God's Call ~ Ministry
(Part 3 of 3)
*This reflection will be enhanced if you pre-read “God’s Plan.”*
It is easy to understand the human desire for divine specifics on how we live our lives. When we feel God has called us to something specific, it gives us a sense of certainty and confidence that moves us forward with conviction to become something specific. This security gives us strength. We look at those around us that have become something specific for God and we long for that assurance. Many wait for that kind of call and never receive it. Waiting and trusting in the kind of call that dictates location and job description may not exist, and thinking God relates to humanity in such a way distorts God’s relationship with us.
I, when discerning my career, experienced a vision of being in ministry. I remember the moment with great clarity. I stood in the midst of my humanness and felt that God loved me anyway. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5. Like brother Isaiah, it was like God touched my mouth with a burning coal and my heart leapt. “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said, here am I; send me!” Isaiah 6:7-8
God blessed that sacred imagining and I jumped in with both feet. It was not a road map cast before me that I was to follow. I know this because my life and my ministry look nothing like that vision. It was a time in life when I recognized the significance of God’s role in my life and I felt compelled to play a significant role in God’s kingdom. God blessed that moment. I heard the call and I answered in a way unique to me. Over time, different needs for ministry have presented themselves and God has equipped me and supported me and challenged me to love in ways for which I never dreamed or imagined or prepared. I know I did not always live up to love’s demands. Regardless, in the years to come, I pray my eyes will be open to the places where loving is lacking and that I will have the strength and courage to adjust my life to meet those needs. Along that journey, I know I will not be alone. I believe that whatever risks I take to be a manifestation of love I will experience blessings beyond my current imagination.
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I sit on the Board of Ministry for the United Methodist Church, whose task is to evaluate candidates for ministry. With great consistency we listen to faithful people express their “call story.” We are easily inspired by the stories we hear. But, when I listen, I hear them in a different way from others around the table. I hear people describe moments when they were deeply aware of God’s love and they found themselves convicted to respond to God’s love.
For example; we often hear stories of youth that have been overwhelmed by love in a youth setting and have desired to live the rest of their lives in youth ministry because they understand God’s calling to be specific to their experience.
We often hear stories of individuals feeling called to preach after having an opportunity to articulate God’s love and then receiving a great personal blessing as well as affirmation from others.
We often hear stories of musicians that found their hearts soaring when singing and God’s love overwhelmed them. Therefore, they are committed to a lifetime of music making for God.
These stories are beautiful, touching, profound, and meaningful. Regardless of what they say, this is what I hear. All who have experienced the power of God’s love in their lives have heard God’s call to love, significantly. Consider this: God does not call to youth ministry, preaching, or music making. God calls us to love and we choose the manifestation, often based on how we view our unique gifts and talents for loving. This understanding is important for several reasons:
God calls everyone, absolutely everyone. I have this image of God looking through hospital nurseries and selecting various babies to receive a call. And then my heart breaks to somehow imagine God skipping over some, deeming them unworthy of receiving a call. A call is a powerful sign of love, and I can’t imagine God withholding that from anyone. Divine love is bigger than human love. God is ONLY love and would not, can not, will not withhold love or play favorites or exclude anyone from a loving opportunity.
God calls everyone, absolutely everyone. Not everyone is hears it. Fewer respond to it. Not everyone has the same opportunities to hear the call and this is why I want my children in the church, simply to have abundant settings for listening. God’s call is not unique in how it is to be interpreted: love. All who choose a secular means of employment, God has called them the same as the preacher. This call is not lesser. All choose the manner that love is lived out. Call is not to be diminished or ignored simply because of comparisons with the specific choices of others. We should hear God’s call to love passionately and never compare with someone else’s response to their call. Call Clarity: all have been called to great works of love. Call Clarity: all who choose love are responding to God’s call and living a life according to God’s will.
Thankfully, we celebrate that some hear God’s call and dedicate not just their lives to love, but their livelihood and vocation. Praise God for those who set themselves aside for love’s ministry. Thank the Lord for the Church who prepares talents and gifts within such people and sends them to all places on Earth so that love may be revealed!
