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

This leads to another hindrance to lay involvement in ministry—the lack of recognition or appreciation of lay ministry among the laity itself. Perhaps this occurs because the people have been taught that legitimate ministry happens only when the professional minister is involved. Others may be afraid to ask God what their gift might be for fear that doing so would lead to the pursuit of professional ministry. My wife used to be afraid to ask God what God wanted her to do for fear God would send her overseas to be a missionary. Mission service was not dishonorable to her; she just did not want to be a missionary. She had the mistaken idea that God’s call always involves professional ministry and that this ministry is unpleasant. When she discovered that she was called to public school teaching and, later, to public school guidance counseling, she found great joy in serving as a minister in her place of call.

Finally, some laypeople might be resistant to involvement in lay ministry because they just do not want to be bothered with these things. They are content to view the pastor as the one who does ministry. Having a consumer mindset, they attend church for what they decide is important and useful to them. They do not understand that all people who have become a part of God’s family are enlisted in God’s service with those gifts given by God. It is easier to write an offering check to pay others to do the work of ministry than it is to face the trials and difficulties that come with accepting a call. Doing so might also mean the painful task of personal transformation that makes believers better servants of God.

Two pastors met weekly on Monday mornings for breakfast to talk about their churches and their ministries. One week one pastor complained to another, “We are having trouble with bats in the church attic. When the worship starts and the guitars and drums used by the worship band get loud, the bats are disturbed, fly through an open-air duct, and bother the congregation. We have tried everything to get rid of them but can’t.” The other pastor replied, “We had the same problem a couple of years ago, but solved it.” “Really?” said the first pastor. “What did you do?” “Well,” replied the second pastor, “We went up to the attic, got to know the bats, invited them down for the service, got them baptized and had them join the church. Haven’t seen them since!”

Discovering Ministry

The process of discovering one’s ministry gift(s) does not have to begin with the local church leadership, but it should. The local church should be the place where every person can receive support, energy, and education for ministry.15 In this regard the pastor should develop a political/organizational style that enables people to discover their ministry potential. Also, pastors can highlight their own search for ministry and help others search for theirs. “The greatest gift a pastor has to give to another is not the right answer but the authenticity of his or her own search.”16

All members of a local congregation can be involved in appreciating the ministry of all others. If the “ministry” is not solely the professional clergy, then the ministry of all laypeople needs to be affirmed and supported. Richard R. Brohom has called for the local church to have a service of confirmation of lay ministry in a way similar to how some local congregations confirm people called to professional ministry.

Unless we are prepared to suggest that the calling of the religious professional is a higher calling than that of laity and is worthy of special recognition and confirmation, we must either be prepared to do away with the ordination of clergy or move to provide for the ordination of all Christians to their ministries of service in the world.17

Once an atmosphere of “every member ministry” has been established, the local church can begin to help people find their particular ministry gift(s). The work of educating people concerning their gifts exists in many forms. For instance, people can be taught that ministry gifts are not confined to the local church, but can and should be a part of people’s everyday existence. In fact, one’s daily work may be the ministry to which God has called him or her.

Through sermons on lay ministry, Bible studies, and personal testimony by successful lay ministers during worship services, believers are invited to begin their search for their call to lay ministry. Special services can be planned in the church’s annual calendar to emphasize such a call. Special prayers can be given in worship services each week for people who have begun the quest to learn what God’s call for them might be.

In an article entitled, “Ministry in the Work Setting,” Carolyn MacDougall speaks of how she experiences a call to ministry: the overall direction and use of her talents, the setting in which she chooses to use her talents, and the daily and sometimes hourly decisions that are a part of her job.18 In elaborating on these, she discusses the joys and conflicts in her work. It is evident that she feels called to and enjoys her work. Celia A. Hahn has said, “What an exciting witness could be made if the prayers of the people voiced on Sunday mornings included thanksgivings for achievements, new technical skills, small triumphs of justice in the workplace!”19

The church can affirm those who feel their daily work is their ministry, and the church can help others who feel stifled in their present work to discover whether or not they should change jobs or correct some problem in their present work situation. A pastor might allow brief testimonies of lay ministers who have successfully navigated the journey to discovery of their gift and place of lay ministry. The authentic voices of other lay ministers are powerful aids in the process believers experience in discovering their own calling. Fenhagen suggests two ways this can occur: (1) making our own journey available to others and (2) creating educational settings in which there is both trust and a spirit of exploration.20 People need to know that they have a community of trust in which they can express their joys and frustrations, and that other people are experiencing similar feelings. In chapter 5 I will describe what I call Spirit-enabled fellowship, by which believers might create a community of trust [Editor’s Note: Chapter Five: “Forming a Community of the Spirit: Hospitality, Fellowship, and Nurture” will be featured in the Winter 2011 issue of The Pneuma Review].

The educational settings that contain trust and a spirit of exploration are myriad and diverse. Mentoring relationships, Bible studies, internships, Sunday school classes, youth meetings, and men or women’s retreats are all places where such “education” about lay ministry might occur. It is important not to confine the quest and exploration just to what are considered conventional settings: worship services, Sunday school, small group meetings.

Discovering ministry can also occur in the local church by way of recognizing the gifts/talents of people. Often this has meant that people acknowledge and commend others for their particular abilities, but it can also mean that the abilities of certain people are appreciated even when those people were unaware that they were thus gifted. People in the congregation can serve as a kind of sounding board in hearing and seeing what kinds of things people like to do, and they can be like assayers in recognizing others’ abilities. Sometimes, people need to be coaxed and prodded to share what they are thinking or experiencing as they seek God for their callings. Wise counsel needs to be available in the local church so that people are neither coerced nor neglected. Fenhagen suggests that there needs to be “a regularized system of support.”21 By this he means that people need to be sustained and enriched in their ministries over the long haul. Consistent peer communication is necessary; it can take the form of some setting in which there are one or more believers who care, who are honest, and who can be trusted. In a succeeding chapter I will describe the vital roles of testimony and loving nurture in regard to this notion of support.

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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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