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Who are “the Called”? Mission, Commission, and Accountability

 
Gods-Empowered-People

This chapter is an excerpt from Steven M. Fettke, God’s Empowered People: A Pentecostal Theology of the Laity (Wipf & Stock 2011). Another chapter appears in the Winter 2012 issue of Pneuma Review.

 

We need to recognize that such a sense of call [as Jeremiah had] in our time is profoundly counter-cultural, because the primary ideological voices of our time are the voices of autonomy: to do one’s own thing, self-actualization, self-assertion, self-fulfillment. The ideology of our time is to propose that one can live “an uncalled life,” one not referred to any purpose beyond one’s self. It can be argued that the disease of autonomy besets us all, simply because we are modern people …

If the ideology of autonomy talks us out of our call as it talked ancient Israel out of its call, we too may settle for idolatries that feel and sound like a call. An idolatrous alternative may take the form of a moral crusade in which we focus on one moral issue to the neglect of everything else. It may take the form of dogmatic crusade, which is often a disguised form of maintaining monopoly, an ecclesiastical passion, or an echo of civil religion. These are all diversionary activities to keep from facing the yielding in obedience that belongs to all who are called by this God.1

 

Introduction

Tilly has served God faithfully in the public schools for almost thirty years, most of that time as a guidance counselor in an at-risk middle school. Few would disagree that middle-school age is a very difficult age, especially when so many kids are being reared by guardians or grandparents or are latchkey kids with little love, attention, or supervision from a parental figure. Often, Tilly serves as a surrogate mother to these kids. Daily she deals with reports of parental abuse or neglect, student sexual promiscuity, pregnancy, and gang activity, along with student surliness, loneliness, threats of suicide, and exhausted teachers. In all of this chaos and despair, she prays daily for God’s strength and direction, and often she senses God’s spirit leading her and helping her love even the worst of the worst.

This is not to say that Tilly’s only concern is ministry. She strives to be the very best in her profession. Her supervisors regularly give her the highest possible ratings for job performance. Doing a good job in all aspects of her work, even the dreaded paperwork and committee work, is also a part of her mission and witness. God-called people do not slack off on those work responsibilities that they find tedious.

Tilly’s day might include kids loved, parents counseled and affirmed in caring for their kids, possible suicides stopped, potential fights between gangs mediated, lonely kids given attention, and exhausted teachers encouraged. Because kids, parents, and teachers have learned to trust her—learned that she truly cares about them—she can pray for them and recommend to them the life of faith in a place where normally such activities are forbidden. In a single day she might do more significant ministry than many professional ministers would do during an entire week. What keeps her going in such a setting? Tilly would answer this way: “It is the call of God and my desire to obey that call no matter how difficult the situation.”

Not once in her experience in Pentecostal churches did professional ministers and church leaders suggest a call to the public schools; as a young person she thought only pastors, evangelists, and missionaries were called. After all, only those people were discussed in church as “the called.” As an adult, she understands that God can call people to various places, including the public schools. However, Tilly has not discovered any setting in the local church in which she might share her struggles and prayer concerns related to her calling. She has never experienced a setting in the local church in which her call is acknowledged and where she is held accountable for her call.

Who is Tilly? She is my wife. She represents all kinds of people in Pentecostal churches who are called to work in the factory, medical profession, business or legal profession, and government service. Like Tilly, they also need to have their callings affirmed and their prayer concerns about their workplace ministries heard. These people may well be the only “minister” whom many of their coworkers, clients, students, or customers will ever encounter. Why wouldn’t the local church want to prepare them for the work of ministry in their workplaces (Eph 4:12)?

The Mission of the Church

The official statement on mission of the General Council of the Assemblies of God says this:

The Church is the Body of Christ, the habitation of God through the Spirit, with divine appointments for the fulfillment of her great commission. Each believer, born of the Spirit, is an integral part of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven. Since God’s purpose concerning man [sic] is to seek and to save that which is lost, to be worshipped by man [sic], to build a body of believers in the image of His Son, and to demonstrate His love and compassion for all the world, the priority reason for being of the Assemblies of God as part of the Church is: (1) To be an agency of God for evangelizing the world. (2) To be a corporate body in which man [sic] may worship God. (3) To be a channel of God’s purpose to build a body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son. (4) To be a people who demonstrate God’s love and compassion for all the world.2

It is my purpose to “flesh out” in this chapter the implications of this notion of mission to the world in regard to the role of the laity and of the local church. Everyone in the community, not just the professional minister, can provide an effective gospel witness. The voices (and professions) of teachers, business people, medical professionals, and blue- and white-collar workers can and must be heard. These believers are also ministers in their workplaces. The local church can be a place where their callings are affirmed, where they are nurtured in their faith, where they are trained to do the work of ministry, and where their testimonies can be expressed. These lay ministers will go to places in North American society where the professional minister cannot go, either by law (the public schools) or by social convention (the secular workplace). In those secular places they might be the only “ministers” their fellow workers or students in public schools might ever meet.3 Often, people will never darken the door of a local church or be willing to talk to the pastor, but they will listen to a fellow worker whom they have learned to trust and respect. In effect, the believer who is their fellow worker becomes their “minister.”

Positively, Pentecostalism at its best is missional, in that it believes that the Spirit empowers all believers to work actively in the world for the growth of the kingdom, in mission and witness, by encountering the cultures of this world in redemptive and prophetic ways. At their best, Pentecostals have been able to inculturate the gospel, creating truly indigenous expressions of biblical faith. The spontaneity of the Spirit so valued in Pentecostal structures creates space for new and innovative cultural expressions of the gospel. Negatively, Pentecostals today have been seduced by the institutional model of the mega-church structure, in which the growth of numbers and trappings of success become the priority of mission. Top down leadership with a professional class of ministers who administer the faith is becoming the norm in many so-called successful Pentecostal churches, but at the cost of a truly missional approach that sustains personal formation and empowers all the people of God to work in the service of the King. The emphasis on performance in these churches, in which “professional” ministers, singers or administrators service the institution, has restricted the participation of the congregation in worship and world engagement.4

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Category: Fall 2011, Ministry

About the Author: Steven M. Fettke, M.Div. (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Th.M., D.Min. (Columbia Theological Seminary), is Professor of Religion at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. He was awarded the Delta Alpha Distinguished Educator Award by the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education in 2009. He is the author of Messages to a Nation in Crisis: An Introduction to the Prophecy of Jeremiah (1982).

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