Planter?” They are energetic, funny, and share some good content. But listening to their advice this morning reminded me of a question that I heard a presenter ask many years ago (I think it was Bob Logan): “Does what breaks Jesus’s heart break your heart?”

Your answer to that question is far more important than you can imagine. It’s more important than any other factor in your ministry. You might have strong financial resources (wouldn’t that be nice?); you might have a cutting-edge ministry plan; you might be surrounded by a team of highly-talented leaders, a strong core of people, and the most brilliant ministry coach on the planet. But if your answer to this question is No -- or it is ambiguous -- you will fail. Like a gerbil on a wheel, you will run as hard as you can, but all that you’ll produce is a blur of motion and a squeaky wheel.

Does what breaks Jesus’s heart break your heart?

Start with yourself. Examine your heart; tell the truth. Then ponder the question with your team. Put your other agenda items on pause for a day or a week, and list on the flip chart the things that break His heart. Then be honest about your own. You may already stay awake at night interceding for someone who is far from God or begging God to show you how to honor Him. Or maybe you sort of care, but you never get all that amped up about whether people around you will spend eternity in heaven or hell.

Once you’ve done the truth-telling to yourself and to your team, lay your heart open before God and ask Him to fully align your heart with His. He loves to answer this prayer. It’s a dangerous prayer because He always says Yes. Don’t ask Him if you don’t mean it. You might do this together as a team, or in the quietness of your private time with God. But do it. And do it often.

Suddenly everything looks different. You care more deeply about the next person. You find that you can’t pretend that the under-resourced don’t exist or that they aren’t your concern. It dawns on you that the most important thing in life is not your own comfort or reputation or prosperity. You move away from “What’s the minimum I can invest?” and instead you live unselfishly -- in community -- as if people’s lives depend on your obedience to the call. 

Wow, that’s a high bar! But that’s what Jesus did. And He made a wild and ridiculous prediction that His followers would do greater things than He had done. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12).

I’m in. I’m willing to give it a try. How about you?