To all who have answered God’s call with a career in ministry, do not belittle God’s call to a job title. Yes, some may have a gift for preaching. Yes, some have spent a great deal of time honing their skills as a preacher. Yes, preaching is a wonderful way to interpret what it means to love God and love neighbor and probably does a great deal to support the love of self. But what if what God needs most for God’s people is not preaching? What if a congregation hungers for pastoral care, or administration, or sweat from hands-on work? Too many clergy have limited their response to God’s call because they assumed God only called them to something specific, or something in which they excelled. God’s call is often challenging, uncomfortable, difficult, and beyond our current skill-set. Thinking God calls us in the areas where we excel is great for our self-esteem, but not always great for God’s kingdom. Over time, our response to God’s call of love may change. Youth ministers may transition to single’s ministry. Preachers may transition to pastoral care. Yet, God’s call never changes. The manifestations of love change as faithful people grow and develop, and the needs of the community shift.
Professionals in the church have a history of giving God credit for human choice. For example, “I am called to rural ministry,” is interpreted as a divine decision for a human choice. However, the opposite: “I am not called to urban ministry,” is equally interpreted as a divine limitation. These perceptions misinterpret God’s role in humanity. Equally, “I’m called to supervise clergy” or “I’m not called to work with the poor” or “I’m called to teach” or “I’m not called to work with senior adults” all thwart the true nature of God’s relationship with ministry. God has called us to love. There are great, significant, and vital opportunities for extreme love all around each one of us. Regardless of whether or not we feel qualified, equipped, talented, or gifted, the need for acts of love never cease. Humanity chooses the nature of our loving. God qualifies and equips all who respond to be living manifestations of love.
Discerning how to answer God’s call is fun, nerve-racking, and exciting! How shall we love? Discerning where to answer God’s call is equally cool. Know this: love is needed everywhere. At any college, love can be equally ignored or embellished. In any skyscraper office or grocery loading dock, love can be equally procrastinated or pursued. Love is no more an address than it is a job description.
Clergy are often the first to distort this reality of free will. I have heard many stories from ministers who served in a place they did not want to go. They believed God led them there against their best judgment and then God blessed them. God did not lead them; the Church had a role in that. But while that minister served, he or she loved God, loved the people there, and made decisions of great self-love; so love’s blessings overflowed! Intentional love like that blossoms relationships, changes lives, alters priorities, and gives life purpose! That is the nature of love!
When clergy appointments go sour, somehow or somewhere, love was not experienced. God did not abandon. God did not send that person to a negative situation only to fail. Humanity’s ability to love failed, either on the part of the servant, those being served, or both.
Sometimes, love is simply not communicated in a manner that can be heard. This happens when personalities clash or agendas are not agreed upon and shared. Sometimes, there are walls and barriers built by humans which keep the work of love from flourishing. God does not perpetuate a negative situation for the sake of teaching a lesson or testing our faith. God is love and only works through love to foster our love.
Thanks be to God for the Church! Celebrate church leadership that prays for discernment when measuring the needs of a community with the gifts of those who make themselves available to serve. Trust that God is deeply involved, inspires, and guides events for love to be maximized.
I often wonder, how many times have I done a similar thing? How many times have I prayed an honest prayer and felt strongly that God answered that prayer and I experienced what I believed to be divine peace blessing that answer, only later to be devastated? Did I misinterpret God’s answer? Did God set me up to fail to teach me a lesson? Or could it be that my prayer had little to do with love, and I longed for an answer so desperately that I answered for God only to blame God for my disappointment. How shall I pray next time? Maybe my prayers should simply be focused on discerning love’s choices in my life and trusting that God will do anything and everything to empower love’s decisions.
God equips the decision to love; God does not manipulate. Do not jump to conclusions and assume God is distant from our decision making. Do not interpret God to be apathetic regarding our decisions simply because God did not choose the answers for us. God still moves, acts, and participates in our lives to encourage and enable love’s decisions. God still moves mountains and provides miracles for all who choose to be a miracle of love.
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Love is often complicated. Love is often distorted. Ultimately, loving God is revealed in different ways. It is something we offer, experience, and allow to shape our agendas and schedules. Loving neighbor sometimes seems impossible or impractical. Loving self is nearly always confused with selfishness or selflessness.
The church and the way we organize our loving as a community are often complicated, and often distort the mission of love; the church suffers when we can’t agree on a loving gesture. Outsiders judge the church for inconsistent loving. The church, if it desires to survive the judgment of our culture, must focus solely on God’s call to love.
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Earlier, I mentioned the Board of Ministry where I serve with the responsibility of interpreting calling and ministry vocation. As a group, we are tasked with empowering ministry. We set the bar high in terms of knowledge and specific understandings of what it means to be in ministry. We scrutinize applicants to be sure their interpretations align with our spiritual community. In short, we judge the way faithful people answer God’s call to love. This journey is not unmerited. Hopefully, this process prepares and guarantees the most profound love to be exemplified in churches throughout the world. It is both humbling and exciting!
One of the great challenges of the Church, and specifically the organized bodies of the Church, is to differentiate between empowering love and legislating love. Empowerment (facilitating love as opposed to legislating it) is a great responsibility. An example of the challenge lies in the way our churches view the things we hold sacred, namely sacraments. Some feel a complete understanding of how God offers grace in the sacraments is vital to experience the sacraments. Some feel the credentials of those who administer sacraments are vital to experience them. Some feel the sacraments belong to God, what takes place in the sacraments is God’s arena, and those who receive and administer the sacraments is God’s business.
An example; I imagine my grandson on the church playground and a game of playing “house” becomes a game of playing “Communion.” I imagine the grace of Jesus surrounding the kids without care whether or not they have been taught the exact words. I also imagine a family in a hotel at Disney World. I can see a dad raiding the vending machine for make-shift elements and leading a prayer of confession with his teenage son. I can see a mom giving thanks and a small child breaking chips, pouring soda and remembering Jesus. And I am quite sure God’s grace fills the room as a family on vacation pauses before the events of the day to take communion.
I have received the blessings of communion in my church surrounded by people of faith. The One body of Christ is shared among the body of Christ and my soul is lifted. The prayers of confession and pardon prepare my heart for God’s grace. The Great Thanksgiving and the words of institution remind me of Christ’s love. These prepare me. But it is God who anoints me. The blessings of Communion are not bound by the space in which we receive Communion. The corona virus has taught me that I can be at home, participating in the liturgy with my church, although scattered for miles and miles, and the blessings of God’s grace finds me, not bound by space. Corona has also taught me that God’s grace is not bound by time. I can participate in liturgy led by my pastor hours later in a recorded video and God’s grace finds me and anoints me in that moment.
It limits our omnipotent God to suggest that grace is only available under the authoritative administration of certain people, within a limited and specific space, and only in a designated moment. No doubt, God works through our legislation to inspire, educate and extend Communion. Now is the time to empower and extend our theology around Sacramental Grace.
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Empowerment is a great responsibility. An example of the challenge lies in the way our churches measure the gifts and graces of those seeking a career in ministry, namely Ordination. Candidates are required to articulate theology in a manner consistent with our community. Candidates are evaluated on their abilities to communicate the Gospel. Candidates are questioned about his or her lifestyle to determine if they live their lives in a fashion consistent with perceptions of Christian teachings. These are worthy things to consider and must be addressed. Yet, they miss the point of being in ministry. “Are you loving? Does the way in which you live your life exemplify the depth of your commitment to love?” How does one measure the answer to those kinds of questions? And equally important; “Can you inspire love? Do you passionately communicate love to the point others desire it, long for it, and find themselves willing to change to become it?” These are the fundamental questions to explain who God is and who God calls us to be. The answers to these questions are the ones that will ignite a people, challenge a culture, and energize a church.
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What is God’s will? Love. What is God’s plan? Live lovingly. What does God call us to do with our lives? Inspire love. God has given us the gift of choosing love’s details*
In the opening welcome and introduction to this website, I shared the Scripture that inspired this online adventure, I Tim 6:20. This text is also the origination of the name; “Sacred Chatter.” However, my intent is not to be a singular voice. I invite your voice to be a part of the “chat” and I base this on another of my favorite Scriptures: Hebrews 10:24. “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” I am considering how I can provoke love and good deeds in places beyond where I live. This is my attempt to enter into a Hebrews 10 conversation with you over social media.digitally. Now, I am interested in your feedback. Consider what provoking you can provide with your own Sacred Chatter.
What’s important to you? What really matters?
Add your voice in Sacred Chatter.
Love is ours to provoke. Good deeds are ours to sew.
That the wisdom of Hebrews 10 may flourish and grow.
Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they’re potential mediums for the Hebrews 10 plan.
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